Niagara Gazette

Opinion

October 24, 2011

Time to occupy Ralph Wilson Stadium

NIAGARA FALLS — Most Americans can identify, in part, with the ideals of the Occupy Wall Street movement. What probably resonates most with the majority, regardless of “right” or “left” tendencies, is the basic concept that our government should not be in the business of business. That is, we, as taxpayers, shouldn’t be shelling out the big bucks to bail out failing institutions or industries or prop up selected corporations. Capitalism, its risk, and the determination of failures and successes are all best left in the hands of entrepreneurs. If they want to make money, they need to use their own money.

Someone please tell that to Ralph Wilson and his compatriots at 1 Bills Drive. And while you’re at it, share that with ardent Buffalo Bills backers, our elected officials and the other newspaper. Each one of those groups is guilty of abandoning common sense and common sentiment, thinking it’s prudent for state and local taxpayers to invest a staggering $100 million to $175 million in improvements for Ralph Wilson Stadium.

I haven’t been to a game at the Ralph in probably 10 years. But, from what I remember about the place, it’s a perfectly fine venue at which to watch a football game. The structure, field, scoreboard and bathrooms are all in good shape. Call me old school, but I’m more impressed by what’s happening on the field, rather than what diversions are around it. If I’m spending money on a ticket, I’m buying the game and its memories, not fancy heated seats and glitzy food kiosks. I’ve been to numerous NCAA Division III venues over the years. They’re always bare bones, and I more cherish those games because of that (not to mention the lack of bloated salaries and egos).

As a rule, professional football fans don’t see it that way; they want the glamour, cushy seats and immense luxury boxes. But, then again, maybe they don’t. Maybe that’s what the team owners want us to believe as their means to upsell what is a bad product on the field through the illusion of a greatness created by a state-of-the-art facility. It makes it easier to charge more for tickets and reap greater revenues from the luxury boxes. It can be a huge victory for the team owner (though not necessarily the team, per se), especially when taxpayers foot the bill.

And, that’s exactly what so many folks — especially the Wilsons — want to happen in Western New York.

There’s this misguided belief that the Bills will get up and leave us if we didn’t pony up. Just think about this: Would your life really be ruined if the Bills did leave us? No. And anyway, it seems that some people’s lives are already ruined by the very act of being a Bills fan.

Seriously, you hear that exodus threat in most cities that host a sports team. Despite it being nothing more than a bluff, most municipalities blindly buy into it. And, I do mean “buy”: Those more concerned with the NFL than the Real World think nothing of throwing around $100 million of other people’s money for that end. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that we are in a fiscal crisis mode. They’re ignorant to the importance of, say, maintaining quality schools year-round, instead sacrificing that investment for what works out to be four regular season home games per year and maybe half as many between the preseason and the playoffs.

Only a fool would believe the NFL’s “woe are we” statements. The League generates $8 billion in revenues every year. The 32 teams in the league have an average sell value of $1.02 billion. Even the Buffalo Bills, a supposedly small market team, have yielded a big-time financial performance. The franchise is valued at $792 million. Last year, it brought in $236 million in revenues and it had an operating profit that hit a whopping $40.9 million.    

Profit is not a bad thing. What is, though, is amassing a profit (especially a healthy one) and then relying on taxpayers to pay for your stadium under the pretense that you can’t afford it when, in all actuality, you can (Even if you couldn’t, it’s not the taxpayers’ responsibility).

It’s corporate and government tomfoolery like that — exercised by the banks and Bush and Obama administrations — which inspired the Occupy Wall Street movements. If Albany and Buffalo somehow find it necessary to extend a benevolent hand to the Bills, it should inspire a similar hearty protest here — our own little Occupy Ralph Wilson Stadium movement, if you will.

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