The Buffalo Bills organization announced it has reached a major milestone in stadium negotiations. The organization posted a joint press release that New York, Erie County, and the Buffalo Bills had signed all documents related to the new stadium project. The 19 different agreements have been submitted to the County Legislature for review.
The agreement is the culmination of more than a year of negotiations. Last March, the Bills, Erie County, and New York reached a tentative agreement to extend the current lease and begin building a new stadium, memorialized in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The parties then spent the next year ironing out the details.
One of the most important points for many was the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). The agreement is intended to require the Bills to invest in Erie County. The tentative CBA signed last March did not contain specific provisions, aside from a requirement to further negotiate. However, the final document requires the Bills to commit to the community that supports them. For example, the team is required to make annual community investments of at least $3,000,000, design the stadium to support public transportation and pedestrian safety, and arrange various training programs for business owners and students.
Some allege that the community benefits agreement is insufficient. A recent article by the “Investigative Post” states that the agreement lacks important components of other similar agreements. The article points out that there is significant flexibility in many of the Buffalo Bills’ commitments and possibly inadequate oversight. It claims there may be mixed results from having such a relaxed approach to the agreement. The Bills organization maintains that it has a long, demonstrated history of providing benefits and support to the community without any written obligation to do so.
Another important part of the stadium deal was the non-relocation agreement. The agreement is intended to hold the team at the stadium for the entirety of the 30-year lease. The agreement accomplishes this in two main ways. First, in the event of a breach of the lease by the Bills, the County or State can seek to obtain a court order of “specific performance” that could require the Bills to continue to play all home games in the Erie County stadium over the full 30-year lease. Second, if specific performance is not ordered by the court, the county and state could seek a court judgment of liquidated damages equal to the full public sector investment in the stadium including interest, if any on the county bonds. During the first 15 years of the lease, this would amount to more than $850 million. A closer look at the agreement shows that the payback provision diminishes significantly over time. The original amount of contribution owed by the team in the event of default starts at 100% of the public sector contribution, and then begins to decline after the 15th lease year. By the 22nd year of the lease term, the Bills would only be required to pay back 50% of the public contribution to the stadium. Some question whether this amount is enough to deter a relocation bid in the long term, given the size of NFL revenues.
The next step for the agreement is approval by the 11-member Legislature of Erie County. The legislature is required to review all contracts that implicate the county. The legislature cannot revise the agreements. The group must either vote to approve or reject the deal as a whole. The review is expected to take 30 days. The legislature is also required to approve the sale of municipal bonds in order to finance the stadium construction.
The Bills are at the goal line, but not in the endzone .
 See Erie County Charter, Section 2602, https://www3.erie.gov/law/charter/article-26-general-provisions-charter