BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Cities that recently lost NFL teams reached out to the Bills about potentially relocating before a new stadium deal was reached, Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a New York City radio interview Wednesday.
“They did have options to leave,” Hochul said during an appearance on WNYC. “That’s hanging over New Yorkers — Western New Yorkers in particular. The decision was made to get the best deal we could for taxpayers.”
The host, Brian Lehrer, followed up with Hochul and asked if the threat of relocation was just a bluff by the team’s billionaire owners to get more public funding.
“I was aware that they were being reached out to by other cities that have lost teams before. That is real,” Hochul replied. “Their stadium was starting to crumble, something had to happen. And if there wasn’t a decision done soon, they had, definitely, other options.”
Oakland, St. Louis and San Diego all saw their NFL franchise relocate in the past decade. Bills fans have long worried about a possible move to Toronto, and ESPN reported in August that Austin, Texas could be interested in paying up to acquire a franchise.
Hochul specifically mentioned San Diego later in the interview.
“My whole life there was talk of them going to Toronto … Buffalo is a very small market. It is quite extraordinary that they have a team at all,” she said. “Because there’s a lot more money to be had in those larger cities like San Diego and others who would love to have a team. So, that’s a reality most people probably aren’t familiar with.”
Buffalo is the 53rd-largest media market in the country, according to Nielsen’s 2021 rankings, making it among the smallest markets in the league: Jacksonville is 43rd, New Orleans is 50th and Green Bay-Appleton is 69th. (Rochester and southern Ontario are not included in Buffalo’s DMA.)
The stadium deal and accompanying lease agreement announced March 28 keep the team in Buffalo for 30 years with a new, $1.4 billion stadium that is expected to open in 2026. The state is paying for the largest portion of stadium construction — $600 million — though that includes hundreds of millions from long-awaited Seneca casino payments that had been withheld. Hochul said the rest will be paid for by taxes on athletes.
“I was not going to give away the shop,” Hochul said. “The first question was: can we finance it 100% with public dollars? … I said no, no way. No. We are not doing that. It ended up being 43% of the total cost is state money. But when you factor in the income tax we’re going to derive from the ball players — these are very highly paid athletes — we have that paid off just in the new income to the state over those, about 22 years, it’s paid off.”
“I really understand people’s concern and anxiety about this, and I get it. I really do,” Hochul added to the downstate audience, making the analogy that the Bills are to Buffalo what Broadway is to New York City. “I’m not trying to say that their concerns aren’t real and legitimate but again, I get a lot of questions when I’m in other parts of the state about how much we spend on New York City transit and MTA and other things. So I’ve been engaged in this debate no matter where I go.”