Roger Goodell met with Buffalo Bills season ticket holders and local media prior to the team's home win over the Philadelphia Eagles on October 9. During those conversations, the NFL commissioner reiterated that the Bills' long-term viability in Western New York would be enhanced with stadium upgrades. Less than two weeks later, those quotes seem to hold more weight.
"I think the Bills owner, the state, and the county has done a great job of continuing to make improvements to the stadium to keep it competitive, but you have to continue to do that," said Goodell of Ralph Wilson Stadium during the question-and-answer session with the fans. "We’ve had success with old stadiums - Lambeau Field is an old stadium, Chicago’s an old stadium [and] had a significant renovation going back - so you have to continually improve facilities to keep them competitive with what’s going on in other markets."
While calling for upgrades, Goodell noted that Buffalo isn't the same market as other NFL cities.
"It has to be done with an eye towards that market," continued Goodell. "There are certain things that may not be necessary or desired by the fans here in Western New York that are very popular in other markets. The stadium has to fit the community and the community has to have input in that, which they have."
When specifically asked about what fans can do to help the Bills remain in Buffalo, Goodell once again returned to the stadium upgrades.
"Work with the NFL, work with the team, and make sure the stadium continues to stay competitive," Goodell said. "That’s the bottom line. [The stadium] is great. It needs some more work. It means we’re going to have to do some work here. It’s going to take more investment in the stadium. But that’s a great investment, because it will help keep the Bills competitive and keep them here in Western New York, which is what we all want."
One doesn't have to look far to see what kind of stadium improvements teams want. The Buffalo Sabres have undergone extensive renovations to their home facility, now called the First Niagara Center. Cosmetic changes such as painting the walls the team colors likely aren't in the cards for the Bills, but the idea of enhancing the fan experience is central to much of the work for the Sabres. The team has enhanced the food service options, as well as increased accessibility to wi-fi and other fan-friendly perks.
The crown jewel of the First Niagara Center's summer renovation was a brand new locker room facility. While this won't improve the fan experience, visiting teams and media members have recently been commenting on the inadequacy of the locker rooms at Ralph Wilson Stadium, specifically the visitor's space. This could certainly be an area the team will target.
Despite the changes he foresees in Orchard Park, Goodell does not think the Bills need a brand new stadium. When talking with fans, he pointed out that he was sitting in the stands in Buffalo for a reason.
"It’s a great stadium to watch a game," said Goodell. "One of the reasons I picked this game to sit out in the stands is because I think it’s a great experience to be here with the Bills fans and the sight lines are great."
With the new improvements reported to be as much as $100 million of New York State taxpayer money, hopefully the Bills can remain profitable in suburban Buffalo for years to come.