New Era Field is a holy place for Buffalo Bills fans near and far, but building a new stadium downtown does not mean it is the end of tailgates and games as we know it. Instead, it could bring a new and enhanced experience for both old and new Bills fans alike.
As someone who was a six-year Buffalo Bills season ticket holder, I know how special of a place New Era Field is. I spent a lot of time there with a lot of great people and created a lot of great memories.
I remember the game against Oakland when Ryan Fitzpatrick led a comeback and beat the Raiders and squealed in celebratory fashion. I also remember the countless Patriots defeats. In short, the place formerly known as “The Ralph” will always be a special place to me and hundreds of thousands.
With all that being said, a downtown stadium is the future for the Buffalo Bills organization. Now under stable ownership that has invested a lot of their money into downtown Buffalo, it makes all the sense in the world to bring Terry and Kim Pegula’s most expensive asset closer to where they have already invested hundreds of millions of dollars.
HarborCenter, Key Bank Arena, the Buffalo Sabres, the Buffalo Bandits, the Buffalo Beauts, Pegula Sports and Entertainment, and the future Draft Room are all located downtown – with the first several located within a two-block area. Bringing the Bills, a team in the largest professional league in the United States and bringing tens of thousands of fans closer to the city of Buffalo, would be massive for the city.
However, there are two major issues with Bills fans and a downtown stadium.
First is getting to the game. Trying to get tens of thousands of people to one location can bring forth issues within itself, especially with the way downtown Buffalo is set up. Major work would need to be done to fix the subway system, bus systems and roads to accommodate the influx of people. The skyway would need to be reconstructed, parking lots would need to be built and metro transportation would need to be extended. It would take a lot of time and money to make all of that work.
The second issue is tailgating. At this point in time, Buffalo fans are known for their rowdy displays of fandom every Sunday and how much they love a good time. Alcohol, football, the great outdoors and folding tables make for great internet content. By moving the stadium to a less rural place and putting in mainly parking lots instead of open areas to get rowdy, it creates less tailgating and potentially could cause more issues at a new stadium or fewer people to come.
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Overcoming those two obstacles shouldn’t be anything to deter fans from supporting a new stadium, though. I’m sure when the Pegulas took over they were aware and have since begun the process of planning for a new stadium, especially after they went through the planning of the HarborCenter.
It is conceivable to think that the Pegulas and lawmakers within Erie County want the stadium downtown and on the waterfront. Not only will it bring more people to Buffalo, but it would help bring stability and newness to the city. It would also bring jobs and more businesses to the area.
I believe the ideal place for the stadium is near the Key Bank Arena and towards the outer harbor, running past the skyway.
It allows the stadium to be accessible to the southtowns, but is also still connected to the city and there is room for further development around the stadium and can allow for plenty of parking without having to create a ton of city traffic.
The stadium itself would be state of the art and would almost be guaranteed to be a dome/retractable roof. Some will hate the fact that the team will no longer have a home-field advantage in the colder months, but it is the best idea for the long-term and it allows for more events to be held in Buffalo. College bowl games, college basketball tournaments and potentially even the Super Bowl could all be in play to come to Buffalo.
Perhaps the larger potential positive outcome is bringing fans back to cold weather games. When I had season tickets, one of my least favorite things to do was go to a December game where it was 13 degrees and I couldn’t feel my toes and it was only 10:00 a.m. Creating a climate controlled environment will be more appealing to fans who hate being outdoors in the colder climate and make it a more enjoyable experience.
A downtown location allows for more to be developed around the stadium as well. It expands the city, building businesses and brings more infrastructures with it. There are rumors of a new convention center being built along with a new stadium, providing another state of the art venue and something that will benefit those who are not sports fans or supporters of the Bills.
In addition, the Sabres may need a new arena in the near future and the city could potentially add additional professional sports franchises that would require new stadiums. Creating a sports complex, much like the city of Philadelphia has, could consolidate everything into one area.
For those who think it would be cheaper to renovate New Era Field, you’re right. However in the long-term, it may be cheaper to build a new stadium. A USA Today article published earlier this March discusses how a new stadium will cost roughly $1 billion, while renovating New Era Field will cost $540 million. It is significantly less money, but in the long-term a new stadium can help bring larger events and bring new businesses/sponsors to the area.
The idea of a new stadium can be scary. Orchard Park has been home to the Bills for decades, but change doesn’t need to be viewed as a negative thing. Bringing the Bills into to the modern age in terms of facilities can do so much for the franchise and the city. A new era of Buffalo Bills football could be coming to downtown Buffalo soon, and I am extremely excited for the possibilities.