Bills focused on upgrading Ralph Wilson Stadium, not replacing it


On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced five appointments to a New Stadium Working Group that will explore options for a new stadium that would keep the Bills in New York beyond the expiration of the 10-year lease they signed at Ralph Wilson Stadium last year.

That lease came with an agreement from the state, team and Erie County to finance upgrades to the stadium. Those improvements were central to Bills CEO Russ Brandon’s statement in response to the announcement about the exploratory group.

“We are very appreciative of the continued support of New York State and Erie County for the Buffalo Bills franchise. Our primary current operations focus is, as it must be, on the modernization process that is occurring presently here at the Ralph Wilson Stadium campus,” Brandon said. “We have to bring it home safely, on time, on budget and with a level of quality we can all be proud of. We are confident our fans will be excited about the numerous changes taking place on our stadium campus and we look forward to being near completion by the start of the 2014 season.”

That focus on upgrades over a new stadium isn’t a new development. Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said on WGR 550 that the Bills expressed no great desire for a new stadium when lease negotiations were going on and cited the cost of a new stadium as one of the reasons. Poloncarz said Buffalo “can’t afford seat licenses and luxury suites” that are used to finance the cost of stadium construction.

There’s also an ownership issue. The Bills would have to pay a $400 million buyout to leave Buffalo in the first seven years of the lease, but it drops to $28 million at that point. There’s a chance that the team could be sold before that point if Ralph Wilson passes away and Poloncarz said that there isn’t going to be a stadium without a longer commitment from any owner to remain in Buffalo. Poloncarz knows that’s not a sure thing.

“In the end, I also have to remind everybody that the NFL is a business,” Poloncarz said. “These are a lot of very, very wealthy individuals that have other businesses that make substantially more money than they probably do on the NFL. This is a business and they want to see the business succeed. We have to be prepared to show that this community is willing to keep this team. The question is, ‘What will it take?'”

It’s a question that figures to be asked in Buffalo a lot in the coming years.

10 responses to “Bills focused on upgrading Ralph Wilson Stadium, not replacing it

  1. I have only been to football games in NY, NJ, Georgia, Baltimore and New England.

    You can’t compare to the atmosphere at a Bills game

    Greatest stadium in the NFL, if you disagree, adjust your skirt.

  2. If I read the situation correctly, the state is merely lining all their ducks in a row to clear the way for a waterfront stadium in Buffalo when the current lease expires. The Buffalo economy is on an upswing right now and waterfront redevelopment is underway rapidly. So a project of this size cannot be accomplished on the fly. It seems that the plan is renovate the Ralph for now, then build a new stadium next decade after the lease has expired and the team is under new ownership. By which time Western New York will be able to support all those luxury boxes. Just watch.

  3. Good to hear. The real fans could give two craps about luxury suites. Old stadiums work just fine. Wish we could have kept ours. My team swapped out a hard core fan for a walgreens franchisee who stubhubs his tickets to business contacts. And they wonder why you can hear a pin drop at met life when romo has the ball on 3rd and 12. Well…at least the team increased its value a whole $200m

  4. I’ve been to a few games at Ralph Wilson. Always a good time. Their team may not be in contention on a yearly basis, but you can’t question their fan’s passion for their team.

  5. The future of the Bills in Buffalo is dependant on who the next owner will be.

    In Jacksonville, we were fortunate to have Shad Khan buy the team when he did. In just two years, he has put tens of millions of his own money into stadium upgrades, new locker rooms and team facilities. He also invested millions more in local real estate and other businesses. Hopefully Buffalo can find a similar owner who will commit to their team and community.

  6. The Bills organization needs to use some leverage to get a Super Bowl played there. Will make it easier to get some of the funding if there is a deal in place to bring millions of Dollars to town for a SB.

    The die has been cast.

  7. Once Ralph Wilson dies, the Wilson family will sell the team. Wilson’s remaining daughters have no interest in owning or running the team. As much as Bills fans want to believe the Bills will stay in WNY, it isn’t going to happen.
    New owners will make much more money moving the team.

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