I want to start by saying that all my prayers are with Jim Kelly and his family as he battles cancer. I grew up watching Jim and seeing one of the most innovative offenses in NFL history and I know Jim can beat this. All the best!
One of things I have noticed reading this site is that many of the posts have to do with what we see on the field. The X's and O's, personnel, coaches, scheme, trades and drafts. The stuff that has everything to do with winning and losing that we see and that is great.
I like that too and the business of sports as well which is why I wanted to write about the prospects of a new BILLS Stadium and what is realistic and what fans should want and expect.
As we know the BILLS and Erie County signed a lease for the team to stay at the Ralph for the next seven years. In March the Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex announced their proposal for a new $1.4 billion stadium with a capacity of 72,000 seats and a retractable roof to be located in Buffalo's Outer Harbor. While this is a noble idea, there are some major flaws so with that in mind here is what you should be looking at wanting in a new stadium for the BILLS.
1. The Capacity Does NOT Have to be 70,000+: When Rich Stadium was built in 1972 it had the second largest seating capacity in the NFL at 80,000. Only Detroit's Silverdome was larger. In 1998 when the now Ralph was renovated the capacity was lowered to its current 73,000+ seating arrangement. The proposed stadium by the G.B.S.E.C. has 72,000 seats. The second smallest market in the NFL cannot continue to always fill such a large stadium and should not be expected to. Believe it or not, 20 of the 32 of NFL stadiums have seating capacities under 72,000 with many of them being under 70,000 including Chicago's Soldier Field at just under 62,000. Newer stadiums in similar sized markets such as Heinz Field in Pittsburgh seats just over 65,000 while Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis holds just over 67,000. It shows that you do not need to be bigger to compete. The right sized stadium for Western, NY is somewhere between 62 and 65,000 seats. Big enough to compete but small enough to sell out on a regular basis. My suggestion would be a solid 63,000 seat stadium.
2. The Retractable Roof is a MUST!: As BILLS fans any idea of a roof over our stadium makes us cringe as does the idea of playing a home game in December indoors (Toronto cough cough). However what you have to remember is that this stadium will not just be for the BILLS. One of the biggest reasons the Ralph has stayed reletively healthy in it's old age is the fact that it is hardly used. It is the only stadium in the NFL that is currently used less than 12 times per year on a regular basis. Between nine BILLS games (Should be 10) and Section VI football the stadium is dormant. There are no concerts, conventions or other events at the stadium for the County and the team to make money.
This will change at the new stadium which is why the retractable roof is extremely important. Lets assume for the sake of having a benchmark that the new stadium will cost $1.2 billion and lets also assume that taxpayers will be responsible for 50% of the funding which is $600 million. Taxpayers will not support the building of a complex that will only be used 10 times a year. The good news though is with the roof the chances to draw big events to Buffalo will be much greater which will bring money to the stadium and more money to the local economy which is always a good thing. Here is a small list of events that Buffalo could host with a new retractable roof stadium.
- NCAA March Madness (Sweet 16/Elite 8 or the Final Four)
- College Football Bowl Game
- UB Football against a premier opponent
- Super Bowl
As you see while the roof may be a turnoff to our thought of a cold weather, home field advantage; the amount of events that could come to Buffalo greatly outweigh playing the Dolphins in 12 degree weather. The stadium needs to host roughly 40 events per year in my opinion.
3. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!: Now here is where we will have some debate. The proposed stadium is planned for Outer Harbor. Other locations include Downtown Buffalo, Lakawanna and Niagara Falls. I know fans in Rochester who want the stadium in Batavia but believe it or not the best location is the current one in Orchard Park.
From a selfish fans perspective the one thing Orchard Park provides that the other's don't especially a downtown location is the amazing tailgating atmosphere. As someone who has been to some downtown stadiums I can tell you that tailgating is non-existent at least in the way that BILLS fans see tailgating. Ok enough on that. The truth is Orchard Park offers a couple of things that the other locations do not. Number one is infrastructure. The parking lots are set, there is no confusion on how to get there as regards to police patrolling the area to safely get cars to the stadium and the BILLS offices and practice facilities are already there. The Jets/Giants had their stadium built next to the old one and the BILLS should do the same. One of the big questions that would have to be answered is what to do with the old stadium if the new one is not built in Orchard Park. It is easy to say to just tear it down and turn the area into shopping and housing or build a mall or whatever but again the team offices and facilities are still there and they are not going to want that type of traffic near their building on a daily basis and two that given Buffalo's population that developing that land would be relatively beneficial. By putting the stadium next to the old one you would save city, county and state taxpayers money on developing a different piece of land and it would save many headaches.
As the years go on and the lease starts to shorten and the possibilities for new owners start to lengthen this conversation is only going to grow. I hope this was informative and entertaining as you start to wonder what type of new stadium the BILLS will hopefully move into.