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NFL relocation primer: Bills stadium committee stokes discussion


Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's new-stadium exploratory committee has generated much chatter about the Buffalo Bills and their future.

One of the perpetual talking points is the possibility of relocation after 95-year-old owner Ralph Wilson dies.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was a guest Tuesday on WGR 550, and he, as many others have over the years, reminded us that an exorbitant relocation fee should be considered a significant deterrent to moving the team even when the stadium lease allows the Bills to waive the final three years for $28 million in 2020.

Poloncarz said a new owner who might want to move the Bills "would have a relocation fee that they'd have to pay to the NFL, which could theoretically be a half a billion" dollars.

Theoretically, the relocation fee could be zero dollars.

Article 4.3 of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws spells out the process for relocating a team. It's specified that fees are at the league's discretion.

Let's use this opportunity to examine the NFL relocation process more closely.

Before a team can move, its first obligation is to do whatever it can to grow revenues in its current market.

From the NFL's policy:

"Each club's primary obligation to the League and to all other member clubs is to advance the interests of the League in its home territory. This primary obligation includes, but is not limited to, maximizing fan support, including attendance, in its home territory."

A new owner won't have any trouble proving this threshold has been met. The current Bills front office has been proactive in establishing and publicly declaring it's doing everything it can to regionalize the Bills in the Rochester area and in Ontario.

The relocation policy also explains the NFL disapproves of moving for the sake of moving. But there are exceptions.

"League traditions disfavor relocations if a club has been well-supported and financially successful and is expected to remain so. Relocation pursuant to Article 4.3 may be available, however, if a club's viability in its home territory is threatened by circumstances that cannot be remedied by diligent efforts of the club working, as appropriate, in conjunction with the League Office, or if compelling League interests warrant a franchise relocation."

The Bills have been well-supported from a fan loyalty standpoint. You need only to scan the parking lots at 8 a.m. on game day.

But the Bills have suffered from dwindling revenues and season ticket sales despite having a seven-game regular season and offering one of the NFL's cheapest tickets.

Prior to relocation consideration, teams:

1. Must show they've done all they can to "maintain suitable stadium facilities in their home territories, and to operate in a manner that maximizes fan support in their current home community."


2. May consult with the NFL on an official or informal basis. If "a club concludes that it cannot obtain a satisfactory resolution of its stadium needs, it may inform the League Office and the stadium landlord or other relevant public authorities that it has reached a stalemate in those negotiations. Upon such a declaration, the League may elect to become directly involved in the negotiations."

Cuomo's exploratory committee would help address this step one way or the other.

3. Are allowed to negotiate "with a community outside its home territory" before Nos. 1 and 2 have been settled.

Among issues spelled out the NFL's policy are "whether the League's collective interests (which include, for example, the League's television interests, the League's interest in strong and geographically distributed franchises, the League's interest in securing attractive stadium facilities in which to play its games, and the League's interest in having financially viable franchises) would be advanced or harmed by allowing a club to leave its assigned home territory to assume a League-owned opportunity in another community. These collective interests generally include having clubs in the country’s most populous areas, taking into account competitive entertainment alternatives, stadium options, and other factors."

Given NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's stated desire to have two teams in Los Angeles and his willingness to discuss a franchise in Toronto, it's clear the league considers both markets beneficial for business.

Los Angeles is the second-most populous U.S. market. Toronto would rank fourth behind Chicago and ahead of Dallas-Fort Worth, based on 2012 census numbers.

Los Angeles or Toronto, however, needs an NFL-caliber stadium. The chance one or both markets build one before 2020 is quite plausible.

Once all of the above criteria have been met and an owner decides to move the process goes thusly:

1. Ownership notifies the commissioner in writing of its intent to move and publishes a "notice in newspapers of general circulation within the incumbent community."

It's about to get clunky, dear reader, but hang in there. All of this is important.

2. The notice must include a list of reasons to support the relocation and address a) how well the team has tried to serve "its principal obligation of effectively representing the NFL and serving the fans;" b) fan loyalty and support; c) stadium inadequacies and the community's willingness to remedy them or build a new one; d) how much public money the team has received; e) revenues or net operating losses that threaten the franchise; f) degree of good-faith negotiations; g) how much the team has influenced the need to relocate; h) any other NFL clubs in the current city; i) any other NFL clubs in the new city; j) whether league business will be "advanced or adversely affected" by relocation; k) the impact of relocation on scheduling games or on travel; l) how a move would "adversely affect a current or anticipated League revenue or expense stream (for example, network television)."

If you survived that paragraph, you're in the clear. You can digest the rest with ease. Now back to the process ...

3. The commissioner evaluates the proposal and reports to the other 31 owners.

4. "Interested parties" are given the chance to provide commentary about the proposed move, "including at a public hearing conducted by the League in the community from which the team seeks to relocate."

5. The proposal will be presented to the NFL owners "for action in accordance with the Constitution and Bylaws, either at a Special Meeting of the League held for that purpose or at the Annual Meeting."

6. The owners vote, with three-fourths approval -- 24 teams -- necessary to allow relocation.

Now we get to the relocation fee.

The policy states: "If a club’s proposal to relocate to a new home territory is approved, the relocating club will ordinarily be expected to pay a transfer fee to the League."

Note the use of "ordinarily."

"The transfer fee will compensate other member clubs of the League for the loss of the opportunity appropriated by the relocating club and/or the enhancement (if any) in the value of the franchise resulting from the move."

Do you think the Bills' franchise value or the NFL's overall value would go up or down if the team left Western New York for Los Angeles or Toronto?

Both values, obviously, would increase.

The other 31 owners would make long-range money off the move and wouldn't need to be directly compensated for losing Western New York as a television market or for its gate receipts compared to what Los Angeles or Toronto would offer when it comes time to negotiate broadcast deals with NBC, Fox, ESPN and the like.

"The Commissioner may recommend a transfer fee to the membership and Finance Committee for consideration in connection with any proposed transfer that he recommends be approved."

Again, "may recommend" and "for consideration" are critical phrases.

The factors specified for a relocation fee include new revenue streams (advantage L.A./Toronto), team revenue streams available in the current city (advantage L.A./Toronto), projected NFL revenue streams in the new city (advantage L.A./Toronto), incurred expenses in current city at the time and projected in the future (unknown), desirability of the stadiums compared to each other (unknown), team's status in revenue sharing (advantage L.A./Toronto), population trends and demographics (advantage L.A./Toronto).

So the commissioner makes a recommendation on the relocation fee amount, but the other 31 owners decide what the figure should be.

"The membership will determine the transfer fee (or, in the alternative, a recommended, binding method for determining the transfer fee), if any, at the time it approves any proposed club relocation."

Again, "if any" is important.

The Los Angeles Times obtained a relocation memo Goodell sent to all 32 clubs in June 2012.

In the memo, Goodell reiterated relocation will be controlled by the NFL, not the team that wants to move, and reemphasized the points within the NFL Constitution and Bylaws.

Let's hope none of this comes to pass and the Bills remain in Western New York forever.

But knowing how the NFL relocation process works is better than remaining in the dark while uncertainties surrounding the Bills continue to roil.

  • ByTheNumbers

    What all that mumbojumbo says is: If the League and other teams will make more money by allowing a move, the move will be approved. Those so-called 'rules' of relocation can be changed at a moments notice. When it comes to $$'s, it doesn't take a genius to see how the votes will be cast.

  • B662

    The league will go where a new stadium will be built. If a new owner is willing to plunk down the 1 billion needed for an NFL franchise do you think 28 mil is an obstacle. Get the stadium built that is #1.

  • KG33

    Maybe is Russ Brandon and the other suits at one Bills drive were more focused on quality football rather than marketing and regionalism we wouldn't be having this conversation. They treat the team like a chain store or supermarket.

  • BuffaLoPro

    2New York City USA8,336,69720133Los Angeles USA3,857,79920124Toronto Canada2,795,06020125Chicago USA2,714,8562012

    • El Kabong

      metro size, not city size

  • Austin Hood

    This is where the poverty in Buffalo is going to jump up and bite it in the rear end. nnnIf we build a strong vibrant economy any new owner will NOT want to move the Bills because he or she can see that it will be a strong money making operation. nnnThe best defense against losing the team is to start bringing more national companies to this area, create more jobs, get the people back to work, and clean up the urban blight. nnnFurther, revitalize the City of Buffalo itslelf with better hotels, restaurants and a much stronger police presence. nnnThe poverty in this area is not funny anymore, and it will more than likely cause us to lose our team if we don't take action right now.

    • jk

      So you must be referring to those Hoovervilles and $18,000 homes in Clarence East Amherst and Orchard Park....

      • Austin Hood

        That suburbs are well off and you know it. What I'm talking about is the city of Buffalo, just like the city of Atlanta, the city of San Francisco, the City of Dallas, the City of Boulder, the city of Toronto and so on. nnnThe best way to keep a team in Buffalo and the surrounding suburbs is money, cash on the barrel head, profit dollars. The more people are working, the more money in their pockets. And, the more money in their pockets, the more they spend in the local economy on restaurants, hotels, cars, and sports and concert tickets. nnnAny owner of any team wants to see a city of wealth. Becasue when the public has money their venture does very well.

    • Guest

      buffnews is crap

  • Austin Hood

    The $28 million dollar opt out fee is chump change on a billion dollar franchise. That would be tax deductible for any new owner. Further, they would make that kind of money back in no time at all, especiall if the team relocated to a strong economic location.

  • Jonathan Hall

    New Orleans was going to move then they got Drew Brees. Now they aren't ngoing anywhere. The Vikings were going to move but just got a new nstadium. The NFL is not going to move the Bills from Buffalo to LA. Thatn would put 4 teams in California (San Diego, Oakland, LA, and San nFrancisco and if the Rams move to LA make that 5 teams in California) nand no teams in Western New York/Toronto. If this team goes anywhere it's going to Toronto. nIf the Bills start winning this team isn't going anywhere and if they nget a new stadium it isn't going anywhere. Let's hope one of the two nhappen soon.

    • ByTheNumbers

      Agree that LA is probably out. Toronto ???able at best. But I'd be willing to let them go ANYWHERE at this point. The Buffalo area can't afford the corporate welfare now and they won't be able to afford it in 7 or 10 years. There are no magic bullets out there that will make this a profitable situation. With any luck, this fact will be realized and they will be allowed to quietly pack up and leave. Look at all the cities out there that don't have a team that are doing fine. Let them go.

      • Jonathan Hall

        Sure cities are doing fine without teams but that doesn't prove anything. Cities with teams are doing very well. The Oklahoma City Thunder add $54 Million dollars to their economy every year and that's just a basketball team. This is why cities are always fighting to bring in a sports team when they have the opportunity. The Bills are a lot of this cities lively hood and as you can see by my picture a lot of mine. I think we should build the new stadium, move it downtown. This can help push building more hotels, and if it's a dome, it can be used much more throughout the year. Maybe even a college bowl game. I mean no matter how you look at it moving the stadium downtown increases demand for things such as hotel rooms, parking lots, restaurants. It helps increase the value of real estate downtown which, lets face it, this city needs. On another note the Buffalo Bills are third in donations in the area, so when people talk about cleaning up the area, losing the Bills would not help that process.

  • Triess1954

    u043cu028f u0432u03c5u0256u0256u028f'u0455 u0455u0442u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0584-u03b1u03c5u0274u0442 u043cu03b1u0138u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0455 $71/u043du0585u03c5u0280 u0585u0274 u0442u043du00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00ad u03b9u0274u0442u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0280u0274u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0442. u0455u043du00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00ad u043du03b1u0455 u0432u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0274 u0561u03b9u0442u043du0585u03c5u0442 u0561u0585u0280u0138 u0493u0585u0280 u0442u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0274 u043cu0585u0274u0442u043du0455 u0432u03c5u0442 u029fu03b1u0455u0442 u043cu0585u0274u0442u043d u043du00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0280 u0584u03b1u028fu0188u043du00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0188u0138 u0561u03b1u0455 $1u0437518 u029du03c5u0455u0442 u0561u0585u0280u0138u03b9u0274u0262 u0585u0274 u0442u043du00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00ad u03b9u0274u0442u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0280u0274u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0442 u0493u0585u0280 u03b1 u0493u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu0561 u043du0585u03c5u0280u0455. u043cu0585u0280u00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00ad u043du00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu212eu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu00adu029fu0584u0493u03c5u029f u043du03b9u0274u0442u0455 SaveJury&#46com

  • MatthewK

    Yawn...I do not know of many people who wouldn't pay double the average ticket price for a team that produces wins and results. nnCheapest tix in the NFL are intrinsic to the product put on the field....which is terrible. Spend a little money produce some results, cheap tix for a crappy product is not a badge of honor.

  • Dennis Dalton

    Under "Prior to relocation ..." point 3, the language refers to the "League's interests" over and over and over again. To be clear, the "League" (i.e., the cabal of owners) answers to no one but itself. Fan loyalty? Meh says the "League"

    • ByTheNumbers

      Their only interest so $$$'s.

  • Molson Cree

    Put a consistent contender on the field.... now you've got fans tripping over each other to buy tickets, so you raise prices... fans don't care, fans will PAY to see a WINNER! Problem solved.... It really is THAT easy.

  • AJ

    If you don't gamble most pro football games are boring because of the lack of elite QBs. There only a handful of teams with elite QBs and they must be playing one another for a good game. It's way overpriced. With all the tax breaks the corporate and ruling classes have been receiving they have plenty of extra $$ to throw away on absurd priced tickets, seating licenses, luxury boxes, etc. I enjoyed the Bills in the past but let them go away and we can enjoy Sundays with friends and family.

    • ByTheNumbers

      AMEN to that! I love the game of football but I don't like the business of football. the NFL isn't about the game, it's about the money.

  • Miller’s friend.

    The sooner the better that this team moves. I can't stand the thought of building another stadium and I can't stand having to pay for renovations on an old one. Good riddance.

    • ByTheNumbers

      Will you run for legislator?? We need you!!

      • turtle

        I have not lived in the area in 20 years but I remain a loyal fan. I hope they can keep the team there. I agree with those who feel the ownership has not done enough to bring in fans. Obviously, I do not pay state and property taxes in New York. If that were the only argument against keeping the team and I was still living there, I would gladly pay thentaxes that affect my portion of keeping the team in the area. How much per household goes to maintaining the Bills in Buffalo? I would love to see an accurate set of figures.

  • William Kyriakakos

    blah blah blah, more of the usual bantering of how the Bills "might" move when Wilson dies. I might get killed crossing the street. As far as Toronto goes, did this writer see the empty seats the last game?? What about the CFL and the overbearing taxes of the Canadian government?
    LA? What stadium? What fans? I live in LA and we all have hometown loyalties and the native Californians go for the Raiders, Chargers, and Niners. They are not interested in any other team.
    And how does it benefit the NFL by having an original, historical team move from Buffalo? And do you think Ralph Wilson and Jim Kelly haven't already figured all of this out? The Buffalo media is just perturbed cause they were left out in the cold, why should Kelly or Ralph tell them anything?
    Until they move.....blah, blah, blah

  • Ridgewaycynic2013

    Under the 'out', how about accuracy at the digital [BN]? (As if it was ever 'in'...)

  • This Is A Stick

    Sorry, but chicken wings will NEVER be out... ever.

  • 6packjimmy

    Extremely lame!

  • El Elegante

    Corny. Want to stop having people make fun of our town? Make sure they don't read this list. Half the stuff "In" are past events and or silly vague items. Cody Hodgson hasn't been IN a game or popular since the Canucks fans cried when he was traded here. Bottled water? C'mon, it was a stupid idea when it came out in the 90s, didn't we already determine plastic bottles from bottled water are pure waste? Shark girl had her fifteen minutes of fame over 6 mos ago. This list is putrid.

  • joe

    good chuckle. gotta have some sense of humor.

  • liz kolken

    Everywhere you go in Buffalo there is now art, youth, enthusiasm, families, fun, athletics and a sense of optimism. The only thing is out are the nay saying pessimists!

    • Tim Chipp

      There's a lot of art on the east side. Has been for years. And the west side. And downtown. And in north Buffalo. But I don't think it's the art you mean when you say that word.

      • liz kolken

        galleries and restaurants are showing both local and international art everywhere you go.

  • Long-Duk-Dong

    You guys just discovered satellite radio? You tie sweaters around your shoulders? Is this a guy thing?

    I agree... a corny list.

  • Buckwheat

    Bring back the Courier Express!

  • Tim Chipp

    "Defend Buffalo" is in? I mean, I get that this is just a list for giggles, but people needing to defend Buffalo is half of what's wrong with the area in the first place. Act like you belong on the big stage and eventually, people won't take pot shots because there won't be things to shoot at. Unless you meant Canada is invading from the west, Defend Buffalo should not be in anything except the garbage bin of potential slogans.

  • David Campfield

    Anyone that takes any of these serious, needs to get out of NY for awhile. I don't mean go to Toronto! How are Uggs even on this list? My daughter wore those in high school here in Florida at four years ago and flannels tied around the waist.... I stopped that 25 years ago when I lived in WNY! Well, one thing is certain Buffalo area residents certainly are "vintage". Two thumbs up!

  • Super Dark Energy

    What’s In and What’s Out: 2014-15 edition

    What’s IN The Buffalo NEWS Stops Posting EVERY ARTICLE about SPORTS…

    What’s OUT: The Buffalo News Posting Every Article Around Sports

  • fhjfdhjkd

    I really hope "gentrification" being "in" is a joke! As a lifelong Buffalonian who's excited to see my city on the upswing, gentrification is not what I want to see happen. I'm shocked and disappointed that it's what The Buffalo News wants.

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About the reporters

Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

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.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.