New Era Field, the home of the Buffalo Bills, debuted before the 1973 season as brand-new Rich Stadium, at the time an 80,000-person facility located in Orchard Park, N.Y.
After 45 seasons, the future of New Era Field is up in the air. The original facility is still in use, and has received several face-lifts over the years, including $57 million in improvements in 1998, and, more recently, $130 million in renovations in 2012.
Most of the NFL’s owners would love for owners Terry and Kim Pegula to build a brand-new, state-of-the-art stadium in Western New York, as the new stadium would allow even more money to flow into the pockets of the league’s billionaire owners.
The topic of the Bills stadium has been widely discussed, and on Tuesday, Pegula Sports and Entertainment (PSE) announced that they have employed sports consulting firm CAA ICON to “conduct a privately-funded study to help identify the best options for ownership, fans and the community” into the next steps for the Buffalo Bills stadium needs and for potential renovations of KeyBank Center, the home of the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bandits.
“The number one priority for this study is the fan experience,” Kim Pegula said in a statement. “CAA ICON has an extensive resume, having participated in dozens of first-class professional facilities, along with Harborcenter and Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena. We have the utmost confidence that CAA ICON’s unparalleled experience will help ensure that our venues achieve the highest standards.”
It has long been known that Rich Stadium/Ralph Wilson Stadium/New Era Field is no longer up to date with the stadiums that rest of the NFL is playing in.
The Bills play in the sixth-oldest stadium in the league, behind only the L.A. Memorial Coliseum (1923), Soldier Field (1924), Lambeau Field (1957), Oakland Coliseum (1966), and Arrowhead Stadium (1972).
Some fans have long pushed for a stadium in downtown Buffalo, while others love the experience of tailgating in Orchard Park and just would like some incremental improvements.
The current lease keeps the Bills in Orchard Park through 2023, while the Sabres lease for KeyBank Center expires in 2025.
One angle sure to become a flashpoint in the future is public funding for the stadium from New York State. The Pegulas attached a message on that topic to the commencement of this stadium study. “Terry and Kim Pegula have invested more than $2 billion of their own money in our market, including $350 million in privately-financed venue upgrades and expansions. With both leases nearing expiration, we look forward to developing a plan and working with our public sector partners to solidify the futures of the Bills and Sabres,” said Bruce Popko, PSE’s Chief Operating Officer.