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On Sunday, the newspaper of record in Buffalo published a major story regarding the negotiations aimed at building a new stadium for the Bills. The report from Tom Precious claimed that ownership’s proposal asks for the project to be fully funded by taxpayer money.
Precious sought a response from Pegula Sports and Entertainment before the story went live. An official from the company declined to comment. After the story hit (and after the backlash against billionaire bailouts began), a spokesperson for Terry and Kim Pegula had something to say.
Here’s the text Precious added: “After publication of the story, a PSE spokesman, Jim Wilkinson, said the team is not seeking any funds for work at KeyBank Center [home of the Buffalo Sabres]. Wilkinson also said the figure of at least $1.1 billion being sought in public money for a new Bills’ stadium was incorrect; he declined to say if the request by the team was higher or lower.”
By declining to say whether the real number is higher, it’s possible that Wilkinson is saying that the Bills actually want $1.2 billion in public money, or more. Regardless, Wilkinson quibbled with the number, not with the notion that the Pegulas want taxpayers to pay the full price of the team’s new stadium.
The fact that PSE said nothing before the story was published suggests that they decided to ignore the report unless and until it created negative publicity. Based on social media (which hardly reflects reality but which drives plenty of PR strategies), the reaction was overwhelming harsh. It’s fair to wonder whether, in response, the Bills felt compelled to find something/anything to say in an effort to extinguish the brushfire.
Still, it’s unclear whether the contents of the bucket were water or jet fuel. It’s possible that they indeed have asked for 100 percent public funding, and that they seized on the technical inaccuracy of the reported number as a way to create the impression that the claim that they don’t want to pay for any of the new stadium was inaccurate, too.
The Bills, who own and operate a well-trafficked team website, can say whatever they want whenever they want however they want in response to yesterday’s reports. They can say that they haven’t requested full taxpayer funding, that they haven’t “made clear to government negotiators that there are other cities elsewhere that desire an NFL franchise and would pay handsomely for it,” and/or that Austin isn’t one of the cities to which they were referring.
Finally, Bills fans, don’t be upset that we’re writing these stories. Owners who want to use other cities first as leverage and then as a viable alternative location want these things to not be discussed and debated. They want to work quietly behind the scenes, making the local citizens (customers) think a full commitment remains in place until it’s time to disappear in the middle of the night, figuratively as in the case of the Rams leaving St. Louis — literally as in the case of the Colts leaving Baltimore.