The Editorial Board: It’s a fact: The Bills could have left. A fair agreement keeps them here | Editorial

 Five weeks after the deal for a new Bills stadium was announced, here’s what’s clear:

•The risk of losing the team was real.

•Gov. Kathy Hochul made a good deal, with the public paying a lesser share than many other small-market projects.

• The team’s owners, Terry and Kim Pegula, were willing to forgo the idea of leaving Buffalo, even though it would have made them wealthier.

• The loss of the Bills would have significantly diminished Western New York.

Those are crucial points to remember as criticism of the deal echoes here and around the state. The details make a difference.

Keeping the team: As recent stories in The News made clear, understanding the risk of losing the team depends on how you ask the question. During negotiations for a new stadium, the Bills never overtly threatened to leave and it’s clear that owners Terry and Kim Pegula didn’t want to leave Western New York.

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But, as Ron Raccuia, executive vice president for Pegula Sports and Entertainment, eventually conceded, had a deal not been reached, the team’s departure could well have followed. Plenty of other cities would have been happy to pony up for Buffalo’s team, which plays in the NFL’s second-smallest market.

With the deal, the Bills will remain here for at least 30 years. That’s the bottom line.

The Pegulas weren’t greedy: The complaints that, as billionaires, the Pegulas should have paid notably more ignores the larger point. They could have added billions to their net worth by moving to a larger city where ticket prices would have been much higher.

The benefits to Buffalo: The team’s worth isn’t calculated by a simple comparison of costs to tax revenues. Its value is both broader and deeper. Business leaders report that attracting talent to their offices is based, in part, on the presence of the Bills. The region’s progress would falter without those bragging rights.

Consider that, without the team, Buffalo would be just another city, like Birmingham, Ala., or Grand Rapids, Mich. On a list of Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas, those two places follow right behind Buffalo, which ranks 49th by population. Both have great assets, but they don’t live in the national imagination the way that Buffalo does. The reason is that this is an NFL city.

You don’t have to be football fan to acknowledge that fact, but doubters can view it from the other end of the binoculars: How many people would know that Green Bay, Wis., even exists were it not for the Packers? The Bills add irreplaceable value to Western New York.

At least as significant is the psychic importance of the team. The late Ralph Wilson established the Bills here in 1960, just as the steel industry was crumbling. As Buffalo declined, what it retained – what helped to bolster the city’s spirits – was the positive and pervasive influence of the Bills.

The team remains infused in the region’s identity.

Hochul got a good deal: It’s true that the public will pay about 61% of the projected $1.4 billion cost to build a new stadium across the street in Orchard Park, but Hochul produced a fair agreement that acknowledges all these factors. New York taxpayers will put up $600 million, the Bills and the NFL are expected to pay at least $550 million (and maybe more) and Erie County taxpayers will cover the remaining $250 million.

And, just to underscore two points: The public share is less than the average of small-market projects over the past 20 years. Taxpayers’ actual dollar costs are higher, but everything costs more now than it did five or 10 years ago. The costs will be higher, still, in another 10 years.

What is more, if construction costs rise further, the Pegulas, not the public, will be on the hook for them. Meanwhile, Erie County taxpayers are off the hook for operating and capital expenses.

New York’s other taxpayers may grumble, but taxpayers here help to cover costs of large projects in other regions of the state. It’s one of the ways big jobs get done.

With that, and assuming all remaining hurdles are cleared, the Bills will remain here for the next three decades. They won’t become the Austin Sunstrokes or the San Diego Sea Serpents. Mobile and Grand Rapids will soldier on without NFL teams.

That happened because the state, under Hochul’s leadership, negotiated a deal that was fair to all.

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