HOUSTON - FILE: Mario Williams #90 of the Houston Texans gets the crowd hyped up during a football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Houston, Texas. According to reports on March 15, 2012, the Buffalo Bills have signed free agent Mario Williams to a six-year deal that could be worth up to $100 million. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Bills spent a lot of money in free agency this year, and long-starving fans of the franchise have rewarded the team with a huge boost in ticket sales. John Wawrow of The Associated Press spoke with Bills CEO Russ Brandon last week, who said ticket sales are moving briskly in the wake of signing Mario Williams and re-signing Stevie Johnson, among other moves.
Brandon said the team has already sold 4,320 new season-ticket packages, and noted that season ticket renewals are coming in at the fastest pace in 15 years. (That, by the way, would be way back in 1997, which was Marv Levy's last as coach and the first without Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.) A large portion of those new season tickets were purchased in the three days following Williams' signing, when 1,650 new orders were placed.
"With the additional signings, it certainly was a huge boost," Brandon said. "And one of the things that's really resonated is that people feel the team is headed in the right direction under the guidance of Buddy and Chan. ... People seem very pleased that the arrow's pointed up."GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey were instrumental in luring Williams and fellow pass rusher Mark Anderson to Buffalo. In addition, the Bills were able to retain key free agent wide receiver Johnson to pair with another high-priced re-signing in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Optimism, says Brandon, is the key reason behind the ticket sales despite a bleak outlook a year ago.
"The surge in sales comes a year after the Bills sold 37,355 season tickets, the team's lowest total since 2001 and about 7,000 fewer than the previous year," noted Wawrow. "The Bills also failed to sell out their final three games last season."
Adding the 37,355 figure to the 4,320 new sales, the resulting 41,000-plus season tickets the Bills have signed up for 2012 is well below Brandon's goal for the market and Buffalo's historical sales. According to Wawrow, Brandon sets "50,000 season tickets as a realistic goal" without making projections as to where the Bills will finish. The team sold 55,308 season tickets in 2009, fueled largely by the free agent signing of Terrell Owens.
With the upcoming NFL draft, excitement should continue to build on message boards, comment sections, and most importantly, at the ticket office.