Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Bills Make Me Wanna Shout "F**K YOU"

Ranking somewhere between The Chicago Bears' ridculous 1985 "Super Bowl Shuffle" and the San Diego "Super Chargers" fight song, the Buffalo Bills' adaptation of the popular 1960's tune "You Make Me Wanna Shout" maintains moderate irritation akin to a small yapping dog. 

This regional fight song has been buried over the past few NFL seasons as the Bills wallowed in mediocrity, and, frankly, fans had more to "shout" over the area's NHL team, the Buffalo Sabres, and that team's successes. Woefully to most WNY sports fans, football season ended and hockey season began in October. 

Not in 2011. 

Roaring out to one of the best starts in almost ten years, The Buffalo Bills have dusted off the vinyl, cranked up the cassette-deck and have begun, once again, to make fans "wanna shout" with this fight-song blaring over the PA. 

The Buffalo Bills are now being considered contenders.

The early season success is also a great for the fans. Western New Yorkers somehow base civic pride on the regions sports teams' success, and with enough of this civic pride, will begin to view all other non-sports regional events with an approving nod.

Seriously, would the recent Buffalo Architecture Convention been a success if the Bills were 0-6. 

Despite all this feel-good giddiness by Western New Yorkers, one man is not happy with the present situation. He's an old-timer, not prone to compromise, but has seen Hall-of-Fame results because of this unwillingness to follow-the-leader. 

This man's name even appears on the stadium in which the Buffalo Bills renewed the concept of winning football games. 

Ralph C Wilson, longtime owner of the Bills, is not happy with this stadium bearing his name. 

Rumors and speculations that Mr. Wilson plans to take the Bills elsewhere have been swirling around for several years. He holds this looming reoccurring threat like a Sword of Damocles as Erie County does everything to make Ralph C Wilson a happy man. 

Mr. Wilson signs an 5-year, $72 million, agreement with Toronto's Rogers Center for one game per season and so taking away a home-game. "Not a problem", says Erie County, "as long as you keep the Bills here, Mr. Wilson, take those local dollars across the border." 

Mr. Wilson refuses to grant naming-rights to the stadium. "No big deal," says Erie County, "we'll make up that 7 to 10 million by giving you another tax-break." 

Mr. Wilson says negotiating a lease tying the team to WNY depends on upgrades to the stadium, Erie County illustrious czar Chris Collins says, "Sure and the unscientific estimate of 40 to 100 million dollars to upgrade will be passed along to WNY and New York State taxpayers." 

Mr. Wilson says the Bills will hire an outside architectural firm to research the upgrades, Erie County simply bends over and quietly grunts. 

So why the regal treatment?

The Buffalo Bills generate roughly 20 million in tax-dollars per year for New York State. There are mixed estimates with the amount of revenue a single Bills game (home or away) pours into the local and regional economies. Between grocery store, bar parties and parking lots cash transactions, the amount is hard to track.  One fact is for sure, the Bills, on gameday, generate profit for Erie County and regional businesses. 

Enough reason to bow-down to King Wilson?

Although tax figures do show the yearly venue generated to be 20 million, the 1997 lease cost New York State $120 to sign the Bills to stay in Erie County (with $63 million in stadium upgrades). The lease expires in 2013 which amounts to 7.5 million/year over the 16-year lease. 

The Bills play 16 games (more if they make the playoffs) in a 12 month season. Although the money generate throughout the one game/week over 4-5 months is positive, there is not a constant flow of income pertaining to the Bills over the remaining 8 months. 

And yet King Wilson still gets the royal treatment.

As Erie County and New York State enter into lease negotiations with Ralph C. Wilson, one hurdle to open talks will be the stadium upgrades. The second one is the real possibility that Wilson will ask for more than the paltry $120 million paid in 1997. 

WNY is steaming forward to the Erie County Executive election, so is Collins simply playing the campaign-talk card? Does he really feel, despite his anti-taxing Republican stance, that taxpayers should shoulder the cost of upgrading Ralph C. Wilson Stadium? 

Sure, in his mind, its the cost of doing business. 

The same mentality Collins shows towards Cultural Groups when he determines some are economically viable than others.

After all, it's the price of doing (and creating) business. 

But when does this tremendous amount of money given to one business based on the principle of economic viability end? This same business that leases a building open only seven days a year while on the 8th day it pimps-out their product to a glossy city that thinks its trendy to have a NFL (not a regional) team.   This same business that the CEO refuses to generate income by charging another business to put it's company name on the building, yet keeps his own name on it. 

Regardless if one belongs to a Cultural Group or a fan of the Bills, this amount of top-heavy tax-dollar poured into one business has to be concerning, and should require the simple question being raised to whether or not the region can (or should) support a high-priced commodity. 

Think about how that tax-free money could go towards improving school systems, roads, developing cultural tourism and assisting small business to succeed. 

The honorable movement of Occupying Wall Street has tremendous merit despite whether folks think the effort is revolutionary or foolish. For the movement calls attention to this type of National unbalance we currently (and locally) see with Ralph C. Wilson, his tax-break galore business, and those in a lesser income tax-bracket who struggle to find work. 

Maybe the time is right for WNY taxpayers to start occupying One Bills Drive. 

That, or redefine what exactly the Bills "make you wanna shout" for. 

Matthew LaChiusa is the Executive/Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater of WNY, Inc. Matthew is a big sports fan of football, hockey and college basketball, and believes corporate America is killing the competitive spirit of these sports.