If I haven't been the biggest UB Stadium detractor, I'm at least on the Mount Rushmore.
UB Athletic Directors, including two football players and one wunderkind, frustrated me, building anything, (field-houses, locker rooms, coach offices, luxury boxes) but a stadium that was fun to watch a game in.
Three years into AD Alnutt's tenure, status quo prevailed...until today.
Today, AD Alnutt played the hits: improving the scoreboard, removing the track, lowering the field. He said everything I wanted to hear since 2007, and it left me... suspicious.
My hypothesis: since 2006, UB has been negotiating with the Bills for a shared stadium. For 15 years, they were stuck in the preparation stage, this year, the Bills moved to the second stage, and today UB joined them at that stage.
The stages of negotiation are:
Preparation: Determine your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) estimate your opponents' BATNA, and predict the ZOPA (zone of possible agreement).
Exchange Information: Initiation of conversations to build a rapport
Initial Anchor offer: Initial offer serves as an anchor, all other discussions are based on the initial offer.
Bargaining: Exchanging of terms towards getting to a final deal.
Closing: Either a deal is made and implemented or discussions end without a deal.
Warde Manuel came to Buffalo in 2005, and his first big move was to hire a football coach and rebrand. A year into his tenure, Toronto announced their intention to acquire an NFL team. A year later, the Buffalo Bills -Toronto Series was announced. From that point on, the Bills were either going to move out of town or build a new stadium to secure their future in Buffalo.
Knowing the Bills would soon need to leave or build, UB entered the preparation stage:
1) UB's best case scenario is the Bills leaving, freeing up money for a new UB Stadium (similar to the situations at UAB and San Diego State).
2) The moderate scenario would be for the Bills to share a stadium with UB built either at UB or easily accessible to UB.
3) The worst-case scenario would be for the Bills to build a stadium that is too far or inaccessible for UB to share.
UB's BATNA to scenario 2 & 3 is renovating UB Stadium or building a new UB Stadium and choosing not to partner with the Bills.
If I was in the preparation stage, but careful not to exchange too much information that could influence the future deal I would:
1) NOT release a plan to fix the stadium, or attempt to fundraise to do so. My BATNA is based on my ability to fix or build a new UB stadium. If I tried to fix or build a new UB stadium but failed to raise the money, I'd lose that alternative.
2) I would make improvements on non-stadium areas of facilities (practice area, training area, locker room, coach space) because I would still use these areas even if I played at a Bills Stadium no matter the location.
3) I would build the business case that UB can benefit from a partnership with the Bills by building an entertaining winning product, and proving donors will pay for VIP experience (building the Murch).
This is exactly what UB has done over the past decade. I don't think UB thought the preparation stage would last this long, but the Bills kicked the stadium issue down the road (probably waiting to get good). While they waited for the Bills to kickstart negotiations, UB had to hold the line, and do the best they could, forcing ADs to leave rather than wait for the Bills.
Exchange Information Stage:
The Bills entered the Exchange information phase as they met privately with their stakeholders.
Initial Anchor Offer Stage:
If I was UB at this stage I would push for my best case scenario while emphasizing for the first time, my willingness and ability to accept my BATNA.
UB's best case scenario, a Bills move. This is the Bills BATNA.
UB's next best-case scenario is a shared stadium at UB. I don't believe this is an option for the Bills.
UB's next best case is a shared stadium close to UB. I think a downtown stadium is the Bills best case.
UB's worst case is a Bills stadium in Orchard Park. I think this is the Bills next best case.
UB's BATNA is a renovated UB Stadium which AD Alnutt discussed today.
The Bills anchor offer is the Orchard Park Stadium, but their best case is the more expensive downtown stadium, and they are hoping fans will want the downtown stadium enough to support their public funding plan.
For UB the downtown stadium is a compromise position, in exchange for their support of the downtown stadium, UB will want a sweetheart partnership deal (I would shoot for UB pays no rent, no operating or event support costs outside of a fixed payment per ticket sold of $1-$5 dollars, with UB receiving all profit associated with UB games, including ticket sales, concessions, parking, suites, merchandising (with UB merchandise at the in-venue store) advertising and corporate partnerships.
Hard to digest at first, I think the downtown stadium has the highest upside for UB
1) Short Term UB gets a great free facility for UB Football, which will provide a short-term boost for recruiting and ticketing.
2) UB could instantly shift all fundraising efforts towards a new Basketball facility to build on our Basketball momentum
3) If the UB-Bills partnership doesn't work, UB could return to UB Stadium. If the Bills build at UB, the Bulls are stuck with the Bills stadium, for better or for worse.
4) Ultimately, if UB is able to use this stadium to build their fanbase, get better in football and basketball, and improve revenue, UB could fundraise the money needed to build a proper home for UB Football on campus.
For these reasons, I think UB has been preparing for this moment for at least a decade, and now UB is on track to put themselves in the best situation possible, and if this was the plan all along, I owe a lot of old ADs an apology.