Don't Fill Out The Buffalo Bills' Change of Address Cards Just Yet

John HowellAnalyst IJanuary 6, 2010

ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 03: A general view  of the Buffalo Bills playing the Indianapolis Colts in the snow at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

There's one phrase I'm sick to death of reading or hearing in the press, relative to the Buffalo Bills' coaching search:

"The situation in Buffalo is too uncertain with the age of owner Ralph Wilson and the likelihood that the franchise will relocate after his death."

I don't know why it is assumed that the Bills are only biding time until Granddady dies so they can finally run away from home. There are several reasons, in fact, why I am convinced the Bills aren't going anywhere, except perhaps to play an extra game in Toronto.

First of all, just because the Wilson family doesn't appear willing or able to retain franchise ownership after the patriarch's death, that doesn't mean that there aren't several potential suitors with local ties who could purchase the team and keep it right where it is.

Former Bills Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas, Pro Football Hall of Famers from the Superbowl years, have continued to live in the area and stay involved in a consulting basis with the team, while also continuing their active involvement in civic life. It is obvious that both Kelly and Thomas, like many other former Bills, have established deep roots in the community.

It's no secret that for the past few years, Kelly and Thomas have been exploring options for heading up an investors group with the objective of being in position to acquire a controlling interest in the franchise whenever Mr. Wilson or his heirs wish to unload the asset.  

Considering the sentimental status that Kelly has in the Buaffalo Niagara Region, and the success Kelly has had with fundraising for his charities, does anyone doubt he'll succeed in raising the appropriate amount of mone?

But, lets assume for a moment, that when the time comes, local interests remain on the sidelines or are outbid by outsiders. There are still several reasons, strictly from a business perspective, why the NFL and any potential out-of-town owners will commit to keeping the Bills in the Buffalo area permanently.

First, of primary interest to the NFL, is the issue of branding, legacy, and continuity.

The Buffalo Bills are the AFC equivalent of the Green Bay Packers in NFC.  Perhaps more accurately, they are to the AFL's legacy (which now belongs to the NFL) what the Packers are to the pre-merger NFL. They are an original franchise, storied and iconic, and an argument could be made that it's essential to preserve the franchise in order for the league to maintain historical integrity.

No one would even suggest moving the Packers out of Green Bay, nor was it ever suggested, even before Brett Favre arrived and Lambeau Field was upgraded.  Nobody suggested it when the team suffered through decades of futility between Bart (Starr) and Brett.

You wouldn't move the Packers out of Green Bay any more than you'd move the Gettysburg Museum off the Gettysburg battlefield. 

For the same reason, you wouldn't move the Bills out of Buffalo. Like the Packers, and perhaps unlike any other franchise in the NFL, the Bills are a sort of living museum of what and where the AFL/NFL has been. Each team has made significant and unique contributions to league pathos, which make them uniquely geographically necessary. 

Putting the Bills franchise in a new stadium in L.A. would be just as disorienting as putting the Gettysburg museum in Philadelphia.

Regardless of what you build or where, the soul of the battle, its very reality—not only in historical context but in its timeless and ongoing reality—is one in the same with its physical place. A Gettysburg museum anywhere but Gettysburg is more than meaningless. It is spiritually and socially disruptive.  It is experientially dissonant.

The AFL Championships won in Buffalo by icons not only of the league, but of the nation— such as Jack Kemp, who went on to a political career of national impact but never apart from local heritage—become forever stripped of context if the Bills leave Buffalo. 

Even debunked heroes such as O.J. Simpson become shorn of context without the team in town.

What happens to rivalries? The Patriots vs. the Greenbacks (What happens to a Buffalo Bill in L.A.? It becomes a dollar bill) somehow isn't as appealing.

Secondly, it doesn't make economic sense for the NFL to leave Buffalo. There are several venues in the league that are weaker in terms of fan base, attendance, and media market than Buffalo.

Consider these little known facts:

-If you measure the actual viewership of the Buffalo TV market, including the Canadian suburbs and contiguous Canadian cities, Buffalo would be considered a large market team. In fact, the Toronto-Buffalo-Rochester mega-region is the fourth largest such region in North America, trailing only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago

-Unlike many larger cities, Buffalo, due to its uniqueness, has a passionate contingent of expats all over the country*. The Bills are among the top teams in terms of viewership of nationally televised games and also in terms of satellite viewership*.

 (Similarly, the number of Bills fans nationally is among the top in the league)*.

-The Bills continue to sell out* one of the largest stadiums in the league (Ralph Wilson Stadium) without a single playoff appearance in the last 10 years. 

Certainly if there is a franchise that could be moved to L.A. with minimal negative impact on the league it would be Jacksonville.  Of all the league's existing franchises, this one, expanded concurrently with Carolina, has not been able to establish itself under NFL standards from the beginning.

So, although I would favor making the (former) L.A. Chargers a regional team for all of Southern California, if any team has to move, it should be, and I'm quite certain it will be, the Jaguars.

So, Bills fans, press, and pundits alike: get over it. The Buffalo Bills are going to continue to be a local and regional institution (Hello, Toronto!) And that's a good thing.

Now, can we get back, in earnest, to our coaching search?

John is available as a speaker for any organization or event on sports topics or a variety of other topics. For more information see The Speaker page on his website: www.johnwingspreadhowell.com/theconsultant.

*Thanks to Laurie Wooden for information used in this article.

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