There has been a frenzy of commentary about the new Buffalo Bills stadium included in the recently passed New York State budget. A lot of the voices raised complain about the amount of taxpayer subsidy involved, about $850 million when you add the state commitment and the Erie County funds.
As with any stadium financing deal involving public monies, economists can be found on both sides, saying that it is flawed or that it serves a noble purpose; it is wasteful, or it is a matter of local pride. None of these arguments matter if in fact it is a done deal. The horse is out of the barn.
Our Governor, Kathy Hochul, of Buffalo, has been accused of not getting more for the state’s investment. But that, I believe, can be rectified pretty quickly. Given the amount of taxpayer dollars involved, the Governor should insist that the naming rights to the new stadium belong to the New York taxpayer and not the team owners,Terry and Kim Pegula, who are residents of Florida anyway.
Given the amounts paid by corporations for naming rights, it would be a further slap in the face to the public to see the billionaire owners pocket tens of millions more on top of the huge subsidy the state has given the team. No, the name of the new sports and entertainment complex should be determined by New Yorkers who have already ponied up bigly.
Furthermore, the name should resonate with Western New Yorkers and conjure up the history and pride associated with the hardy, determined folks who have made Buffalo a model of working class values. I think all New York residents would agree that regional pride is a good thing and since we, in New York City, have a Yankee Stadium and a Madison Square Garden, Buffalo should also have a venue steeped in local lore.
Long gone are the corporate behemoths like Bethlehem Steel or General Mills that might have claimed such an honor. No, this edifice requires a name associated with the city and the team, directly. That would rule out the two presidents who have Buffalo roots - Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland. And it does no honor to Buffalo to consider William McKinley who was assassinated there. Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in there after McKinley died but that may be his only link to the area. Besides he already has an aircraft carrier and a courthouse in Brooklyn named for him.
Luckily Buffalo has a large number of colorful characters, actors, writers, politicians, and sports stars. But again, they are in some way flawed. Mayors like Jimmy (Get a Six Pack and Stay Home during the Storm) Griffin might epitomize Buffalo grit but they can be controversial. Let’s just skip over former Bills running back O.J. Simpson.
There is one true Buffalonian who covers all the bases. The late Timothy J. Russert, moderator of Meet the Press, son of a sanitation worker, and lifelong Bills fan. In fact, many times he ended his Meet the Press Sunday broadcast with a ”Go Bills” sign off. He was a larger than life presence, proud of his roots and especially of his father, Big Russ, who worked two, sometimes three jobs to support his family. Russert certainly epitomized the determination and perseverance of Western New Yorkers and especially Bills fans, who suffered through four consecutive Super Bowl appearances without a victory.
Russert wrote a book about his Dad, and it would be fitting if the stadium was named after the deceased broadcaster, and to have the food court named for Big Russ, who judged every event and function based on the food spread. Nothing beats winning but a buffet of Buffalo delicacies like Beef on Weck, Wings, Ted’s Hot Dogs, Pierogies, and Chefs can help savor the victories and perhaps ease the pangs of loss.
So name the stadium after a person who brought honorable attention to his hometown and stood by the team through thick or thin. Imagine, a huge Jumbotron after the playing of the national anthem, and Russert’s visage from one of his broadcasts urging the team on:
“Go Bills.” Perhaps, when the stadium opens, a concert with Russert’s friend, another working class guy, Bruce Springsteen would be an appropriate christening.
Timothy J. Russert Arena. How about it, Governor?