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Wilson worried about Bills' long-term viability

BUFFALO, N.Y. (April 4, 2006) -- Bills owner Ralph Wilson expressed concerns about the long-term viability of his and other NFL small-market teams during a meeting with New York Gov. George Pataki.

"While I am committed to Western New York, the long-term viability of our franchise may be in serious doubt," Wilson told Pataki during a private meeting in Albany.

Wilson's comments and the meeting were made public in a release issued by the team and confirmed by Pataki spokesman Kevin Quinn. Wilson was not available for comment.

In the meeting, Wilson said he believes the Bills will be hampered by the new collective bargaining agreement approved last month, extending labor peace through 2012. The Bills and Cincinnati Bengals -- two of the NFL's lowest-revenue franchises -- were the only teams to vote against the deal.

Wilson believes the agreement establishes an unequal playing field between large- and small-market teams because it produces an equal allocation of player costs with an unequal allocation of revenues.

"I have 46 years invested in this franchise," said Wilson, the Bills' sole owner since he founded the team in 1960. "There are those who don't care about us, our passionate fans or our hardworking taxpayers. Well, I do. I am not going to sugarcoat this, and I am not going down without a fight. The people who have supported us for these 46 years deserve more than that."

Pataki sent a letter to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue this week about the collective barganing agreement.

"The secure future of the Buffalo Bills in Western New York is of vital interest to me and the people of New York State," Pataki said.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said he was aware of Wilson's concerns and said the league is intent on making sure the new CBA and revenue-sharing arrangements work for all 32 teams.

"The goal of the league is to continue to have 32 strong franchises that have an equal opportunity to compete for the Super Bowl," Aiello said.

The agreement will add close to a billion dollars to the players' revenue pool.

Explaining his vote, Wilson said he didn't like being rushed into approving a deal on what he described as "a very complicated issue."

While large-market NFL franchises can draw on their region's wealth and corporations to generate additional revenue, the Bills are handcuffed because of the area's poor economic health. The region has lost hundreds of thousands of residents over the past two decades.

The Bills have been successful, however, in establishing themselves as a regional franchise. In 2000, the team moved its training camp site from Fredonia to Rochester, a much larger community home to numerous companies such as Eastman Kodak, Bausch & Lomb and the Wegmans grocery store chain.

The Bills have taken advantage of the move by securing sponsorship deals.

The team is also limited by its stadium, which was built in 1973. Although Ralph Wilson Stadium has a seating capacity of about 74,000, it features only 164 luxury suites.

The Bills have seven years left on their stadium lease with Erie County, although Wilson has always insisted he plans to keep the team in Buffalo.

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