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Ralph Wilson Stadium

Aerial View
Copyright 1995 by Aerial Views Publishing

  Venue Resources  
Address 1 Bills Drive
Orchard Park, NY 14127
Phone (716) 648-1800
Seating Weather
Newspaper
Satellite View
Bills Gear
  Calendar / Tickets  
Hotels, Dining & Deals in Buffalo

  The Facility  
Date Opened 1973
Ownership
(Management)
County of Erie
(County of Erie)
Surface AstroPlay
Cost of Construction $22 million
$63 million renovation for the 1999 season.
Stadium Financing Publicly financed.
Former Names Rich Stadium
(1973-1998)
Stadium Architect HNTB
  Other Facts  
Tenants Buffalo Bills
(NFL) (1973-Present)
Population Base 1,700,000
On Site Parking 12,000
Nearest Airport Buffalo Niagara International Airport (BUF)
Retired Numbers #12 Jim Kelly

  Seating  
Capacity 73,967
Average Ticket $39.37
(2005)
$51.24
(2008)
Fan Cost Index (FCI) $229.49
(2005)
$298.96
(2008)
The Team Marketing Report FCI includes: four average-price tickets; four small soft drinks; two small beers; four hot dogs; two game programs; parking; and two adult-size caps.
Luxury Suites 164 Suites
Club Seats 6,878
  Attendance History  
Season  Total  Capacity Change
1993 626,784 98% 0.6%
1994 595,543 93% -0.5%
1995 552,394 86% -7.2%
1996 598,321 93% 8.3%
1997 523,763 82% -12.5%
1998 560,570 88% 7.0%
1999 561,269 88% 0.1%
2000 560,695 88% -0.1%

2001 2002 2003 2004
504,736 547,702 584,122 574,399

2005 2006 2007 2008
575,248 541,169 568,437 499,835

2009 2010 2011 2012
490,898 442,366 438,864 454,653

2010-2011 Attendance figures are for seven games as the Bills played in Toronto.

Sources: Mediaventures

When the Buffalo Bills began play in 1960, their home venue was War Memorial Stadium. Built in 1936, the “Rockpile” was a 36,500-seat facility located in Buffalo at Jefferson and Best streets. In 1965, the open air, natural grass facility, expanded by adding an upper deck to increase capacity to 46,206.

Years of extreme weather and the popularity of the Bills led to the creation of a larger facility.  A 113-acre tract of land approximately 30 minutes from downtown Buffalo was selected and groundbreaking ceremonies were conducted in Orchard Park on April 4, 1972 for the new football complex.  To form the lower level of the stadium, more than 370,000 feet of shale were removed - putting the field 50 feet below ground level.  Construction was completed in slightly over 14 months and on August 17, 1973, the stadium was officially opened as the Bills played host to the Washington Redskins.

Since the stadium's original construction, the facility has seen many changes.  In 1984, the stadium's capacity was increased to 80,290 with the addition of 16 executive suites on the top floor of the administration building.  Eight years later, 24 more suites were constructed in the west end zone and shared restrooms were added to the original suites.  The Red Zone and Goal Line indoor clubs were added in 1994, offering fans a comfortable atmosphere as each of the two blocks of 500 seats are enclosed in glass.  Also in 1994, 14 new suites were added, bringing the grand total to 88 luxury boxes.  The 1994 expansion project also brought the team the largest JumboTron in the United States.  This mammoth video board measures 31.5 feet high by 41.5 feet wide.  Some of the capabilities of the video board include full-color instant replays, live action shots, crowd shots, out-of-town highlights, animations and various in-stadium shots from cameras exclusive to video board usage.  In addition, a black and white Daktronics Scoreboard matrix system designed to complement the Sony JumboTron was installed.

In 1999 crews completed a seven-month stadium overhaul that included constructing 76 brand-new dugout suites and two new enclosed club sections each containing 500 seats.  Fans in the dugout suites watch the action just 40 rows from the field.  In addition, the Bills replaced 6,800 seats in the sideline club sections with revolutionary contoured heated seats, the first of their kind in North America.  Renovations also included four new restroom towers, upgraded stadium lighting and a state-of-the-art sound system.  In 2003 the stadium field was transformed from Astroturf to Astroplay - a rubber infilled synthetic surface.

RENOVATIONS
July 15, 1999
Copyright 1999 Mediaventures

Renovations at Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills, are on schedule for completion this fall. The $57 million project includes 76 new dugout suites, lower bowl sideline seats, seat warmers for club seat holders and cup holders, along with other general improvements

The county is the landlord for the Buffalo Bills and Ralph Wilson Stadium (formerly Rich Stadium). County Executive Gorski and team owner Ralph Wilson have agreed to a two year, $23 million renovation of the stadium. Improvements for the 1994 season include the largest video replay scoreboard in the NFL, more restrooms, luxury suites, club suites and resurfacing of the stadium parking lots. Funding will come from the Bills and parking and ticket surcharges on those going to games.

As part of the renovation agreement, the Bills and the county are beginning talks designed to extend the team's lease well into the next century.

FAST FACT: Ralph Wilson Stadium is considered to have some of the best sightlines of any stadium in the NFL.

June 9, 1997 - Associated Press - The Buffalo Bills are not interested in signing a long-term agreement to remain at Rich Stadium unless it includes financial guarantees or an escape clause, the Buffalo News reported.

The paper, quoting unidentified sources, said Bills owner Ralph Wilson is becoming increasingly pessimistic about the local economy. "My sense is that the longest lease that would be possible is 10 years," one source was quoted as saying.

The Bills' 25-year lease for Rich Stadium expired July 1998.

Opened: 8/7/73
Construction Started: 4/4/72
Surface: AstroTurf 8, installed 1991
Crown of Turf: 9 inches
Drainage: Subsurface pipes
Area: 113 acres
Field level: 50 feet below ground level
Upper deck: 60 feet above ground level
Concession stands: 42 locations
Restrooms: 46 locations
Stadium Lighting: sideline, 180 ft. candles; mid-field, 300 ft. candles
Cost: $1.3 million
First game: Redskins 37, Bills 21 (8/17/73)
First regular-season game: Bills 9, NY Jets 7 (9/30/73)
The Sony Jumbotron scoreboard: Largest Color Videoboard in the United States
  Construction Started: 6/15/94
  Cost: $5.7 Million
  First Game Utilized: 8/8/94 vs. Washington
  Size: 31.5 feet by 41.5 feet
  Light Emitting Elements: 278,784
  Number of Operators: 11 video technicians
  Capabilities: full-color instant replay, live action shots, crowd shots, out-of-town highlights, and various in-stadium shots from cameras exclusive to videoboard usage.

DAKTRONICS SCOREBOARD

Scoreboard
Click Here to Get Your Personalized Scoreboard
The black and white Daktronic Scoreboard is a matrix system designed to compliment the SONY JumboTron Videoboard. It is a digit scoreboard system, operated by a series of computers, that enables you to place numbers or letters anywhere within the board. It requires a minimum of 3 computer operators. It is also capable of displaying such information as down and distance, game score, statistics, out-of-town scores and animations. Six independent boards make up the Daktronics system. The Game-in-Progress board meaasures 8' x 39' with 17,024 lamps. The Out-of-Town board measures 8' x 22' with 9,856 lamps. Two of the sideline boards measure 4' x 40' with 2,560 lamps per unit. The two additional sideline boards measure 4' x 52' with 3,328 lamps per unit.

NEW SEATS IN BUFFALO MAY VIOLATE BUILDING CODE
September 30, 1999
Copyright 1999 MediaVentures

New sideline seats in Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium may be more narrow than building codes allow. A fan and former building inspector says the distance between his seat and the one in front is 8 inches. The code calls for a 10 inch gap. The fan also believes the seat width is an inch below code.

It will be up to local officials to investigate the complaint he filed, but it could affect up to 30,000 of the new seats that come with cup holders and arm rests.

The fan making the complaint stands 6-foot, 6-inches tall and has been a Bills season ticket holder for 15 years. He said the cramped space made him so uncomfortable he had to leave a recent game in the second quarter. While the Bills tried to relocate him, it could not be done without displacing fans with more seniority.

Ralph Wilson Stadium
BILLS BOOSTING LEG ROOM IN NEW PREMIUM SEATS
November 11, 1999
Copyright 1999 MediaVentures

Buyers of new premium sideline seats at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium can have the cup holders removed upon request to gain more leg room. The Bills mailed noticed to the seat holders this week making the offer.

The action comes after complaints from the season ticket holders that the space was too cramped. A former building inspector also says the space allowed falls below that required by local building codes. That issue will be debated before a state board Nov. 18 when the team argues that the venue is correct because it qualifies as a theater rather than an outdoor assembly facility.

Ticket holders interested in the offer return a postage-paid card to the team and the work will be done immediately.

The team is also considering work before next season to increase the room available. It is working with the seating manufacturer on a plan to change the angle of the seat back so more space is available between chairs.

Ralph Wilson Stadium

THE ULTIMATE SPORTS ROAD TRIP
By: Andrew Kulyk & Peter Farrell

Ralph Wilson Stadium Ranking by USRT
Architecture 5
Concessions 4
Scoreboard 2.5
Ushers 6
Fan Support 6
Location 6
Banners/History 7
Entertainment 3
Concourses/Fan Comfort 4
Bonus: Tailgate Scene 3
Bonus: Bills Experience 2
Total Score 48.5
September 20, 1998 - Our home stadium here in Western New York has been visited by both of us many a time, but this was the first time we got to attend a game together, so for "official" purposes this day and this event counts towards the Ultimate Sports Road Trip.This being the annual Farrell tailgate pary, Andrew's birthday and a crisp summery sun drenched day made for a perfect backdrop.

Getting to the Venue
Ralph Wilson Stadium was opened in 1973 and has been the home of the Buffalo Bills for almost 30 years. The venue is located in Orchard Park, south of the city, and is easily accessible by car, thanks to an elaborate expressway network, including the NYS Thruway, the Rte 219 expressway and the Rte 5 highway which runs along the lakeshore. Getting to the stadium is a snap, and with 16,000 parking spaces in the stadium lots, parking is abundant. Parking costs $10, and there are many adjacent private properties near the stadium which offer parking as well. Cost is generally $5-$10, although we could find lots as cheap as $3 along Southwestern Blvd. Public transportation is available via Metro Bus from downtown Buffalo.

Outside the Venue
Bills tailgate parties are what makes this stadium experience so very special. Buffalo easily ranks as one of the top NFL tailgate venues. Come to the Ralph on any given Sunday and the parking lots are an ocean of Bills red and blue, the grills fired up and footballs a plenty being tossed through the air. Partiers in campers and RV's show up here as early as Thursday, and by 4 hours before kickoff the parking lots are packed. Radio stations are running their booths and promos, vendors are selling their wares, music blaring everywhere, and in short, it is just one big party and a great community experience.

The Stadium and Seating Bowl
That being said, the stadium itself emulates the design and construction of a different era. The stadium was built in the 70's, an open air, football only facility with outstanding sightlines for football.  With the playing surface excavated well below the surface, one enters the venue from any one of multiple entrances and walks DOWN to the 100 level concourse, which rings the top of the 100 level seats. The sidelines along the 200 level are designated club seats, with indoor private concourses. From the entry gate it is a short ramp up to the 300 level.

The stadium underwent a massive renovation in time for the 1999 season, which added armchair seats in most of the 100 level, suites ringing the top of the 100 level and the scoreboard end zone in the 200 level, and two indoor clubs in each corner of the tunnel end zone.

There is a single Sony jumbotron scoreboard at one end zone. Game information and out of town scores are provided on small dot matrix boards accompanying the main board, as well as dot matrix boards hanging along each sideline in the upper deck. Also lining each of the four corners on the upper deck are synchronized changeable ad panels... very cool.  

The Concourses
The lower and upper concourses again emulate the 70s era of design - narrow, congested, with pipes and ducts exposed in the ceiling. With the renovation, the Bills have spruced up the concourses somewhat with splashes of paint, new concession signage and brighter lighting. There are no escalators here, but again, since everyone enters the stadium at the 200 level, it is either a quick walk up or down one ramp to one's seats, so escalators aren't really needed here.

Concessions
For years and years all you could find at the Ralph was standard ballpark dreck. In recent years the menu has been upgraded but the Buffalo staples - beef on weck and chicken wings are nowhere to be found except in premiumseating areas. Satellite carts sell Subway sandwiches and fresh roasted nuts. The main team merchandise store can actually be found outside the stadium. The new team store is located in the Bills Fieldhouse just south of the stadium on the grounds, and is stocked with Bills souvenirs and apparel. Smaller merchandise kiosks are scattered throughout the stadium.

Premium/Club Seats
The 1999 renovation placed a great deal of emphasis on the addition of premium seating which is so vital for the financial health of a franchise. Suite seating can be found ringing the top of the 100 level, tucked underneath the club level overhang, ringing the 200 level at the scoreboard end, and atop the old adminstration building at the tunnel end. A pair of two level "indoor clubs" are located in the corners of the tunnel end zone. And along the sidelines are the "outdoor club" seats, most of which are under the upper deck overhang and have their own private indoor concourse, complete with premium food offerings, table seating and full bar service. An interesting and unique feature here is that each outdoor club seat is HEATED, with a thermostat under each seat controlling the heating element built into the chair.  

Banners/Retired Numbers
At one end zone are the Bills two AFL and 4 AFC championship banners. At the other end is a "Wall of Fame" with 15 names, and yes, one of the honorees is none other than Orenthal, #32 O.J. Simpson. Bills fans are honored as "The 12th Man" for their contributions during the team's amazing four year run to Super Bowl in the early 90s.

Touchdowns, Extra points, Fumbles

Extra Point - The Buffalo Bills Experience is a pregame event taking place in the adjacent Bills Fieldhouse prior to each game. For $5 you can listen to music, take part in interactive events, buy trading cards and look at exhibits.

Touchdown - to the Bills for making their tickets available at very reasonable prices, compared to some the NFL venues which we have visited. Non club seats are priced from $41-$48. Parking $10...no PSL's, no contracts or big dollar commitments. That brings us to...

Fumble - Bills fans like to proclaim themselves as the BEST in the country, yet even at bargain prices, this team struggles to hit 40,000 season tickets each year. Granted, the building usually sells out, but it is the same tired ritual each home game to see if the last few seats will be sold in time to lift the blackout. Buffalofan - you have no idea how good you got it here. If you don't believe us, talk to the Green Bay fan who sits mired on a season ticket waiting list approaching 50,000 names. Talk to the St. Louis fan who plunks down thousands of dollars for his personal seat license. Talk to the New England fan who pays $25- $35... to PARK!

Touchdown - The Bills Wall of Fame. For honoring OL Bob Kalsu, though he only played a single season during the 60's. Bob will forever be remembered as the only US pro athlete to perish in combat during the Vietnam War.

Fumble - No constant scrolling out of town scoreboard and only one jumbotron. This venue should have a second jumbotron directly across from the one that exists now.

Summary
Bills fans are great and very passionate about their team - this is our home field and we love the Bills and own season tickets so we come here often. But after seeing the places we have seen, our conclusion is that Ralph Wilson Stadium falls in the lower echelon of NFL venues in terms of bricks and mortar, and as cities build dazzling new facilities this stadium's ranking will not improve without further upgrades and capital improvements.

But do not let our rating fool you or dissuade you - this is still a very pretty and a very functional stadium that simply lacks the architecture, amenities and bells and whistles of the newer stadiums. And a day at the Ralph is still an awesome football experience - plan to tailgate and plan to experience the electricity of the crazy Bills fans who eat, breathe and sleep football with the best of them!

COUNTY TAXPAYERS TO INCREASE AID TO BILLS
January 22, 2009
Copyright 2009 MediaVentures

Buffalo, N.Y. - Erie County taxpayers will set a record for the Buffalo Bills in the 2009 season. Local taxpayer support for the team will average more than $900,000 for each game played in Western New York.

It's largely because the Bills now play a preseason and a regular season home game in Toronto rather than in Orchard Park's Ralph Wilson Stadium. That reduces the number of games in Buffalo to eight while the taxpayer allowance for game-day expenses and operating expenses to run Ralph Wilson Stadium continues.

This merging of events - more money for the Bills with fewer home games played here - will trigger the first $900,000-a-game season. The 2008 season just missed.

In 2009, Erie County will set aside $4.2 million for operating and game-day expenses. It was $3.9 million last year. It will also continue funds for stadium upgrades: $2.9 million for this year.

For the eight games to be played in Orchard Park, that equates to about $920,000 a game from Erie County taxpayers - for a team that last reached the playoffs in 1999, the second season under the team's current lease. The lease expires after the 2012 season.

Jeffrey C. Littmann, the Bills chief financial officer, says the Bills incur more stadium-related expenses than the government reimburses.

The Bills paid $5.5 million in stadium expenses for the most recently concluded lease year, which ended July 31, before the 2008 season. The largest single cost was the $1.7 million for utilities - gas, electricity and water.

More than $1 million was spent on stadium salaries and more than $1 million on general maintenance - plumbing repairs, trash disposal, window cleaning, pest control, but also for miscellaneous needs such as bottled water, soft drinks and office supplies.

But the lease allowed government reimbursement for $2.45 million of the Bills total stadium operating expenses, or less than half of the organization's costs.

For game-day expenses, which includes security, the cost of ticket takers, ushers, cleaning and snow removal, the team laid out $2.3 million. The government reimbursed $1.38 million. Again, that was for the 2007 season, when the Bills played 10 home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium, two in the preseason and eight in the regular season.

The Bills will present their breakdown for the 2008 season, when the team played two games in Toronto, later this year. Littmann says the list will show game-day expenses receding. But he said the team's expenses will still exceed what the county is willing to reimburse.

It was Littmann who, in October 2007, called on then- County Executive Joel A. Giambra to ask that he let the Bills play two of their home games in Toronto, where some business leaders were offering to host the team. The Bills could then expand their fan base and "mitigate the small-market handicap we face in today's NFL," Littmann wrote in a follow-up letter.

The Bills' stadium lease had been signed in 1998 by Giambra's predecessor, Dennis T. Gorski. The agreement assumed the Bills would play all of their home games in the county-owned stadium but let the team play home games elsewhere with county permission. Giambra in late 2007 quickly let them do so for the 2008 season, without trying to change any other terms.

Gorski had negotiated the contract as he headed into an election year. When completed, it was considered both an extravagance and a triumph for Erie County. While the deal committed a fortune in taxpayer money, some $125 million through its life, the county didn't have to build a new stadium, as some other cities were doing for their NFL franchises.

The full Legislature ratified the pact in 1998. In doing so, lawmakers committed millions of public dollars to keep a 1970s-era stadium up to date. (Buffalo News)

BILLS FRUSTRATED OVER STADIUM FUNDING
April 2, 2009
Copyright 2009 MediaVentures

Buffalo, N.Y. - The Buffalo Bills are frustrated, and it has nothing to do with recent headline-grabbing events involving the Bills-in-Toronto series or the controversial Terrell Owens signing.

The Bills are fed up with the ongoing Erie County financial flap that has stalled more than a year and a half's worth of county-funded stadium improvements at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

At issue are about $2.9 million in improvements the county is obligated to fund each year under its lease with the Bills.

It's early spring, the traditional launch of the construction season, but no huge repair crews are poised to descend on the stadium, less than five months before the Bills host two preseason games in August.

None of this year's $2.9 million in improvements has gone past the wish-list stage. And the Bills still are waiting for almost $2 million worth of capital improvements - that were supposed to be done last year.

The Bills insist they're frustrated, not angry. They've talked with all the parties involved, and they're not mad at any one person. They're just fed up with the situation.

An ongoing dispute between the county and its state-appointed control board has stalled the selling of about $89 million worth of bonds for capital-improvement projects across the county.

"We've talked with the control board," Bills Treasurer Jeffrey C. Littmann said. "We've talked with the comptroller. We've talked with the county executive. They're all supportive. They all understand. This is not a Bills issue. This is a county issue, and we're caught up in it."

As Littmann pointed out, the Bills are hardly alone waiting for capital improvement projects.

Also being held hostage on this list, county officials say, are road and bridge work throughout the county, replacing the Erie County Holding Center roof, roof repairs at the county correctional facility in Alden and capital improvements at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, the Botanical Gardens and all three Erie Community College campuses.

"There have been a lot of independent third parties that have been impacted by this," County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz said.

No stairway is about to crumble, but the Bills consider the annual $2.9 million in capital improvements a key element in keeping the 36-year-old Ralph Wilson Stadium a viable NFL playpen, while some other teams have grandiose, spanking- new structures with all the amenities. A couple of years ago, Littmann asked Joe Frandina, the Bills' vice president of stadium operations, how long Ralph Wilson Stadium could last.

"Is the assumption that we control the maintenance, and she's taken care of the way she should be taken care of?" Littmann remembers Frandina asking him.

Yes, Littmann answered.

"Then she'll outlast you and me," Frandina replied. Poloncarz noted that the county has advanced cash for about one-third of the 2007 and 2008 capital improvements throughout the county, $28 million out of $89 million worth. The Bills say that includes more than $750,000 of their stadium work.

The almost 30 capital improvements never done from last year's list at the stadium include reconstructing parking Lot 1, repairing the Section 104 seating area, remodeling some restrooms and repairing the fieldhouse roof from storm damage.

"The goal now is we hope to get last year's work done now," Littmann said.

Poloncarz still holds out hope that the issue could be resolved soon, either through an agreement with the control board or through legislation in Albany.

The Bills can't compete with 2-million-square-foot "Taj Mahal" stadiums - Ralph Wilson Stadium is about 890,000 square feet - or with NFL franchises that sell personal seat licenses or $500 club seats.

"We just don't have the marketplace to do that," he said. "We have to find another answer. That's why we went the regionalization route. We're taking our brand to a bigger audience." (Buffalo News)

COUNTY EXEC EXPECTS BILLS TO RENEW LEASE - WITH CHANGES
February 17, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures

Buffalo, N.Y. - Erie County Executive Chris Collins told WGRZ he's confident that the county and state can reach a new lease agreement with the Buffalo Bills, although he adds a new lease could include one additional game per season in Toronto.

As part of the current lease, the Bills will spend $2.8 million on upkeep at the stadium, which this year will include new turf. The team's lease with the county expires in the summer of 2013. Collins says he and the Bills have agreed that serious negotiations won't begin until the league and the players' union come to a new collective bargaining agreement, something which could still be months away.

Once lease talks do begin, the television station said the Bills treasurer, Jeff Littmann, is expected to negotiate on behalf of the team, as he did during the last set of negotiations in the late 1990's, if Collins wins re-election, he and his top aides will represent the county, and Governor Cuomo will likely be represented by the New York's Empire State Development Corporation.

BILLS OPENING TALKS ON NEW LEASE
March 17, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures

Buffalo, N.Y. - The Buffalo Bills and the city have begun preliminary talks on a new lease for Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Buffalo News reported. The current lease expires July 31, 2013.

The News said both the Bills and Erie County seem intent on bringing a third partner, New York State, to the table, to help pay for renovations to keep the 38-year-old stadium more relevant in the new NFL.

"Clearly, until there is a new collective bargaining agreement and an understanding what the agreement entails, there will be no formal discussions," Erie County Executive Chris Collins told the newspaper. "The ball clearly is in [the Bills'] court."

Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. is 92 and has no incentive to enter into a long-term extension. But Wilson's long-standing commitment to keep the team in Western New York during his lifetime gives local officials confidence that an extension will get done, the newspaper said.

June 30, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures

The Buffalo Bills tell WRG radio their expanded New York and Canadian marketing efforts are paying off. Bills CEO Russ Brandon told the radio station the Toronto marketplace has added five million people to the Buffalo Bills footprint. The revenue the team gets from Toronto almost equals the amount the team gets from Rochester. Brandon estimated that the Bills get 15 percent of their total revenue from Rochester and that Toronto has just inched forward from that mark. In addition, the targeted marketing to Southern Ontario has paid off at the ticket window. Brandon said that there has been a 44 percent increase in season ticket purchase from that area.

BILLS SEEK UPGRADES VIA LEASE TALKS
September 22, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures

Buffalo, N.Y. - Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. told the Buffalo News he's ready to extend the team's lease agreement with Erie County if fundamental improvements can be made to the 38-year-old stadium that bears his name.

"I'm willing to sign a lease that will keep the team there and keep the team competitive," Wilson said. "We're not looking to have a palace, just a football stadium.

"Some of these places, to me, it's goofy. They have all these fancy restaurants inside. People come to the football game to see the game, not to have a delicious dinner. ... We want just enough money to stay competitive."

Sports teams often ask taxpayers to fund sparkling new facilities when leases near completion, but Wilson claimed the Bills' stadium will be fine "for the next 10 or 15 years" if properly maintained.

Two sources familiar with the team's thinking told the News the Bills expect a 10-year lease extension that would coincide with the collective bargaining agreement struck between the National Football League and its players for this season.

Any lease extension will involve substantial help from the Empire State Development Corp. for improvements to the stadium's infrastructure.

County Executive Chris Collins insisted New York State must be heavily involved in any lease agreement and pay for the required structural improvements at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills' current lease was signed in 1997 and included $63.2 million in state-funded capital improvements, about $3 million a year from a "working capital grant" and other state money.

Collins said a similar arrangement would be essential, and noted the state should be obligated. Collins claimed his office's research showed the Bills provided the state with $20 million in direct revenues each year, mainly from taxes on payroll and ticket sales.

"As negotiations would begin and we've all heard the stadium improvements the Bills would request, I would be looking for the state to pick up that bill," Collins said. "That, to me, would be the starting point."

BILLS REVIEWING STADIUM NEEDS AHEAD OF LEASE SIGNING
October 27, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures

Buffalo, N.Y. - The Buffalo Bills are examining their stadium needs ahead of signing a lease extension for Erie County, the Buffalo News reported.

The Bills hired Populous to conduct an exhaustive study of Ralph Wilson Stadium's infrastructure. The study will determine how much necessary improvements will cost.

Populous began the study about four months ago and, according to senior executive and former Bills linebacker Scott Radecic, hopes to be done by the end of the season.

Until then, the News says the Bills and Erie County can't broker a lease extension because they won't know how much money they'll ask from the state. The price tag will be in the tens of millions and likely well past $100 million.

"Cost is an unknown and could be in a wide range," Erie County Executive Chris Collins told the newspaper. "I'm expecting New York State to pay for these improvements. But you can't sit down and have meaningful negotiations until this study is complete."

Bills owner Ralph Wilson told the Buffalo News last month he thought the stadium would be adequate for "the next 10 or 15 years" if properly maintained. Two sources familiar with the club's thinking told the newspaper the Bills expect to sign a 10-year lease extension that would coincide with the collective bargaining agreement the NFL and its players brokered this summer.

Collins again emphasized the state's sizable commitment would be worthwhile. He said research done by his office indicates the Bills provide the state with $20 million in direct revenues each year, mainly from taxes on payroll and ticket sales.

The Bills' current lease was signed in 1997 and included $63.2 million in state-funded capital improvements, about $3 million a year from a "working capital grant" and other state money.

Most improvements to the 38-year-old Ralph Wilson Stadium would be basic and largely unnoticeable to fans. Bills CEO Russ Brandon said the areas for upgrading are "not the sexiest elements you'd think of."

"This stadium is beyond special," Brandon said. "This stadium has the best sightlines in the NFL, bar none. The sightlines and the great experience we have outside the stadium are the foundation of what we are."

With the study at least a couple months from completion, the newspaper said Brandon and Radecic seemed already in agreement about its mission: identify ways to improve basic functionality and safety.

"It's not about a new image or an iconic statement or the exterior design," said Radecic, who started at inside linebacker for the Bills from 1987 through 1989 and played for the Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts over 12 seasons. "The focus is on fan improvements. How do we optimize the experience for them?

"The bowl is great. It's intimate and on top of the field. But once you leave the seating bowl, the building shows its age. We're looking at different options and ways to utilize what's there now and to make it better and, finally, 'What does that cost?' Then the Bills will be able to make a decision as to what's best for them."

BILLS WILLING TO STAY IN BUFFALO
November 3, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures

Buffalo, N.Y. - The Buffalo Bills would be willing to sign a restrictive lease tying the team to Western New York – if they get a satisfactory agreement with New York State and Erie County, unidentified team sources have told the Buffalo News.

Serious negotiations on extending the current lease, which runs through July 2013, have not yet begun. The Bills want significant upgrades to Ralph Wilson Stadium, paid for by New York State and Erie County, in order to sign an extension.

The current lease, signed in 1997, cost the state roughly $120 million.

The newspaper said there are concerns about how can the state and county be protected if the Bills are sold.

The newspaper said "an obvious solution is for the inclusion of a repayment protection clause, stipulating the state and county would be repaid the full amount of their investment if the team moved during the term of the lease. The Bills view this sort of clause as reasonable, The News' sources say, presuming the stadium upgrades are acceptable to the team."

Team owner Ralph Wilson declined to comment to the News on what kind of protection the state and county would get for their investment or discuss other terms of a lease.

"We haven't gotten anywhere near that," Wilson said. "I'm not going to [discuss terms]."

Wilson reiterated the importance of structural and other improvements to the stadium, which opened in 1973.

"We want the state and the county to put some substantial money in to fixing this stadium up," he said. "It's crumbling right now. But we don't want a Taj Mahal. We just want a nice, clean place to watch a football game. So we want something that's a little different than what some other teams want. We just want a decent football stadium, and we'll take care of that when we talk to the state and the county."

The Bills have hired an architectural firm to study the stadium's infrastructure, and the results of that study are expected to form the basis of the Bills' proposal in lease talks.

"We'll work something out, and if the state doesn't like it, they don't have to take it," Wilson said.

December 15, 2011
Copyright 2011 MediaVentures

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told KGRZ supports keeping the Buffalo Bills in the state. "Well, look the Bills are very important," says Cuomo. "Not only to Western New York so I'm looking forward to working with the county and the entire community in finding way to make sure the Bills stay here."

ERIE COUNTY INSPECTS STADIUM AHEAD OF BILLS' TALKS
February 2, 2012
Copyright 2012 MediaVentures

Buffalo, N.Y. - Erie County engineers want to know how well the concrete at Ralph Wilson Stadium is holding up as they prepare for lease negotiations with the Buffalo Bills.

The Buffalo News said the county plans to hire an architectural and engineering firm to assess how the stadium's concrete has changed since it was last studied in 1996.

"We want to redo that study, to a certain extent, to now find out the condition of the concrete, how much it has deteriorated since the study was done in 1996, and how long it will last in the future," said Jeffrey P. Zack, an engineer in the county Department of Public Works.

County legislators authorized County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to hire Di- Donato Associates for up to $210,000 to complete professional services and design work for a package of stadium upgrades required under the team's existing lease for the stadium.

Those improvements – which include more than 80 items – are expected to cost about $1.2 million. County officials hope to complete the work before the football season starts.

In addition to the study of the concrete, the upgrades include updating the fire alarm system at the fieldhouse, fixing concrete slabs that have become tripping hazards and a second phase of sound system improvements, Zack said.

Under the team's stadium lease, which expires in July 2013, the county is required to pay for about $3 million in capital improvements to the county-owned stadium each year.

The study of the concrete, Zack said, also will determine its longevity and whether it needs immediate repairs as officials prepare for discussions with the Bills over the stadium lease.

Zack said that the county has regularly sealed the concrete at the stadium but that the material is vulnerable to snow, rain and salt.

BILLS WANT TO RENOVATE STADIUM
April 19, 2012
Copyright 2012 MediaVentures

Buffalo, N.Y. - The Buffalo Bills are proposing a renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium rather than a more extensive "gutting of the building," the Buffalo News reported.

It's expected the cost of the stadium renovation the Bills want will be a little bit more than $200 million, a source familiar with the Bills' stadium study told the newspaper. That is a similar sum to the total amount taxpayers put up the last time the lease was negotiated.

"If you walked into this building in 1973 as a general fan, it's not a heckuva lot different," Bills Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon said. "By NFL standards, our building is old. It needs to be updated. It needs to be refreshed."

Brandon would not disclose the projected cost of the renovation but said talk of a $100 million price tag is way too low.

"The number $100 million has surfaced somehow," Brandon told the News. "That was an uninformed, uneducated figure. That number did not come from us. This will be well north of that."

The Bills hired Populous, an architectural firm based in Kansas City, Mo., to study the Orchard Park stadium ahead of negotiations to renew a lease agreement for the county-owned stadium that expires July 2013.

Formal discussions with Erie County officials already have begun.

"The Populous study is very, very close to its completion," Brandon said. "We're fine-tuning a few things, but we're there."

The Bills haven't yet delivered the full study to Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and his staff.

The last deal reached between the Bills and Erie County, a 15-year lease, called for a $63 million state-funded renovation and annual upgrades paid for by the county that totaled $38.3 million.

The total cost of that deal to the public was $212 million, according to a Buffalo News calculation based on information provided by the state and the county. That includes construction costs, game day expenses, stadium maintenance, rent payments picked up by the state and annual payments to the Bills.

Brandon said the Bills and Populous did a thorough investigation of three stadium options: building a new stadium, "retrofitting" the current stadium and renovating it.

They've since zeroed in on a renovation that would include key elements of what the Bills think is needed: structural improvements to keep the facility viable, infrastructure improvements to bring the stadium up to modern technology needs, and a total renovation of the exterior gates and paths around the stadium.

"When we looked at the new stadium, we rejected the concept for several reasons," Brandon said. "New stadiums cost anywhere from $800 million and north. What's usually involved is substantial public and fan participations, such as PSLs."

Personal seat licenses are used in many new NFL stadiums. They require the purchase of a license, usually for thousands of dollars, for the right to purchase a season ticket.

"You'd have to look at new revenue sources, new dedicated taxes to service bonds, etc.," Brandon said. "We think when you look at the location of our stadium and the culture of our fan base that it would not be in the best interests of the community."

At Ralph Wilson Stadium, Brandon said, a retrofit would give the stadium much wider concourses. But the way the facility is constructed, the cost would be great to knock all the walls out.

"In the retrofit, you're looking at $450 million to $500 million," Brandon said. "You're looking at huge public funds and bonds. Then you're looking again at PSLs and much higher ticket prices. We don't believe there's sufficient public support or sufficient fan interest in making that kind of investment."

Buffalo Bills

War Memorial Stadium
War Memorial Stadium

1960-1972
Ralph Wilson Stadium
Ralph Wilson Stadium

1972-Present
Rogers Centre
Rogers Centre

2008-Present


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