State begins exploring new Bills stadium

The Buffalo Bills might have just signed a 10-year lease to stay at Ralph Wilson Stadium, but that hasn't stopped the state from exploring the possibility of a new NFL stadium in Western New York.

On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office sent a letter to Bills CEO Russ Brandon and Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz announcing that he had appointed the first five members of a "new stadium working group," according to the Buffalo News.

When the Bills and Erie County signed their most recent lease a little more than a year ago, it included the possibility of forming a committee to explore the possibility of a new stadium “if that is financially feasible and intelligent from a development point of view," the newspaper reported.

So what do Monday's developments mean?

Despite significant renovations this offseason to Ralph Wilson Stadium -- which will bring a new videoboard and entrance areas -- the Bills are in dire need of a stadium upgrade. Their 40-year-old venue is severely outdated by NFL standards.

The challenge for New York and the Bills is finding financing to build a new stadium in one of the NFL's smallest markets. The cost to build an NFL stadium has been about $1 billion, which might not be economically possible in Western New York, despite the Bills having a passionate fan base in the region.

The greater Buffalo area lost more than 15 percent of its population between the 1970 census -- taken three years before Ralph Wilson Stadium opened -- and 2010, the most recent U.S. census. That's a phenomenon seen in few other cities.

To the next ownership group of the Bills, that could be troubling. Relocating the team to a much larger city such as Toronto or Los Angeles likely would be seen as more appealing, and the "new stadium working group" would be largely powerless to stop the franchise from moving.