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NFL to Bills: You Need New Stadium. Bills: Not So Much.

Ralph Wilson Stadium

Despite a $130 million renovation to Ralph Wilson Stadium this offseason, NFL officials and owners want to see the Buffalo Bills instead work toward a new stadium to upgrade what they call the third-worst facility in the league.

They rank the Ralph behind only O.Co Coliseum and Qualcomm Stadium when it comes to stadiums — and both of those facilities are not long for the league, with the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers working on new facilities. At the recent NFL owner meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., the issue of the Bills’ stadium needs came up as something to be addressed in coming years. From the Buffalo News:

Commissioner Roger Goodell, executives at the league office and owners of other NFL teams believe it’s imperative that the Bills have a new stadium. They see it as vital to the team’s ability to compete in a climate where other teams, along with the rest of the league, are able to reap the financial benefits newer facilities provide through higher prices and additional revenue opportunities….

“It gets tougher and tougher to compete when all these new stadiums are going up and” the Bills are “going to be at a disadvantage, I think, somewhat competitively unless they get one,” New York Giants owner John Mara said. “We’d all like to see them get a new building.”

How soon? The NFL would love it to happen in five years or so. It considers it an urgent matter, although apparently not so urgent that other owners or league officials brought it up with Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, who were not available to comment, or team President Russ Brandon, during the NFL meetings at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Nor was a Buffalo facility discussed in sessions dealing with stadium updates.

“I don’t think it’s urgent like it has to happen tomorrow,” Mara said. “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.”

Of course, revenue sharing is supposed to gloss over some of the local revenue issue and in theory put teams on an even field. But with the explosion in big-buck facilities like AT&T Stadium, local revenues are causing some big differences in team finances.

So the solution in Buffalo is a new stadium, but despite the talk at the meetings, there’s nothing on the front burner. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be chatter in Buffalo about where a new stadium could be built, and there has been work performed on a new-stadium site by AECOM over the past month. Indeed, the scouting for a location has been rather overt. From the Buffalo News:

Make no mistake, the process is already underway. Site selection experts over the past few days have scouted land around the Central Terminal, downtown sites and the outer harbor. New talk centers on the Riverbend industrial complex, while some continue to concentrate on Niagara Falls.

Top officials like County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, meanwhile, are insisting that the current stadium, or at least its county-owned footprint, figures prominently in the discussions….

Before the process is completed by mid-July, the source said, three to five sites in and around downtown Buffalo will be vetted. And it is expected that at least one – and possibly two – Buffalo locations will qualify for the final round of stadium locations the firm will recommend to the state and future owners. The source cautioned that the work will also include a plan to either renovate Ralph Wilson Stadium or build a new facility in Orchard Park.

Image of Ralph Wilson Stadium courtesy Buffalo Bills.

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