The new owner is likely to be a billionaire. Why should taxpayers with a median household income of $54,000 be compelled to give a new stadium to a billionaire who will keep all profit the facility generates? As happened, say, with billionaire Paul Allen and CenturyLink Field, where the defending champion Seahawks perform. There, Washington state taxpayers were compelled to foot the cost, and Allen keeps nearly all the profit.
Right now, political pressure is building for a taxpayer-funded new stadium as part of the franchise sale. Roger Goodell has lobbied Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer to compel taxpayers to provide a new stadium for the Bills. The NFL takes in only $10 billion a year and enjoys federal tax and property tax exemptions -- it couldn't possibly afford to pay! Goodell pays himself only $44.2 million a year for running a "nonprofit" -- Goodell couldn't possibly be expected to reduce his personal windfall to help finance a stadium!
Worried he will take the blame if the Bills move -- and needing to divert attention from his considerable ethical problems -- Cuomo now says the state "would be interested" in funding a new stadium if that kept the Bills in Buffalo. That is easy for the governor to say, since taxpayers, not him, will be the ones handed the invoice. How could a huge subsidy for the super-profitable NFL be justified when the state is cutting funding from public schools? (Look up "Gap Elimination Adjustment.") But from Cuomo's standpoint, he might get to make a dramatic announcement claiming a subsidized stadium would generate thousands of jobs, then be out of office before the red ink begins to flow.
Judith Grant Long, an urban planning professor at Harvard, has shown that about 70 percent of the cost of building and operating NFL stadia has been paid by taxpayers -- many not even sports fans. About 95 percent of the revenue the stadia generate is kept by team owners. It's a deeply disturbing arrangement. Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College, has shown that NFL investments never generate the promised job totals or local economic activity. If there's public money to spend in Buffalo, investments in infrastructure -- schools, transportation, a replacement for the dilapidated Peace Bridge, improving Delaware Park -- would have more of an economic multiplier effect than an NFL field.
This said, if there is one city where public investment in an NFL stadium might be justified, it's Buffalo. Should Atlanta or Miami lose its NFL team, that would be a shame, but these cities would still have strong economies. Should Buffalo lose the Bills, this could be perceived as the "last one turns out the lights" moment, reducing the odds of a Buffalo urban recovery.
Public investment in an NFL stadium might be justified only if the facility is located downtown. The Buffalo News reports that 15 sites are under consideration for a new stadium. Two are in Toronto. Several are suburban, including an abandoned shopping mall property an hour's drive from the city. One is near Niagara Falls, where the tourist activity is on the Canadian side, not the American side. One is on the Buffalo Outer Harbor, which is cut off from downtown by a freeway and doesn't contribute to the pulse of urban life. Only downtown locations should be considered if public funds are spent.