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Keith Strudler: Bon Jovi And The Bills

For now, Buffalo Bills fans are Living on a Prayer. It’s not the faint hope placed on quarterback EJ Manuel’s arm, which will likely require a whole lot of divine intervention. It’s the far more existential question of whether the Buffalo Bills will in fact remain that, the Buffalo Bills. What’s certain is that the team will have a new owner following the death of Ralph Wilson, who bought the team in 1959 and kept them in the post-industrial town despite its shrinking market size and clear opportunities to move to greener pastures, places with better facilities and greater revenue potential. But Wilson promised to stay, something that made him perhaps the most beloved sports figure in Buffalo not named Jim Kelly.

At least for now, iconic rock star Jon Bon Jovi isn’t held in the same high regard. Bon Jovi is part of a group that submitted a sealed bid to buy the franchise, one that’s initially been turned down. The investment firm Morgan Stanley has asked Bon Jovi’s team to resubmit, essentially requesting more cash. Whether they will is yet to be seen. But if it were up to the people of Western New York, Bon Jovi would simply Runaway, sending his investment team down in a Blaze of Glory. That’s because Buffalo residents distrust the rocker’s intentions to keep the team in town. In fact, most suspect a vote for Jon Bon Jovi is a vote to move the team to Toronto, the squad's effective second home where they’ve played a handful of home games over the past few years. As the defacto New York City of Canada, Toronto is bigger, richer, and more glamorous than Buffalo. And its Canadian location keeps it from encroaching upon another NFL team’s perceived turf, giving it easy approval from the cabal of NFL team owners.

For his part, Bon Jovi has at least intimated he would keep the team right where it is. Or at least try to. Having heard that song before, in places like Baltimore, and Hartford, and Winnipeg, Buffalo is suspect, at best. That’s why they’re pushing for Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, who has both the cash and the desire to keep the Bills where they are. That’s less likely true for Donald Trump, who’s publicly announced he would pay $1 billion cash for the team. It’s hard to imagine the NFL would even consider, much less accept that offer. In the NFL, owners are rarely seen or heard, part of what makes league management such a unified front. Unlike other sports organizations, most talking from NFL owners happens behind closed doors, Dan Snyder excluded.

It's understandable why fans both in and outside of Buffalo would want to keep the team there. To fans, teams are part of their very community, their social fabric and currency. Leaving not only takes away a business, but part of their soul. In the social contract between teams and fans, where Bills fans have certainly kept up their end of the bargain, leaving town feels like a broken promise.

But the reality is this. Buffalo is simply a horrible place to do football business, something any new owner and the league itself certainly recognizes. Particularly given the league’s revenue share model, where TV and sponsorships are split evenly amongst the teams, the value of any NFL franchise is influenced greatly on the revenue you can produce from your own stadium. The Bills currently play in one that feels ancient by today’s standards, certainly compared to the cash machines constructed in places like Dallas and New York and Houston and anyone else keeping up with the Joneses – the Jerry Joneses, that is. And Buffalo is about as likely to build a new stadium as they are to build a cactus farm. So any new owner would be foolish to not to go somewhere else, where the allure of new facilities and more cash is simply good business. That’s why the bids for the Bills are going for around a billion, while the LA Clippers, a basketball team no less, went for two. From a NFL owner’s perspective, the city of Buffalo isn’t just an anchor. It’s the whole Titanic.

That’s the odd reality of pro sports teams. Love them at your own risk, because in the end, they’ll probably love someone else, like say Toronto, a whole lot more.  Which is why Jon Bon Jovi, if his group does in fact get the Bills, will probably end up across the border sooner than later. Even if it would make him, in the city of Buffalo, Wanted Dead or Alive.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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