LA is desperate for an NFL franchise. The league, a sports monopoly, wants a team in LA too. It is the nation’s 2nd largest TV market. Since all the teams share TV revenue, not having a team in LA is costing everybody money. The owners want that fixed. There are presently 32 teams in the NFL, an even number that provides sufficient revenues for all and a balanced playoff structure. The NFL does not want a new franchise; an existing team will have to move. It will be Buffalo. The list of teams that could relocate is short: Buffalo, Minnesota and Jacksonville. The Vikings will never move because their fan base is too entrenched, the reaction from all football fans would be negative. Jacksonville is in Florida and is a Super Bowl host site so they will stay. Only Buffalo has all of the right conditions to relocate.
What are those conditions? Money. The Bills don’t bring in the same revenues as bigger market teams; the Bills don’t earn as much for their owners; the Bills share in the TV revenues without a commensurate financial return to the league. There are some onerous steps to readying a team to leave a city and the Bills seem to be using them. The Bills have to show they have been diligent building a competitive team, that the fan base has declined and that the community, meaning local and state government, no longer is willing to support them. These “conditions” are all pretty much in place: Erie County is balking at giving the Bills a deal on the stadium that puts the taxpayer on the hook for millions in repairs if the Bills refuse to commit, contractually, to staying in Buffalo for the long term; Season ticket sales have bounced back this year but the team can point to the recent past to show a decline in support. Additionally, the Bills are taking a very hard stance on the blackout rule. Nothing is easier for the public to understand than a team “suffering” blackouts. It is the de facto proof of lousy fan support. Add to these the sob story about “having” to play home games in Toronto. Never mind that these games pay the team a bonus of $1 million per from the NFL or that they infuriate local season ticket holders who must take an extra hour or two to cross the Peace Bridge to get to the game, the Bills will spin this into proof of their "desperate situation" in the community.
If they can manufacture a portrayal of the franchise as one that has worked hard to build a good “product,” even as fan and community support has eroded, they will have created a narrative sufficient for the media to generate empathy for the ownership’s decision to move.
It is important to recognize that the NFL and network television are two sides of the same coin. TV needs the NFL desperately and ALL of the tremendous revenues teams and players enjoy come from the networks. This is a symbiotic relationship and all parties want an NFL franchise in LA. If the Bills can concoct a tale of woe, one that team executives can tell with a straight face to Bob Costas or “The Sawmi,” the networks will do the rest. The networks will fill in the gaps; airing lousy shots of the stadium, dingy dressing rooms, broken concrete, those terrible stadium seats and snow...lots and lots of snow. The NFL will shape and repeat a tale of how loyal the Wilson family was to the community but ultimately the love wasn’t reciprocated. They’ll show newspaper headlines about the County refusing to give the team a deal, air footage of politicians looking angry, all the usual propaganda.
Keep this in mind: when a team abandons a city it is no longer important to the NFL what those fans think. The only thing that matters is damage control across the nation. The league and the networks will work hard to assure the rest of America that the Buffalo situation was unique, sad and irreparable. They’ll repeat the story that the franchise did everything humanly possible but in the end the patient just couldn’t be saved. The message will be this: Don’t worry, this was a sad but inevitable situation; it won’t happen to your team.
There is one other reason the Bills will move to LA: the Wilson family will make a fortune on it. They will either keep the team which will boost it's revenue/value immensely or sell the team to new ownership in which case it's, obviously, a seller's market. Within reason the Wilson's will get whatever price they name, and the NFL will support them.
The Bills want to put a competitive team on the field this year as much to keep Buffalo fans coming in as to generate enthusiasm for the future fans in LA. However, unless the Bills go to the Super Bowl it won’t mean a thing. The narrative will have been worked out using experts from the networks, expensive PR firms and a fully committed group of TV analysts. Prospective new owners are already gathering and the pressure to settle the LA stadium situation will build fast. Right after the passing of Mr. Wilson the Bills will be leaving Western NY. Bet on it.
That means that tomorrow’s game against the Jets will be the Bills last visit to the Meadowlands. It might be as good a time as any to start rooting for the Jets.