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Best of 2016: #10, Buffalo Bills Stadium Debate

Ralph Wilson Stadium

We end 2016 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Football Stadium Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #10: The Buffalo Bills’ quest for a new stadium and the re-naming of Ralph Wilson Stadium to New Era Field.

 With the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders likely leaving their current stadiums in the near future, New Era Field in Buffalo – which changed its name from Ralph Wilson Stadium in August – ranks as the worst stadium in the NFL by the league. Commissioner Roger Goodell and league owners expressed their opinion in March that the Buffalo Bills should build a new facility, not just upgrade the current stadium, as owners Terry and Kim Pegula did in 2014, with a $130 million renovation to the 43-year-old facility.“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 told the Buffalo News in March. “We’d all like to see them get a new building.”

But despite the sense of urgency expressed in March, the process has moved at a decidedly slow pace. In June, Kim Pegula said the team was in a “fact-finding” process, which apparently was still underway as 2016 came to a close.

The challenge for Buffalo is a unique planning process because of the region’s small market size, requiring a funding model that fits the area, as well as keeping costs low enough as to not price out the fan base.

“We are the 53rd DMA (designated market area) in the country (Green Bay is No. 70),” Bruce Popko, the executive vice-president of business and development for Pegula Sports Entertainment, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. “Our realities are different than a lot of other markets. There are realities and real ceilings that everyone has to understand.”

One stadium-related decision that was made in 2016 was the selling of the stadium’s naming rights to Buffalo-based New Era Cap company in August. The deal will run through 2022. New Era can terminate the deal at that time, or if the Bills build a new facility.

According to the Associated Press, the value of the agreement was described as being close to “average market value” for NFL stadium naming rights deals — “well north of $3 million” per year.

Image courtesy Buffalo Bills. 

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