Good Ralph Vs Bad Ralph
Everyone has an opinion when it comes to the owner and founder of the Bills. Ralph Wilson has been called everything in the book by fans and media members. Pioneer, loyal, cheap, and senile just to name a few. I look at Ralph being two people, there’s good Ralph and then there is bad Ralph. Think of the pitch fork and halo when describing either one. Ralph to me is riddle trapped in a enigma. One minute I love the fact that he’s our owner, the next minute I’m begging for Mark Cuban to take over.
I’ve said it at least 10 times on my blog that in order to make money in the NFL you need to sell luxury seats, and lots of them. The Bills may be able to sell some luxury boxes in Orchard Park, but they can almost charge double the amount in Toronto. The Bills average ticket price is $53.00, while in Toronto they can go as high as $250. The revenue for a Toronto game is almost 4 times that of a Bills game in Orchard Park. To give you an idea of the discrepancy between Buffalo and bigger markets. The price tag to buy Luxury Boxes at Jerry Jones “fabulous Taj Mahal of stadiums” is an eye popping $500,000 for each of their 300 luxury boxes a year. How many companies in Buffalo can afford that? And what about the fans? Giants are charging $7,500 for a personal seat licenses to go along with individual tickets costing $250 a game. Again, you gonna pay for that? Ralph is smart in keeping up with the Jones, by going to Canada and getting the 4th Largest North American market to pay for those prices. Wilson knows that in this economic climate and the issues Buffalo has always had with the job market that the fans can’t afford those prices. By doing the Toronto experiment it increases the value of the Bills and makes it more appealing for a new owner to want to keep the Bills in Buffalo.
I still get angry at thinking about the press conference Wilson had with the Rogers Group announcing the Bills in Toronto series. Ralph was yucking it up about how amazing Toronto is and how they are building new skyscrapers. When he talked about Buffalo, he didn’t sugar coat the problems the city had. When Wilson was asked about the fans fears of the team moving, Wilson stated, “The fans can think whatever they want. I can’t speculate the future.” Wilson still hasn’t made any sort of efforts to make sure the team stays in Buffalo after he passes away (sorry that was morbid). It’s a catch 22 with Wilson, I sometimes wish he would pull a card from the Sabres regime. Just lie to the fans and act as if the team is on the up and up, and Buffalo will be here long after he is gone. On the other hand, his honesty is so cold and bitter that it just makes me want to strangle him. He’s made a lot of money off the team and it’s not like he is struggling to make ends meat. Your complaining about a team not making money, yet the economy is in the worse shape in decades.
2)The Buffalo Fans
Fans will always be quick to state that Wilson invested a bargain price of $25,000 for the team in 1960, and is now worth over $800 million because of fans buying the product. There are flaws in that logic. The NFL is an American phenomenon, it doesn’t matter where a team plays, because selling out games won’t be a problem. Of all the NFL games played last year, only 3 games weren’t sold out. If the team is called the Portland Bills, it’s going to sell out all of Portland, Maine. The issue for a team is how much a fan is willing to pay for the games. Like I’ve mentioned above, Buffalo can only charge a certain amount for tickets. Wilson has never buckled under the pressure of charging NFL market value for tickets. Be thankful your not paying for PSL’s (for now). Ralph has never tried moving the team and reminds us that every AFL team has moved at least once, while his is still standing.
Even though Ralph hasn’t upped his ticket prices, he sure has upped his complaints about not making as much money as the bigger market teams. Well if Ralph had read my column on how I would run the Bills, he would change the name of the stadium. Fed Ex is paying almost 8 million dollars a year for the rights of the Redskins stadium name. After you get the 8 million dollars off that deal, how about putting it in your football team. Its been 9 years since the Bills have made the playoffs, yet the fans keep coming back for more. Ralph’s mindset is that he has done enough for the fans by keeping the Bills in Buffalo, and keeping tickets relatively cheap. If you think Ralph is going to empty his pockets and bring in FA after FA, you got another thing coming to you. Ralph isn’t as stupid as some make him out to be. He knows that the fans will pay for an average product. Lets not forget fans may be buying tickets because they think if the Bills don’t sell out, it will give another reason for the franchise to pack up and leave town.
3)Is Ralph cheap?
Ralph has been accused of being cheap when it comes to his players. That’s hardly the case. He paid Aaron Schobel and Lee Evans market value, along with overpaying for Chris Kelsey, Derrick Dockery, Kwaika Mitchell, and Langston Walker. Let’s not forget he paid 6.5 million to bring in the Terrell Owens side show to town. And I’ll say this, during the Bills heyday in the 90’s he paid through the nose to keep guys like Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith, and Jim Kelly. And we aren’t talking just giving them a 4 year deal and saying “see you in 4 years.” Just ask Bruce Smith, who must of renegotiated his contract at least 5 times. If the team is winning, Wilson has a history of keeping the team together no matter the cost.
Who would you rather have Lee Evans at 9 million a year or Bill Cowher for 7 million? Yeah, my thoughts exactly. Ralph will put money into players, but severely lacks when it comes to paying his coaches and general managers. It took him over 45 years to pay a new Bills head coach over a million dollars a year. If you ask me, the only reason why Jauron didn’t get fired was because Ralph acted to quickly to extend him after the 4-0 start last year. All coaches contracts are guaranteed even after being fired. If Jauron doesn’t have that extension signed, he’s dead as fried chicken. If you don’t believe me, ask Wade Phillips who went to court with Wilson fighting over a half a million dollar contract that was owed to Phillips after being fired (or quit, if you ask Wilson). Want to go a step further, how about neutering the GM position and have the marketing guy do both jobs.
4)Does Ralph deserve to be in the HOF?
Ralph was one of the founding fathers of the AFL. He was the one owner who had deep enough pockets to lend owners money when their teams were fledgling. He was also very key in getting the AFL’s first TV deal. Besides his accomplishments in helping the AFL, The Bills are one of ten NFL teams to reach the Super Bowl at least 4 times. Wilson is tied with Al Davis as the longest serving owner in the NFL today. And of course, Wilson has never moved the Bills.
During the press conference that Wilson was announced as part of the new Hall of Fame class, he rambled on about how the Buffalo needs football in its town. Well Ralph, if you are so hell bent on keeping the Bills in Buffalo after your gone, then sell some of the team to someone who may want to keep the team there. The 800lb gorilla in the room is if Wilson still owns the team after he dies, by law the team would go up for auction. That means an ownership group with Large pockets in LA could swoop in and outbid the Jim Kelly group (which doesn’t exist) or any other local group and move the team. This would of course get eliminated if Wilson sold some of the shares of the team to someone committed to Buffalo. If the Bills leave Buffalo, Wilson’s legacy would be tarnished because he could of stopped all of it from happening. But again you can make the case that Wilson did all he could in keeping the team in Buffalo, and it’s the city’s problem that they aren’t in good financial shape to support a NFL team.
5)Will the Bills stay in Buffalo?
Ralph will live for another 10-15 years, and by then Buffalo will have new businesses and the Bass Pro project will finally be complete. The franchise will play 2 games a year in Toronto with Canadian fans being accustomed to cheering for the Bills. When Mr. Wilson passes on the team will be worth a lot more money because of the involvement of Toronto and being able to tout itself as a franchise in 3 markets (Rochester, Buffalo, Toronto). The incoming owner would be stupid to try and move the team and pay for the franchise relocation fee.
The Toronto experiment will only quench the thirst for the city to want its own NFL team. The pockets of rich business men in Canada will try to outbid any local group in Buffalo. Ralph passes away within a couple years with the city still trying to get the Bass Pro deal developed and battling a shrinking market. The NFL decides that it’s fair game on who has the deepest pockets to buy the team and play the “it’s the law” card, when it’s deciding who buys the team at the auction.
It’s going to be a dicey time fans. If you were to put a gun to my head and ask me what I think will happen, I’d say the team is going to move, because the law that the team goes to the highest bidder is going to be the biggest issue. Not to mention with all the new stadiums being built and charging PSL’s, it is going to make the NFL think the city can’t compete in today’s market. The wild card in all this is Toronto. If the Bills can get Toronto to be the Milwaukee for Green Bay like during the 90’s, then it will be a success. If Toronto becomes uninterested and doesn’t care about the team, then you’re going to have a problem. So for all you Wilson haters who want him out of Buffalo, be careful for what you wish for because as soon as Wilson is gone, the team may follow.