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A look inside the Buffalo Bills' new 10-year lease agreement

By Tim Graham

The press conference to announce the Ralph Wilson Stadium lease agreement is over, and we've learned quite a bit more about the deal.

While the announcement was presented as a feel-good story that the Bills will be staying for the next seven years -- a legitimate question about a succession plan after Ralph Wilson passes was handled by CEO Russ Brandon with a condescending rah-rah retort that drew applause from a gallery of politicians -- not all of the details fell into the warm-and-fuzzy category.

A collection of notes and thoughts from the news conference and interviews conducted afterward:

* Wilson was not in attendance. Neither was CFO Jeffrey Littmann. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was unable to attend because of inclement weather. He spoke through a video-satellite hookup but didn't field any questions from reporters.

* Brandon guaranteed the Bills would stay in Buffalo for at least the next seven years.

* Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy on why seven years: "It was the best we could do right now. That's regardless of any ownership changes at all. They will be playing here for seven years. It gives us a chance to have a wide enough time frame to work on other things."

* If a new owner bought the Bills and wanted to move them, then the county and state would have two remedies, as allowed by the lease agreement. The first is to file an injunction to prevent a move. If a judge declines to order the Bills to stay, then the Bills would have to pay $400 million in liquidated damages with the exception of a window after the seventh year of the deal.

* After the seventh year of the 10-year agreement, the Bills will have a one-time option to buy out the remaining three years of the lease for $28,363,500. Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe said a deadline in 2020 will be negotiated into the next set of documents. If the Bills don't buy out the lease by that deadline, then they again will need to pay $400 million to break the lease afterward.

* Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced he would form a committee to explore the feasibility of a new stadium. He said his preferred location would be downtown Buffalo, but the committee will examine the best places.

* Poloncarz on a new stadium: "Any new owner, if they're interested in buying this team, in the future would like to have a new stadium. We understand it's important to start talking about that now. That increases the economic value of the team and it lets the public know we're considering not just the seven-year agreement or 10 years, but looking beyond that to insure the Bills play in a state-of-the-art stadium."

* The Bills will pay $800,000 in annual rent. They didn't pay any rent before.

* Erie County will pay $41 million on renovations. It didn't pay a dime when the last lease was struck. Overall, the county will spend $11 million more for a 10-year lease (that possibly could be as short as seven years) than it spent under the previous 15-year lease.

* The state will contribute $54 million on renovations. The Bills will contribute $35 million.

* The county and state will share annual payments that will start at $3 million for working capital, $2.9 million for operating expenses and $1.8 million for game-day expenses.

* The Bills retained naming rights to the stadium.

* Poloncarz acknowledged the Toronto series as necessary for the Bills' viability, revealing the club makes "basically double the amount of money from one Toronto game" than for a game in Orchard Park. The lease allows the Bills to play only one preseason game every other year and one regular-season game per year in Toronto.

* In addition to the Toronto game, the Bills are allowed to play one more international game over the next 10 years.

* The state gets a suite at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

* The Bills wanted renovations that totaled about $230 million, Poloncarz said, but agreed to only $130 million. Poloncarz said some of the upgrades will include "new concession stands, updated restrooms, new scoreboard, new security features ... that makes it easier for fans to get in." Poloncarz said among the renovations that have been dropped include widening the concourses.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham | [email protected]


Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan | [email protected]


Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski | [email protected]

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