Taxpayer Santa Claus gives Ralph Wilson and family an early Xmas present

Rockin' around the Christmas tree, at the Christmas party slop.

I love the myth of the free market and the bootstrapping entrepreneur.  Without it, our business schools wouldn't continue to surge with wide-eyed future (and underemployed) alumni donors. I also love it because the narrative is so simple.  It's black and white, really--I did everything, all by myself.  Despite the lessons from behavioral economics and history, the narrative's insistence on oversimplifying complex issues into laissez-faire dogma provides for some great comedic context.

Enter the humor of Bills owner Ralph Wilson.  In 2011, Wilson gave an interview in which he gave this tidy little homespun answer to a question about how much he profits from his ownership of the Buffalo Bills:

I came into this game 50 years ago because I enjoyed the game of pro football. Not to make money.  In those days, everybody was hoping to break even. We lost money for a number of years. I am really not into the game to make money, but I would like to break even or make a little.

While there's little doubt Wilson saved the AFL from several disasters during its early years, let's not get too nostalgic.  Wilson parlayed his father's insurance company into some nice little investments that included a rather cheap purchase of the Bills in 1959, even for the time.  Wilson bought the Bills for a grand total of $25,000.  Last year, the Bills made $29 million, which included $7 million of taxpayer subsidies.  In my book, that's making money.

Even after the recession, it's estimated the Bills are worth about $805 million.

That number got even higher today, with the announcement of some more corporate welfare, courtesy of New York taxpayers:

A total of $130 million will be spent on a range of renovations at the aging stadium. Of that, the Bills will kick in $35 million, which is different from past deals with the state that included no team contribution. The state and county will share the remaining $95 million renovation costs – with $54 million coming from the state and $41 million from the county.

Wilson, who is 93, wants his family to not only break even, he wants them to break the bank.  You see, there's a little problem, Bills fans.  As Mike Florio points out:

After seven years, the Bills have a one-time opportunity to leave, without penalty. This clause is, obviously, aimed at allowing Ralph Wilson’s family to sell the team to the highest bidder, even if said bidder would be inclined to move the team to L.A.  The fact that the deal even contemplates relocation, with or without $400 million changing hands, makes it different from other stadium deals, most of which don’t provide a path out of town tied to cutting a check.  Or, after seven years, not cutting a check at all.

That's a whole lot of eggnog, Santa - whether you give campaign money to Chuck Schumer or not.  The old man may not be around to drink it, but his family is gonna get loopy.

The worst part about all of this, of course, is that subsidies for stadiums are like flushing money down the toilet.  I've yet to see a credible, independent study that shows otherwise.

It begs the question, however: just what is a city's football culture worth?  Is there a public price tag for such things?  Is bleeding orange and blue priceless?

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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