I’ve started to type this several times, trying to get it right, knowing it’s my one shot to use my limited scope of influence to make you read about something that isn’t the Bills or the Sabres. Please give it a shot…
You ever have one of those days where you feel like what you’re doing just isn’t cutting it? Ever combine one of those tough days with the opportunity to do something special; one of those “shoot for the stars and if you miss you’ll explosively decompress and you’ll never know you failed miserably” days?
I accepted that challenge about a year-and-a-half ago. It’s been an extremely remarkable experience.
This Sunday, my small business formally begins its second busy season as FC Buffalo attempts to out-perform 37 teams en route to a National Premier Soccer League crown. We have an incredible venue, an inspiring coach and a collection of players with professional dreams and positive attitudes.
My life motto has always been, “When you’re 27-years-old and someone offers you the chance to own and run a sports team with your best friends, you do it.” You can imagine how happy I was when that bizarre motto became an option in October of 2009 and we began essentially playing a very real franchise mode video game over the next 10 months. We learned a ton about the business world, including:
— When passion is or isn’t enough to get something accomplished.
— How hard other businesses work and how they appreciate seeing the same thing.
— Why it’s important to conduct business in the area you live, provided it’s quality.
— How fun it is doing something you love, despite how fiscally unrewarding it can be.
— How easy it is to understand Mark Cuban or Nolan Ryan when you’re in relatively similar shoes.
And somehow we lived into a second season, making very good friends along the way. Organically, we found a cheering/chanting/singing section in The Situation Room, a welcoming group throwing us a fundraiser this Saturday. We went through the incredibly stressful process of finding a new coach and found a good guy in the process. We found new partners in WNY’s large and small business camps and watched our captain sign professionally in Europe.
The beauty of this is the sky, quite legitimately, is the limit. Look at what’s happened in Portland and Seattle, proud fan bases that grew from the smallest of numbers to Major League Soccer clubs (Google “Portland Timbers national anthem” from their MLS debut. Most wonderful. Sing the anthem). It won’t happen overnight, but “fringe” sports can be a jolt to this area. I know they can.
I read Matt Sabuda’s Buffalo Rising piece on the need for a downtown stadium with great interest, especially since FC Buffalo is in the glorious position of needing to fashion an artist’s rendering some time soon. While I loved the concept of a soccer-only stadium, my plans would shoot so much higher.
I’ve said it before: Robert E. Rich All-High Stadium on Main Street is a gorgeous facility that we are blessed to have as a home, but think about your favorite things about Buffalo: food, entertainment, sports… all could find their way to just one building.
Sports: My vision is a home for FC Buffalo, the WNY Flash, outdoor lacrosse, rugby and all other “outsider” sports. Use this as a championship venue, much like the English use Wembley Stadium only for matches with “silverware” on the line. Get portable boards for an outdoor roller hockey rink in the parking lot. Build a tournament tennis court.
Food: The venue would feature the best food in Western New York that isn’t available downtown. Give me your Duff’s-ses, your Mighty Tacos, your Andersonses. Make them accessible year-round from the outside and during games.
Entertainment: Start a “Shakespeare in the Stadium.” Put some decent-sized concerts outside. Heck, can’t we finally high-five the Senecas and add a casino in there? Gus Macker in the parking lots. The Buffalo Sports Museum can hang out next to “Headers,” our soccer pub/rock joint. Wanna rebuild a district? BLA-DOW!!!
I’ve gone over this many times with many friends and businessmen. Look at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester and see that the underlying truth is inarguable: This is doable.
Better yet, apply for every festival and tournament we can. Give downtown Buffalo a greater chance to thrive.
The best? $35 million may not be enough… it may be more than enough.
There’s a certain naivete to the way I’m typing and a far-too-jaded style to the opposition to such an idea. A stadium shouldn’t be some giant venue only used by one team for one sport (To be fair to the Bills, I’ve read that the CBA dictates that the players get 60% of admission and concessions for any concert in the Ralph. That doesn’t leave a lot of reason to invite anyone since NSYNC).
At 29-years-old, I’ve learned that a pessimistic nature makes anything sound stupid, but here’s what I’d volunteer. Besides some slow-to-repay school loans, my background is pretty great. No one’s going to find a lovechild, back taxes or anything besides a couple barrooms with which my liver became too familiar. I’ll be the caretaker. I have the platform to take any shady propositions and make them public. We can overcome the crap forecasting and backroom talks for which our area has become far too content.
Lots of this talk is way down the line, for sure, but we need to stop pretending our city can’t be that city. We need to stop accepting stories about elderly folks moving to Florida as if they are something new. I don’t want this place to be New York City. I want it to be Buffalo, only more successful.
I ask, couldn’t this be a decent start: come out to a beautiful old building on a Sunday and watch some soccer and eat some tacos for just $5. Cheer like heck for a bunch of super talented Western New Yorkers who aren’t earning a cent to play the game.
Let’s have fun and maybe we’ll end up building a home.
Let’s go Buffalo.