Pol Position: It’s not about the Bills, it’s about billionaires

NYS Governor Kathy Hochul supports bankrolling $850 million, the largest sum in N.F.L history, in taxpayer funds to cover 60% of the construction costs for a new Buffalo Bills stadium owned by Terrence Pegula – an oil and gas tycoon worth $5.8 billion. Assemblyman Ron Kim and Senator Jabari Brisport introduced a bill to make sure New York gets a cut of the action.

The legislation would ensure that if the empire state foots more than half of the cost for a facility that New York should own a majority stake in the team. While Senator Brisport would rather see the multimillions be invested back into other budget items, he says that this is the only measure to ensure taxpayers don’t have to accept terms under threat of leaving for some more tax advantageous deal somewhere else.

“The only way to truly keep the Bills in New York State at this point, now that we can no longer trust the owners, is to say that New York State should own more than half of them and have the ability to keep them in New York, if we wish,” Senator Brisport said in an interview.

A 2021 study commissioned by Empire State Development and produced by infrastructure consulting firm AECOM, found that the Bills generate more than 25 million in tax revenue for New York yearly. While Governor Hochul has touted the 10,000 union construction jobs the stadium would bring, tax breaks for professional stadiums hardly generate enough economic activity to cover the investment.

Even if the economic potential of a new stadium isn’t comparable to the cost – New York should follow suit with Kim and Brisport’s legislation and make sure that the New York Bills are truly a New York team.

The Bills Mafia are one of the most notorious and beloved known fanbases in all of professional sports. Through thick and thin they have stuck through for their sports team. New York should take the step to make sure that the team is there for them.

Overall, the sports fandom for professional sports can be lackluster to the vigor of a college football team. Every team has their superfans and own culture; but on the whole, they lack the history and authenticity to their communities with the looming threat of pulling out arises when a new stadium needs to be built.

When the dodgers vacated Brooklyn, Walter O’Malley became the most hated man in the borough. It ripped a generation of a place to congregate, where working-class families could get bleacher seats,bring their own lunch in a brown bag and enjoy a ball game. It’s hard to imagine what the city would lose if the Yankees moved to Florida. Or if the Knicks packed their bags for Texas. Just try to imagine what the early days of the pandemic would be like if sports weren’t being televised.

Sports are a crucial part of our social order. We fund and operate cultural institutions such as museums because we recognize them as a public good but lack the apparatus to make the same true of sports. Kim and Brisport’s legislation would give the state the ability to do so.

Sports stadiums have long been subsidized and funded under the traditional guise of “public-private partnerships”. But if New York taxpayers are footing more than half of the cost, wouldn’t a true partnership be a majority stake in the team?

There’s no reason that $850 million – money that could be urgently spent on street safety, homes for the homeless, or single-payer healthcare – needs to be spent to cover the construction costs of a new stadium owned by a man worth billions of dollars. If we have to do it, we should make sure that we get the terms and benefits are in the best interest of the state rather than being cornered into giving a handout.

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