by Anthony Stampone
Given the current uncomfortable and unknown situation we find ourselves in as Bills fans, there seems to be a never ending stream of information being thrown at us regarding the future of our team. One topic that seems to be directly related to this discussion is; what will a new owner have to do about a stadium in order to keep the team here? Regarding this subject I am of two minds concerning how this issue can be addressed. One solution is the one I would prefer and to me would be the most economically sound idea, and the other is the most likely solution (Like it or not) as to will more than likely have to happen in order for the Bills to remain in Buffalo.
As Bills fans we take tremendous pride in in our team, our city, and our food. There is one even in which we are known for and pride ourselves on that most fans would surely miss if it was taken away from us; tailgating! I feel that this is a crucial point in my argument on my favorite idea for the Bills and their stadium issue because more of the alternatives to fix the problem would take this rite of passage and point of pride we as Bills fans have about this celebration away from us. Currently over $140 million in tax payer dollar renovations are being worked on and implemented as we speak. With this kind of investment into our teams current home leads me to my preferred resolution to our current stadium concerns to keep the Bills in Buffalo (area anyway); continue to invest into and renovate the current stadium! With over $140 million already invested into the stadium how much more would it take to make an already existing, stable building into something more modern and attractive enough to draw in even more fans? The answer, not that much more. If you consider a brand new state of the art NFL football field the idea of having to spend anywhere from $750 million to possible $1 billion is not out of the question. In order for this to happen where is the money going to come from? The new owner(s), the league, grants? If you are thinking these are the solutions to funding a new stadium I am sorry but you are surely mistaken. Whatever happens stadium wise to keep the team here will definitely include a significant contribution by state and local governments, and where do they get their money? That’s right you guessed it, us the tax payers. With our state, county, and city governments already near a fiscal breaking point, what would adding in another $350-$700 million more in tax payer dollars do to them? And I am sorry, I would rather see those dollars go to education of our youth, better roads, etc. than go into a new stadium that to me isn’t going to feel like home anyway. Getting a new owner and/or the league to foot a portion to a significant portion of the bill to expand the current renovations is far more reasonable to believe and economical then having a brand new stadium built. We also need to keep in mind a few important points about a new stadium; how much land will they need for the stadium and parking, how much more tax payer dollars would it take to get someone to commit to building a brand new stadium here, will there still be enough room to do what we love to do before and after our home games (obviously I am referencing tailgating), how many less seats will the new stadium have and how many of those seats will be segregated for corporate sponsorships, and probably the biggest most important questions of all, how much will the tickets cost to attend a game? Most of these questions are already answered by simply choosing to reinvest into the current stadium. Continued renovations would cost a fraction of what a new stadium would cost the team (even if it does include more tax dollar contributions). Our capacity would not need to change and if they wanted to make more areas for corporate boxes and expensive suites they can take from the already existing 71,000 seats we struggle to fill with a subpar team to watch over the last 14 years (Losing a few seats to businesses that will pay to fill them isn’t entirely a bad thing). The land is already there as we already know and there is more than enough room for people to park in the area and still be able to tailgate and have a good full game day experience. And last but certainly not least, we would a significantly smaller increase in ticket prices to stay put in Orchard Park than we would if a new stadium were to be built. As it stands today, already counting in the new renovations and the increase in ticket prices, an average ticket cost $57. That is 31st in the NFL. I personally can justify spending an average of $70-$80 per ticket ($81 is the league average) if the team were to stay where it is and the building was just renovated. This is a proven tactic already as teams such as the Packers and Bears have done this rather than build a new larger than life football coliseum, and it had a minimal impact on their fans game day expenses compared to what would have happened had they went with new buildings. By NFL standards Ralph Wilson Stadium is outdated and unattractive, like your old 7th grade math teacher. But unlike your old teacher a make-over for “The Ralph”, could make it one of the more intriguing stadiums in the league without costing the average fan their mortgage payment to attend a game of the team they love and support. Something else that the current stadium already has proven it can handle better than most of the proposed new stadium ideas is the traffic. Now, I know you sometimes have to wait in line for possibly an hour or so just to get out of the parking lot and that is with 5 different directions and 3 major highways within 5-10 miles of the Ralph that offers fans ways to get out and get home, but can you imagine having less than that? How many hours would you have to wait to get home? One prime example of this is a downtown stadium, you would have 1 yes that’s right you would have 1 major highway to get you in and out from the game, imagine how long that will take! Sitting in motionless gridlock is not something I would want to be doing with the rest of my Sunday afternoon (especially if we just won, GO BILLS!). No, I would rather be home in a reasonable amount of time to watch the highlights from the game and watch the end of one of our division foes (cough, cough Patriots) lose their afternoon game! With all that said this idea is more of a pipedream, and based off much of what we are hearing is probably very unrealistic to ensure the Bills stay put. With that said the second part of the mind comes in.
Many including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (Yes, I know he is a walking circus but like it or not the man has A LOT of pull in the owners’ meetings), have said that a new stadium is pretty much a must to ensure the long-term viability of keeping the team in (or near) Buffalo. The first question is, where will this stadium go? I have no idea what the potential plans are as everyday there seems to be a new site in consideration for the team to remain in the region and they all have differing reasons as to why they would fit. Downtown seems to be the big favorite as it would help further the waterfront development already underway. Although this is a great idea in theory I am not a fan of packing 65,000-70,000 fans downtown with the available traffic routes to help fans get to and from games. The traffic leaving a Sabres game can be ridiculous and that’s only 19,000 fans, triple to quadruple that and see how much fun that will be. Batavia is being mentioned as a possible place for a new stadium due to the large parcels of land available there and let’s face it, it would be a move the Bills would be making to make the drive easier and quicker for our friends to the east (Rochester fans). I am not against this idea but I think besides providing significant real estate for a new stadium and other amenities it doesn’t really offer anything else to the majority of Bills fans. Batavia is in Genesee County, and they do have lower property and sales taxes than Niagara or Erie counties but they also do not have anywhere near the revenue generation that those counties have that would be needed to help support the team and the building of the infrastructure around a new stadium. Not to mention the drive is another 40 minutes for our friends from the north coming from Toronto. Cheaper available real estate and lower taxes do not constitute a reason to move a team and a possible Billion dollar building somewhere. Niagara Falls is also being considered as a potential landing spot for a new stadium. While the allure of having a stadium right next door to one of the world’s seven natural wonders and it would undoubtedly give the NY side of the falls some much needed appeal and revenue generation (Let’s face it everyone, the Canadian side of the falls makes our falls view development look like how our faces looked when Norwood first put his foot on the ball and then what it looked like after we saw it was wide right). Although this would make out neighbors to the north happy as it would save them around 45 minutes of driving, traffic and real estate are real issues here. Where in Niagara Falls could a stadium and enough parking go? How does the traffic caused by these games get in and out of NF? Many of our Canadian friends would surely come across the Rainbow Bridge rather than the Peace Bridge, but have you saw the Rainbow Bridge try and handle significant traffic? It gets back up for an hour with 10 cars how is it going to do with several thousand?
OK, enough bashing of the potential sites for a new stadium and let’s get to the point here; there is no question at this point, for the Bills to stay in Buffalo (area) a new stadium is a must! Right now as Bills fans we are fortunate to have the 3rd lowest ticket prices (Average $57) in the entire league and the 2nd lowest fan experience cost ($365) per game. With the league average around $81 per ticket and $459 per game for a total fan experience we are getting off easy right now (Compared to other fans around the country, I am not saying this is cheap for anyone by any means, I usually only attend one game a year as that is all my family and I can afford). Here are the issues, without a new home being part of the purchase plan there is a significantly good chance that the league and the owners will push their weight around and deny the sale of the team to anyone not including that in their purchasing proposal. Additionally, we will see a SIGNIFCANT increase in the cost to attend game of the team we love. The average ticket price will easily reach if not surpass the league average with a new stadium and the average cost for fan experience will easily follow in the same steps. The NFL wants theatres now, not stadiums! They want a place for people to go where they can have WI-FI and TV’s in front of every toilet in order to draw in as much corporate and large private revenue as the can possibly suck. They do not care about us and how much we can afford, especially if they are going to invest into the new building. No, they are going to want to raise ticket prices so the team is contributing more to the leagues overall revenues, they will want a smaller stadium (Compared to the Ralph) so they can charge premium rates and segregate a higher percentage of the seats to corporate and suite seating. Don’t believe me? Look at some of the most recently constructed new stadiums in the league. Heinz field seats 65,000 that is a significant increase from Three Rivers Stadium, however it is loaded with premium seating, suites, and corporate boxes. Lucas Oil Stadium seats 67,000 which is also an increase from their prior home in the RCA dome but again a ton of corporate dollars are being poured into that building (Seriously, just look at the name of these stadiums). And more importantly and probably more relatable to Buffalo is the new Vikings stadium. You know the league had a hand in the building of that stadium when they have already granted the Vikings the Super Bowl in 2018 when the stadium isn’t even complete yet. The new stadium by the way will seat, yep you guessed it, 65,000. Are you seeing the trend? Besides gigantic markets like Dallas and NJ (haha take the Giants and Jets), most of the stadiums are being built around the same size and many of them are being constructed with one thing in mind, can it host a Super Bowl? As much as I love our outdoor games especially in winter when the Dolphins come north, do not be surprised if the league wants a dome, or even a retractable roof building if they are going to help invest in building the Bills a new stadium if the Bills are to stay in Buffalo. Toronto already has a stadium that can do these things, and that is an advantage we don’t want to overlook nor do we want them having. Besides their market is O 5X’s the size we are and loaded with international corporate money. The bottom line is the league wants new places to put the Super Bowl besides, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Miami. Just look at the recent trends of new stadiums getting to host the Super Bowl, Dallas, NJ (NYC), and now Minnesota. In order for the Bills to stay here a new stadium will not only be required, but we as tax payers will have to pick up a portion if not a significant portion of the tab on that, see drastic price raises in tickets, and a stadium that can handle a Super Bowl even in late January or early February. As much as I don’t like it and don’t want it this is how it has to be. All of this is being said without mentioning the league’s new favorite fade way to rip money from fans wallets, seat licensing fees (which can be THOUSANDS per seat for season ticket holder rights which by the way do not include the price of your ticket).
If the Bills leave Buffalo by either the potential suitors being out bid by a Toronto group or a new owner is not willing to build/fund building a new stadium and we end up losing our team to our neighbors to the north we are left to do one thing; in the famous words of South Park’s Sheila Broflovski “Blame Canada”!