ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was able to get a two-for-one deal in Buffalo on Monday.
Goodell came to town to play in Jim Kelly's 30th annual celebrity golf classic, his first appearance at the event, something he had promised Kelly.
"Jim called me a couple months ago, said I hadn't been to the tournament, and I said, 'I'll be there this year,'" said Goodell, who has known Kelly since the Pro Football Hall of Famer's playing career. "Jim's been a really good friend for a lot of years, someone I admire and respect, and I wanted to be here for him."
Before Goodell hit the links, though, he met the media for about 12 minutes, and he used that platform to send an ever-so-subtle message to western New York movers and shakers that the Bills, the county and the state need to start thinking about coming together to build a new stadium for the Bills. Goodell is nothing if not a businessman, goodwill be damned.
"I think the world of Terry and Kim, they've made a big difference in the NFL already, they've been very active, and I know they feel strongly about this region, as I do," Goodell said of the Pegulas, who bought the franchise from the estate of Ralph Wilson in 2014. "They're looking to find the right solutions, they'll do it patiently, but they'll find the right long-term solution, ultimately."
It is known that several NFL owners were against Buffalo's decision to renovate 40-year-old Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2013-14. At the NFL owners' meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., in March, a few commented that it would be in the best interest of the Bills and the league to build a new stadium.
At that time, Bills team president Russ Brandon said the new stadium hadn't even been discussed for a year because there were still final touch-ups ongoing as part of the $130 million renovation. The current lease for the stadium runs through 2022.
"It's a hot topic that I'm asked about it often," Brandon said, "and I can tell you directly that we've had zero discussions relative to anything related to a new stadium with the county or the state at this point. With the lease being up when it is, there's going to be very thoughtful conversation in both the private and public sector down the road, if that's the route we go. But we have to make a macro-level decision that benefits the entire community."
Goodell agrees, but it was pretty clear that while his public comments indicate he will support whatever the Pegulas and county and state officials decide, privately he wants a new stadium for the Bills.
"I think that's one of the things that Terry is going through -- what does it take to make sure the Bills remain here on a successful basis?" Goodell said. "That's their objective, that's their commitment, and we fully support that. We have league funding available to help in that kind of circumstance. Stadiums are important, just to make sure the team here can continue to compete, not only in the NFL, but also to compete in this environment. You've got great facilities (in the NFL), and the Bills have to stay up with that. We'll support it in any way we can, but ultimately the decisions are made here."
Local politicians, including Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, disputed the NFL owners' contention that the Bills need a new venue to remain competitive in the NFL. Instead, Poloncarz asked for proof of that fact, and went on to accuse the owners of being greedy.
"This is not a cookie-cutter approach here," Goodell said. "You have to build a stadium that's right for the community, so that's up to the community and Terry to get focused on. What does it take, what's the right location, what are the alternatives, what can we do to generate other economic activity? Those are the difficult decisions that have to be made locally."