Dear America: The Buffalo Bills Are Not Really Simple. But Thanks For The Attention.

At this point, every Buffalo Bills fan has read Yahoo! Sports‘ “There’s No Place Like Buffalo In The NFL” article from Wednesday. It is an amazingly well written account of how ingrained Bills football is in the area, and how tied both fans, current players and former players are to the team.

The article proclaims Buffalo as the “last simple place in the NFL.” But the article shows the very opposite. The rest of the nation sees being so tied and loyal to a football team as simple; but actually, if the Bills and Western New York were in a Facebook relationship, we’d have to check off, “It’s Complicated.”

For example, the Buffalo Bills regionalization plan isn’t exactly simple – nor is it exactly new or limited to NFL football. The Bills became the first NFL team to officially and loudly regionalize marketing in an effort to grow a fan base. Now team vice-president Russ Brandon’s regionalization plan kicked off in 1999 – years before the team’s Toronto series started. Brandon kicked off this plan by moving training camp to Rochester, opening a ticket office in Pittsford Plaza, and engaging the Syracuse community in marketing plans. Regionalization isn’t new – before the Bills existed, the 1940s and 1950s Cleveland Browns engaged in a more primitive form of extended reach, leaving pockets of Browns fans as far out as Syracuse to this day.

Regionalization is also not an idea limited to the Bills – many entities have gone regional in an effort to survive. Currently, TV news in the area is going regional – Time Warner local news is now run out of Buffalo for both Buffalo and Rochester. Colleges are going regional – Medaille College, located down the street from the Buffalo Zoo, opened a robust Rochester campus a few years back.

So regional marketing is not simple – it’s a strategic and complicated decision to keep entities afloat. And it’s a decision that would not work everywhere – it works in Buffalo and Rochester because inherently the two cities are tied to each other’s fates – geographically close, but philosophically closer.

The Bills’ emotional impact in the area – an idea demonstrated in the Yahoo! piece by the fact that Buffalo workers are much more productive the days after a Bills win – is also not exactly simple. Western New Yorkers are more tied to the Bills than most areas are to a sports franchise because it provides a sense of belonging and a horizontal allegiance for a geographical area that has always seemed rejected by two countries. We have Canadian tendencies, but Canada wants nothing to do with us. Like them, we tell long stories because we have to kill a lot of time indoors during the winter. We make idle chatter in grocery stores because, like Canadians, we’re too friendly. We have strange Canadian like accents. And we share Canada’s love affair with hockey and lacrosse. That Canadian way of living elicits scorn from the rest of the United States. Canada labels us pretenders and the United States laughs in our faces. Thus Western New Yorkers tightly grasp the allegiance that the Bills provides us. It is an identifier for an area outsiders do not wish to acknowledge.

The Bills also are a barometer of the economic fate of the region – another “simple” fact alluded to in the Yahoo! article. When the Rust Belt wrapped itself along the Great Lakes, the Bills suffered. Bills football became the escape for the downtrodden and out-of-work lower middle class abandoned by the flight of manufacturing jobs, but that football suffered because the economy was in the tank. Buffalo and Rochester have now started to find their way by engaging in the tech and education industries, becoming the two fastest growing areas economically in New York. And as that economic recovery starts up, the Bills have gotten better.

So to say that Bills football is simple could be considered misleading. There are few sports entities that are so embedded in the identity of a geographic area like the Bills are. The Bills are a cultural touchpoint and regional indicator instead of an aggressively promoted pastime. Let’s put it bluntly – there are not too many sports franchises you can make so many doctoral thesis style points about. But you can about the Bills.

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