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Wilson's Ticket Guarantee Good Investment

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Buffalo Bills players stand for the playing of the national anthem before the start of NFL game action against the Baltimore Ravens at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sept. 29, 2013 in Orchard Park, N.Y. Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images.
Buffalo Bills players stand for the playing of the national anthem before the start of NFL game action against the Baltimore Ravens at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sept. 29, 2013 in Orchard Park, N.Y. Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images.

Ralph Wilson, owner and founder of the Buffalo Bills, knows something that seems to elude the rest of the NFL: full stadiums and television access keep teams alive.

Under threat of yet another television blackout for the Bills, Wilson guaranteed the purchase of all tickets that remained before the Cincinnati Bengals game. Some observers called Wilson classy. Some called him, and Buffalo, desperate. After all, with Buffalo’s tendency to lose tight games, and with its now 2-4 record, the Bills need an infusion of enthusiasm that can only come from diehard fans cheering their loudest in a full stadium.

“Mr. Wilson has generously guaranteed the purchase of the remaining tickets for this weekend’s game,” said Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon last week. “Through their energy and enthusiasm, our fans create an unparalleled home field advantage. It’s great to share that experience with the entire region.”

Because of the ticket sale purchase, the game was broadcast on local television.

Other observers called Wilson’s guarantee an empty gesture; sure, it kept the Bills from having the NFL’s first television blackout of the season, but once the elderly Wilson, at 94, can no longer keep the Bills afloat in Buffalo, they said, the Bills will not remain in Buffalo. Rumors about the franchise moving to Toronto, Ontario, Canada are abundant and impossible to deflect. This season, Buffalo will play its Dec. 1 home game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Empty gesture or not, the Buffalo Bills remain in Western New York for the rest of this football season, and with the team finding and testing its strengths with new coaches, a new offense, and a new defense, Buffalo needs all the help it can get.

Wilson’s magnanimity in guaranteeing the purchase of all remaining tickets to keep the Bengals and Buffalo game on local television was more than a gesture, more than a classy move, and more than just desperate; it was downright shrewd. The Bills may be a pet project, or a lifelong occupation for Wilson, but Buffalo’s team has more going for it than Wilson’s affection. The Bills are a facet in the NFL’s money-making machine. Ticket sales – which, for the Bengals game in Ralph Wilson Stadium topped 5,300 unsold by the Thursday NFL deadline for television accessibility on Sunday – are the tip of the iceberg for the money the franchise can generate with the Bills.

The benefits from Wilson’s guarantee covered more than a hometown advantage. Wilson guaranteed multi-generational access to the franchise through digital accessibility, marketing, and merchandising.  Wilson’s agreement to cover the cost of 5,300 tickets was a great investment in Buffalo’s future.