BUFFALO, N.Y. — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed optimism that the Bills will remain in Buffalo and suggested the franchise will need a new stadium to ensure its long-term viability.
In calling the Bills' recently negotiated 10-year lease agreement a "short-term solution," Goodell on Wednesday said a new stadium would be the next step in securing the team's long-term future.
"We all want to focus and get that stadium built," Goodell said. "We need to find the right long-term solution that is good for the community and can help the Bills continue to be successful in western New York. I'm confident we'll get there."
Goodell spoke during a pre-NFL draft event in New York City, and his comments were provided in a transcript released by the NFL.
The Bills' long-term future is uncertain after the team's owner and founder Ralph Wilson died in March. Wilson's estate is in the process of appointing an investment banking firm to oversee a sale of the team, which raises concerns of the Bills relocating.
Goodell became the first to publicly suggest the team will require a new stadium.
Previously, Bills officials and state and local leaders have called that a possibility, while not ruling out the potential of making more renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium, which opened in 1973.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo was not surprised by Goodell's comments, noting he discussed the issue with the commissioner and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz a day earlier.
"We're all on the same page," Cuomo said. "If a new stadium is what's needed and is possible, it will get done."
Cuomo has already recognized the likelihood of the Bills needing a new facility. A day earlier, the state hired AECOM, a California-based architectural and design firm, to identify three or four sites across the region that could serve as the team's new home.
AECOM officials will begin touring sites on Monday and have until July 11 to produce a feasibility study to be distributed to prospective ownership groups. Sites could potentially include Buffalo as well as Niagara Falls.
In a statement released by the county, Poloncarz said: "all options should be part of the discussion and nothing should be disregarded."
Goodell said he's already had talks with potential owners. And he also shed light on what the NFL's approach will be in determining the next Bills owner and the franchise's status in western New York.
Goodell said there could be two votes taken by NFL owners. The first would approve sale of the team to the prospective owner selected by Wilson's estate. If necessary, a separate vote would be required to approve any relocation of the franchise.
"We are making those two separate votes," Goodell said. "The intention is that whoever buys the team will make the team work in western New York."
But Poloncarz also maintained that the Bills should stay within the county borders, and he included the possibility of the Bills remaining at their current home.
It has not been determined how the cost of a new stadium would be divided.
The Bills are essentially locked into playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium through the end of the 2019 season under the terms of the lease the franchise reached with the state and county in December 2012.
The Bills would incur a $400 million penalty by broaching the prospect of moving during the lease's term. There is a one-time exception that would allow the Bills to break the lease for just under $28.4 million in 2020.
Officials believe having the framework of a new stadium plan in place would help represent the region's commitment to keeping the Bills to a new owner and the NFL.
By hiring AECOM, the state has stepped up its timetable because of the possibility a new owner could be selected by Wilson's estate by the end of July and presented for approval at league meetings in October.
The firm's study will include estimates on the facility's revenue-generating potential through seats, suites, sponsorship, parking and concessions. It will also study the potential for developing real estate around the potential stadium sites, and consider the benefits and costs of building a stadium with a retractable roof.