The Bills lease by the numbers

Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

Some perspective on the Bills lease signed Friday.

In terms of sheer public dollars, state and local government are getting off relatively cheap, although you’ve got to keep in mind that the improvements are intended as a 10-year stop gap at the aging Ralph Wilson Stadium.

New York State and Erie County are on the hook for $95 million.

Compare that with Kansas City, where taxpayers spent $250 million to renovate Arrowhead Stadium.

Or the $160 million spent by taxpayers to renovate Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.

Or the $548 million Minnesota taxpayers will pay for a new stadium for the Vikings.

The new Bills lease calls for the team to pay $35 million for stadium improvements – 27 percent of the total cost. That’s a little less than the norm, as  teams have picked up an average of 35 percent of the cost of stadium construction and renovations.

It’s worth noting, however, that there’s a trend around the league of teams picking up a bigger share of the tab.

  • The new home of the Jets and Giants was paid for entirely with private funds.
  • The Packers in Green Bay are planning another round of stadium improvements that will not involve public assistance.
  • The Vikings are covering 44 percent of the cost of their new home in Minneapolis. Ditto for what the Cowboys and their stadium in suburban Dallas.

Some further perspective: The $95 million in public funds to spruce up Ralph Wilson Stadium represents one of the largest subsidies ever granted a business in Western New York.

Yahoo’s data center in Lockport has received the largest subsidy package awarded a company locally. It is worth $268 million, mostly in sales and property tax abatements.

The richest deal before that involved $110 million in tax breaks and other incentives dangled to lure GEICO insurance to Amherst.

The Bills subsidy goes beyond stadium improvements. Government is also going to cover ongoing capital costs and operating expenses. Those annual payments start at $11.5 million a year and over the lifetime of the 10-year lease total more than the public’s share of stadium improvements.

It adds up to more than $200 million. All for a business that makes a lot of money – and a team that loses a lot of games.