The day will come when the Buffalo Bills will move into a new stadium, in fact, The Buffalo News ran an article that said that there are four options for the new palace, three downtown, the other in Orchard Park. The Bills have had a nice run in Orchard Park, and like Foxboro, the town has enjoyed the benefits of getting its named mentioned at least eight times per year on national television.
The Bills and Orchard Park is a relationship that began in 1973. Local hole-in-the-wall stores, bars, and restaurants have relished the game day experience as well as those people who arrived a day or two prior. The town, with a population of 29,000 would dearly love to have the stadium built next to the existing one for economic and vanity reasons, but the new stadium must be downtown for the Bills going forward. Yes, a downtown stadium could help transform the "new," Buffalo, and with three playpens in the area, would give residents a reason to spend 12 months milling around downtown. The old story that new stadiums revitalize downtowns is a tad overrated but there is no denying that having the Sabres, Bisons and Bills all playing in buildings in close proximity certainly can’t hurt the city of Buffalo.
Those who want the stadium to remain in Orchard Park are those who treasure the game day experience, specifically tailgating. Orchard Park is perfectly suited for the pre-game festivities with its enormous parking lots, additional spaces at residents’ homes and accessible highways, interstates, county and state routes. The tailgaters fear that a downtown stadium will all but end the pregame ritual that is as much a part of the game as sacks, dropped passes and touchdowns.
The truth is that even if the city of Buffalo allows some forms of tailgating, it can never be the same as Orchard Park. There will be fewer places to park, longer walks and because of parking limitations, more public transportation used to get to and from downtown Buffalo on game day. There will be people parking in garages and those are not conducive to firing up the grill and preparing steak and eggs.
Tailgating is fun, but that can’t be the reason to keep the stadium in Orchard Park. A downtown, domed stadium can be used 12 months of the year, with concerts, weddings, business meetings, conventions and much more. The Ralph has great sight lines, but other than 10 football games per year and a few other events how often is the facility used
The one real concern has to be the eventual price and cost of the new stadium, and we’re not talking the $1 billion to build it. That cost is chump change which will be absorbed by the taxpayers to insure the team’s long term vitality. The real price will be the one passed on to the fans. The Bills have always catered to its blue collar fan, with for the most part affordable ticket prices. Most seats at The Ralph can be had for under $100 but that will certainly change when the Pegula Dome is reality.
Many Bills fans feel that being able to go to a game is an entitlement and these very same fans will moan and groan to the high heavens once they see the sticker shock that the new stadium will bring relating to ticket prices. That $68 ticket in the family section will be at least double it not triple and that excludes the personal seat license, which in essence is a one-time fee that gives you the right to buy your season ticket. In some stadiums/cities, the PSL was anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000. Then, you’re hit with another $3,000 for one season ticket and you can see where Johnny Sixpack is not going to be happy.
The Bills will likely tread lightly here. The ticket prices will be much higher, but conventional wisdom says that there won’t be outrageously high PSLs, and there certainly won’t be PSLs for every seat. The club seats, with the amenities will carry some sort of PSL, but the assumption will be that these fans will be able to come up with $10,000, $15,000 or more for the right to purchase their season tickets. Bills fans will be in for a rude awakening when they see these increased prices because even though the team has been privately owned from its inception, the general feeling is that the Bills are the "Community’s Team," and if it wasn’t for the fans, the Bills would not exist.
This is scary news indeed. The Bills are part of the machine that is the National Football League. It might be unfair to say that the league prints money, but if that was possible, the NFL might be able to pull it off. No matter what the league says, they really don’t care about the fans. If they did, they wouldn't move 1 pm games to 8:30 on Sunday, nor would they move 1 pm games to 4:25. Many fans of many teams travel to see their team play. Imagine the frustration of a fan that lives in Rochester who buys a ticket to home game of the Cleveland Browns that is scheduled to start at 1 pm; and then 12 days before the game, the NFL moves the game to 8:30. If the league cared about its fans, that would never happen, but it does, just ask New York Giants fans. The league could have outlawed PSLs, but they turned a blind eye to it. John Mara, the Giants CEO, said he hated to charge fans for PSLs, but if he really hated to do it, then why did he? Oh yes---money.
The Bills new stadium will also seat less than the 73,000 that RWS does. As good as Bills fans are, selling out games is not automatic. Seats can always be had for most games. There are many reasons for this of course, but the fact remains that though Bills tickets are among the league’s lowest, tickets can be had. Even when the Bills were dominant from 1988-1993, tickets were always available. The epic 41-38 1992 AFC Wild Card Game (played in January, 1993) was blacked out in WNY, so as rabid as the Buffalo fans are; many are rabid away from the stadium. Let’s assume that the new stadium seats 63,000; that’s 10,000 less that RWS and that will increase demand which the Pegulas will love. But even that doesn't guarantee sellouts. These tickets will be very expensive and may be out of the price range of the average WNY football fan. You’ll see more visiting fans in the stadium as Bills fans will sell a game or two to the Steeler, Cowboy or Jet fan to offset the higher ticket prices, much like Sabre fan sells his tickets to Maple Leaf or Canadian fan.
All is not lost however. The institution that should be rooting the hardest for a new downtown stadium is the University at Buffalo. The more fans that are priced out of a downtown Buffalo Bills stadium can means more fans that can be "priced in," to University at Buffalo Bulls football. The campaign needs to start now and it needs to start in earnest. The Bulls brass should have been beaming when they saw The Buffalo News piece because they have a chance to get the displaced fan when the new playpen is up and running. That $250 ticket is going to be out of range for many and even those who can afford it may boycott on principal. Let’s be honest, as much as many love sports, everybody has their breaking point. It usually hits at a certain age, maybe when the last of your kids is born, but it hits. When I was a youngster in the 1970s, my dad took me to Bills, Sabres and Buffalo Braves games, but in the mid-1980s, it stopped and did so suddenly. Dad no longer wanted to spend his hard earned money at the ballpark. My Uncle Bill in Philadelphia did the same thing, settling for games on the television instead of trips to Veterans Stadium and The Spectrum. Today’s games are made for those with discretionary income, which means younger and wealthy, not Johnny Sixpack making $50,000 per year.
Between the out priced fan and the disgruntled fan leaves a golden opportunity for the Buffalo Bulls. Market the hell out of the price savings, offer discounts for those who buy multiple season tickets and market massively to companies that can bring at least 10 people to a game. The Bills fan will likely never love the Bulls like he did the Bills, but you can still convince him or her that being at a Bulls game live and in person is better than sitting home. In some ways, it’s like Hartford Whalers fans. Many were sad when the Whalers left for North Carolina but many bought season tickets for the Hartford Wolf Pack and though it’s not the same rush, eventually the hurt goes away.
This is Buffalo’s chance, and the good part is that they have time to prepare. The Bills are at least five years away from a new stadium, but the Bulls need to get all their ores in the water. They need to find a better conference. Simply, the MAC will not satisfy the displaced Buffalo Bills fan. They have to keep pursuing membership in the B1G until they get told to "go to hell," because the MAC will never play in WNY. You’ll always have 15,000 who love UB and will support the team, but in order to get the 50,000 or 60,000 in the seats, upgrading conferences is a must.
The university will have to rebuild UB Stadium. They need at least 50,000 seats, they need to get rid of the track that goes around the stadium because big time stadiums have their track facility elsewhere, and they’ll need to build some luxury boxes. The current UB Stadium with its 29,000 seat capacity is fine for MAC with it half-empty, but the B1G is big boy football and with it comes big boy facilities. They could even play at The Ralph if they absolutely had to do, but on-campus is the best option.
The conference shift is a tired topic on this forum. I’ve stated that the Bulls should pursue membership in the B1G or downgrade to the CAA, and a week of articles were devoted to the Bulls joining the American Athletic Conference, making the topic of conference jumping lively indeed. Now that the Power 5 schools voted to give Cost of Attendance stipends to student-athletes, where does that leave the MAC? The MAC is just not a very good football conference. Once again, its teams struggled in bowl games where they played up. That said the MAC is a nice little conference and if the Bulls decide to remain there and play at UB Stadium that would be fine. The university has come a long way with its athletic programs. When I was in high school, they were a Division III team that played at clumpy Rotary Field and now, they’re a Division I program in a solid, little conference. It’s not a knock on them and should they stand pat, it’s not the end of the world.
The Buffalo Bills are creating a huge opening for Bulls athletics. Trust me, the WNY fan will be shocked when they see what it will cost to attend Bills games in a new stadium. Many will not be able to afford the tickets, the parking, the time and the other costs of attending a game. These people will tailgate in their driveways, and then will head into their homes to watch the Bills games on TV. These fans will be looking to spend their money---which they budgeted for years---on something else, and it won’t be the opera. The sports fan is a sports fan, always has been, always will be. They work hard and six times a year, they’ll be looking for something to do. The Buffalo Bulls can fill that void. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and even Iowa, Nebraska and Illinois can help the fan do that. Think about the Governor’s Cup game between the State University of New York (Buffalo) and the State University of New Jersey (Rutgers). How good could that be?
The time is now, University at Buffalo, you’re on the clock. Make a call ASAP to Terry Pegula and get a firm timetable. Call Jim Delaney of the B1G and every other president of the 14 B1G schools and have them give you 10 reasons why Buffalo should not be in the B1G. If they can’t give you ten reasons, apply daily for membership with the assurances that the university will do whatever it takes to comply with B1G requirements. Time is on your side, but it goes fast. As Joe McGrath, general manager of the Charlestown Chiefs told player coach, Reggie Dunlop, "see this quarter, it used to be a nickel," all but emphasizes that UB must strike now, today, not later, or tomorrow.
The Buffalo Bills are doing you a favor; now let’s see if you can take advantage of it.