The list of potential NFL teams that could relocate to Los Angeles — where entertainment giant AEG is hoping to build a downtown stadium — dropped by one last month when the Minnesota state legislature approved a plan to build a new $975 million stadium for the Vikings. Now, the Buffalo Bills — another team often suggested as a candidate to move to Los Angeles — could be making plans to remain in their longtime home city instead of heading west.
The Bills have long appeared vulnerable to relocation because of their current small market locale, aging stadium and the fact their elderly owner, Ralph Wilson Jr., has no plans to sell the team while he is alive. But WGRZ, a television station in Buffalo, reported last week that the vetting process for potential new owners of the Bills has quietly begun.
In addition, the station reported that “at least two or three groups” would keep the Bills in western New York, which is the preference of the 92-year-old Wilson, and that these possible ownership groups have the money to privately fund a new stadium for the Bills, who play in Ralph Wilson Stadium, the seventh-oldest facility in the NFL. In an attempt to raise more revenue and expand their season ticket base, the Bills have played one “home” game per year at Toronto’s Rogers Centre since 2008.
While the identity of the potential owners remains a mystery, legendary Bills quarterback Jim Kelly — who led the Bills to their record run of four straight Super Bowl appearances from 1990 through 1993 — has previously expressed his interest in being part of a group that keeps the Bills in Buffalo when they are put up for sale.
“I would love the opportunity down the road to be a big part of the ownership group,” Kelly told USA Today in 2009. “I hope I can sit down with Mr. Wilson at some time and discuss the future and making sure this Buffalo Bills franchise does stay in Buffalo, and making sure it is the Buffalo Bills from 1960 to 2040.”
The Bills have struggled to regain the form they enjoyed, both on the field and at the gate, since Kelly’s retirement following the 1996 season. The Bills made the playoffs in eight of Kelly’s last nine seasons but have made just two trips in the last 13 years. They last reached the postseason in 1999, which is the longest drought in the NFL, and have enjoyed just one winning season since the turn of the century.
The Bills regularly sold out their home games at what was then called Rich Stadium during their near-dynastic run in the 1990s, but with both the team and the economy lagging, the Bills had three home games blacked out in 2010 and their final three home games blacked out last season, when the Bills were tied for first place in the AFC East with a 5-3 mark at midseason but finished tied for last at 6-10.
Forbes ranked the Bills 29th in its annual valuations of NFL franchises last year, just behind the Vikings and ahead of only the St. Louis Rams, Oakland Raiders, and Jacksonville Jaguars — three teams that have all been connected to a possible relocation to Los Angeles, which hasn’t had an NFL team since the Rams moved to St. Louis after the 1994 season.