Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some thoughts

        To say that all Patriot fans are bandwagon fans is not true.  They used to be a blue collar team.  They used to have reasonable ticket prices and a working class family could afford to attend games.  They used to be a fanbase more similar to Buffalo than to NYC.  The problem with the Patriots (and this is not unique to New England) is that their ownership was not happy with the revenue a blue collar fanbase provided.  The Patriots were the first team to cash in on the gentrification of football and in doing so, priced out many fans from their stadium.  Kraft took a risk and built (at the time) one of the most expensive sports complexes in the country.  The story today is all about what a genius Kraft was, what vision he had, what a smart businessman he is- but Kraft was EXTREMELY lucky. 
        Gillette opened in 2002 after which the Patriots only missed the playoffs once, went to 3 Super Bowls and won 2 (their first victory was the Super Bowl of 2002/season of 2001, which was played in the old Foxboro stadium).  In conjunction with the Patriots incredible success, the American economy woke up from its post 9/11 hangover and the stock market shot up to record levels.  Is this business savvy or luck?  If you bet your life savings on 1 hand in blackjack and flop a 21 are you a genius or a fool?
        Now, it would be unfair and un-American to hate someone for taking a risk and being successful.   What I can and will take issue with is that other owners in the NFL saw the Patriots' football and financial success and decided they would copy this business model.  The next batch of “New Era NFL venues” decided to go bigger, “better” and more expensive.  They completely ignored all the external factors outside of Kraft’s control that came together and allowed for the Patriots success.
        Gillette was completed in 2002 at a cost 350 million and the rest of Patriot place was completed in 2006 at a cost of 380 million.  Along with various parking and infrastructure upgrades, the total cost of the venue is roughly 800 million.  Cowboys Stadium: 1.2 billion.  The New Meadowlands: 1.6 billion.  These new venues are so expensive and required an incredible amount of funding, all of which was secured between 2005-2006 when the economy was booming , the stock market was trading at an all time high and tax rates on the wealthiest Americans were at 30 year lows.  Everyone knows what happens next: economy nearly collapses, the stock market tanks and this handful of NFL owners is sitting on a mountain of debt.  All of a sudden, a league of owners that was awarding untested 21-year old rookies 50 million dollar signing bonuses can no longer afford to pay players at the going rate.  All of a sudden, the most popular and profitable sport in the richest country in the world is headed towards a lockout.
        We should not marvel at these stadiums built upon vanity and greed.  These venues are a threat: they are a threat to the league, they are a threat to the average fan and they are a threat the Bills staying in Buffalo.  Bigger is not always better.  Luxury boxes are not always better business than bleacher seats.  For example, luxury boxes are almost always paid for by corporations.  Corporations depend on profits.  Profits go down when the economy is bad and then corporations do not pay for luxury boxes.  Luxury boxes are vacant.  Owners saddled with self inflicted debt cry poverty and blame high players salaries (salaries they created).  Owners threaten lockout.  We all lose.
        The Buffalo Bills make money.  The Minnesota Vikings make money.  No one is starving.  Yet, we are constantly reminded that we are a likely candidate to be relocated to a larger/wealthier venue.  Why?  Greed.  Why make money when you can make MORE money?
        I apologize for the diatribe; I am coming to a Bills centric point - I promise.    
        Now, if you are like me, you feel a bit powerless.  You see all these factors at play and can do nothing.  That mentality is not entirely true.  The one and only thing we can do to help our hometown franchise is to attend as many home games as possible.  We enjoy the lowest average ticket price in the league.  We are one of the few venues where a middle class family of 4 can afford to attend games.  We can park almost anywhere around “The Ralph” for under $20.  Every game that does not sell out weakens the Bills financially.  If the Bills become financially weak and accumulate any debt, we are ripe to be bought and relocated.    
        For those of us who no longer live in WNY: join your local Bills Backers Club.  If none exists, start one.  Meet other Bills fans and convince them to return to Buffalo for 1 home game a season.  Buy tickets for the least popular game.  Help sell out as many games as possible.  
        For our region this is not just a football team and this is not just a game.  A sold-out Bills game would represent the 4th largest city in all of upstate NY.  The Bills are an economic bright spot in a region that rarely sees sunlight.  The industry that brought our ancestors to WNY/CNY now mostly stands vacant and rusting.  We cannot afford to continue to lose jobs, population and relevancy.  The Bills leaving WNY cannot be another bulletpoint in the timeline of WNY’s decay.
        Help keep the Bills in Buffalo.   This is important.
        If you made it this far – I appreciate you reading. Thanks.

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