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Buffalo Bills stadium plans: NFL owners pushing for new facility

Other NFL owners want a new stadium from the Bills but it's not in the immediate plans.

Other owners in the National Football League are publicly pressuring Kim and Terry Pegula to get moving on a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. The team's current home, Ralph Wilson Stadium, was built when the AFL and NFL merged, in 1970.

From the owners meetings this week, an anonymous source told Vic Carucci of The Buffalo News that The Ralph was one of the "three worst stadiums in the league" from the NFL's perspective. You'd have a hard time finding many fans that attend games who would agree with that statement but New York Giants owner John Mara, tenant of a recently-built stadium in New Jersey went on record.

"It gets tougher and tougher to compete when all these new stadiums are going up and they are going to be at a disadvantage, I think, somewhat competitively unless they get one," Mara said. "We’d all like to see them get a new building."

The "we" is of course other NFL owners who see a share of the revenue generated at stadiums.

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie echoed Mara's comments saying, "In general, older stadiums need to be made financially competitive. It's a must. It makes the odds a lot tougher. You need to have a viable, financially well-thought-out stadium to compete in the league."

According to Carucci's source, other owners would like to see a new stadium built within five years. That seems like a stretch but doable given the time put in by the Stadium Working Group prior to the Pegula's purchase of the organization, but team president Russ Brandon said just two months ago that the Bills weren't focusing on a new stadium. The team, County, and State recently renovated the stadium to the tune of $130 million, a figure seen as a waste of money on the league level when it could have been put toward a brand new facility or major upgrade.

"I don’t think it’s urgent like it has to happen tomorrow," Mara continued. "But I think, for the long-term best interests of that franchise, they need to be in a new building. Listen, we’ve been in much worse stadiums, believe me. And they still have great fan support. But there’s a growing disparity in income between the top quartile teams and the bottom quartile teams, and that’s something we have to be conscious of. And a new stadium would help them a great deal."

As one very interested in ticket sales and the stadium experience, Brandon is quick to defend the decisions the Bills have made.

"Obviously, you always have great respect for what your (league) partners,' said Brandon, "but we have to focus on what makes sense for us, what makes sense for our community, for our business partners."

Brandon cited the things most actual fans in attendance like about attending games; tailgating and sight lines are both first-rate. He also mentioned that the team has to be affordable in Western New York in order to continue generating customers, which limits the "bells and whistles" people are willing to pay for. In surveys conducted by the team of season ticket holders and other stakeholders, the stadium is never brought up as an issue with fans.

"We've seen a great rebirth in Buffalo that everyone's excited about, but we're not a multi-Fortune 500 city," Brandon said. "So we want to make it right for the long-term future of the organization from what our fans want and from what our stakeholders want."

One surprising public proponent of the Bills is Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Calling the Pegulas one of the "top five" NFL owners, Jones trusts the owners of the Bills to take their time, understand the needs of the team and fans, and address the facilities project in a manner they think is the best for all parties.

As the Pegulas took over control of the team, the Stadium Working Group's task was suspended. That doesn't mean work has stopped on stadium planning. With seven years left on the team's current lease, you can be sure that inside the Pegula enterprise, plans are being made for what to do next and while it might not be a committee of one, Kim Pegula will have her hands all over the plans as she did with HarborCenter. And that should be reassuring to fans and the NFL.