Joe: STADIUM, STADIUM, STADIUM!!! That’s all we have been hearing about for the last 2 months. Should we build a stadium on the Waterfront? How about in the Falls? Or Batavia. Maybe on Strawberry island. I have to tell you, Chris, I have zero idea why we need to build a new stadium. It makes as much sense to me as figuring out the NHL prospect system.
We just got word recently that Buffalo is the 4th poorest city in the country and we are talking about building a stadium that will cost well over a billion dollars, probably charge for PSLs, and raise the price on luxury boxes that the Bills have insisted they can barely sell already? If you build it, they won’t be able to afford to come.
Chris: I personally don’t see a new stadium as a solution. At least not a billion-dollar, pie-in-the-sky Taj Mahal that’s designed to land a Super Bowl. It’s not so much that I think Buffalo couldn’t handle a Super Bowl – I think that by the time we scored one the city would be more than capable of hosting the event – but that a new stadium of that scope isn’t feasible for many of the reasons you mentioned.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t realistic stadium options out there. There are more than enough examples around the league (Seattle, Indy, Pittsburgh) of teams who built shiny new digs without spending the GDP of many African nations.
Joe: Problem is when those stadiums were built. The parts used to make those new digs have skyrocketed in price. So, when you go to Wikipedia and see that Heinz Field would cost 650 million to build today, it is only by inflation and not accounting stadium parts going up. At least that’s what I read. So even a basic stadium like those would push 800 million. You happen to be a stadium expert. If they did somehow build one, how would it help the team?
Chris: I understand the costs associated with building a new stadium are far higher than that of stadiums built in the early and mid-2000’s. I’m simply using them as an example to show that the Bills don’t need to build something like the Cowboys did.
Aside from appeasing the owners and the league? I’m not sure a new stadium would help the Bills all that much. It would serve to provide them with much needed longevity, which is obviously a very important key for a team embroiled in relocation rumors.
I don’t want to say that it would just be window dressing because that would be a MASSIVE understatement. However, I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity to build a new stadium. As unpopular a topic as it may be, undertaking a major renovation of The Ralph might be the most realistic – and only – option.
Joe: Let me give you an example of how new stadiums can sometimes not work out. As most of our readers know, I live in NYC. Within the last 5 years, they have built 4 new stadiums (Jets/Giants, Nets, Mets, and Yanks) and done a HUGE retrofit on MSG. They thought they could charge a shitload of money for PSLs and luxury boxes. And guess what? It blew up in their faces. The Yanks and Mets have had issues selling their good seats since day 1. It is obvious when you turn on a game because everything behind home plate is empty.
The Jets even reached out to the Bills backers of NYC to see if we would buy tickets to their games. They out-priced the market in a city that is known for having a shitload of companies and businesses.
Now, I don’t fault them for building new places because NYC is very competitive when it comes to getting corporate bucks. There are a lot of places your Fortune 500 company can take clients/co-workers. Teams have to build nice stadiums to draw those people there over other places.
The problem with Buffalo is that I don’t see why a company wouldn’t be buying luxury boxes already because of the quality of a stadium. The NFL brand is what ultimately would make them buy a box. What exactly is the competition for the Bills in Buffalo? The Sabres? Bisons? Bandits? If they go to the last 2, it’s probably based on it being cheaper, not because of the product.
The reason they don’t have own fancy luxury boxes at Ralph Wilson Stadium has to do with cost as the boxes are actually pretty nice there as it stands. A new stadium would obviously raise the price on them even higher. Buffalo needs more companies and more of a population increase to make a new stadium make sense.
Chris: I think the luxury box issue is less about competition and more about supply and demand. The corporate dollars just aren’t here. If you look at The Ralph, there are ads at the top of the lower bowl in both end zones. Those used to be suites. Now the Bills can evidently make more money with simple advertisements as opposed to trying to sell a suite.
That should tell you all you need to know about the luxury seating market in Buffalo. There simply isn’t enough demand to fill the supply. If a plethora of luxury boxes was the mandate with a new stadium I’m sure it wouldn’t get off the ground.
You could say the same about astronomical PSLs but I do think that if the team did a PSL sale the right way they could find success with it. When I say the right way, I mean affordable given the economics of the region.
Joe: That’s the problem with PSLs. I do think a fan would pay maybe 500-1000 for the right to have a seat, but that’s really a drop in the bucket in terms of paying off the stadium. I know some stadiums were built based on PSL sales and if the Bills season ticket base (45,000) had to pay for 1/4 of the stadium, your PSL would be something like $5,000 at the least. That’s not going to fly. Would I rather have a new stadium over RWS? Sure. Everyone loves nice things. The problem is that I don’t think the region can support it. Even if they tried to just take out the single drunks and replaced them with families who are likely to spend more money, I don’t think they could afford the prices that comes with a new stadium.
My question to you is, if you and I don’t think this will work – and I’d like to think we are intelligent people – why on Earth did Roger Goodell pretty much say we need one?
Chris: I’m not going to say Goodell has no interest in keeping the Bills here. That would be unfair. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that his lone concern is ensuring a healthy bottom line for the league. And he most certainly would see a brand new stadium that could potentially land a Super Bowl (as silly as that may be) as the best way to increase said bottom line.
I do think too much is made of his connection to WNY being an ace up our sleeve in terms of keeping the team here.
Joe: Chris, there is no WAY we are getting a Super Bowl. We need like, way more hotels (Mark Gaughan wrote about it once). I think Goodell said we need a new stadium because the NFL tends to be bullies and wants everything in terms of government funding. They enjoy playing the Gordon Gekko of the sports world. Greed isn’t just good… it’s awesome!
I do agree that Goodell’s connection to the region has nothing to do with the future here. His job is to make sure the league makes as much money as humanly possible. I think if you look at his bank account – he made 40 million last year – he could probably deal with being banned from Jamestown.
One question I have for you. Why do think fans are fixated on having a new stadium? I’d have to say that probably 70% would love new digs as long as PSLs aren’t involved.
Chris: First of all, I have no interest in hosting a Super Bowl. It’s a stupid premise and Buffalo’s sporting reputation can be strengthened by hosting events that are the right size for our region. That includes future NCAA tournament rounds, things like the World Juniors, Frozen Fours, and possibly something like the World Cup of Hockey if it becomes a regularly scheduled event.
As for wanting a stadium, I think there is a certain portion of people – including fans, pundits, and media – who believe the only option is a new stadium. I’m not sure what percentage of the population that would be, but I think they see all the other new stadiums around the league and automatically think that’s the only course the Bills can and should take. Obviously a new stadium would be super cool and fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s realistic.
Joe: I think you hit the nail on the head with the last part. To me, this is all about the psyche of Buffalonians wanting to think of themselves as BIG TIME. A new stadium would be that brass ring Buffalo is always reaching for. We see other teams with new stadiums and we want that! We want acceptance and to be able to show off.
It’s like that douchebag in high school who wanted a fast car to compensate for his lack of dick size. It’s just something that says, hey, we’re just like the big boys. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having an older but updated home. It has worked for Green Bay and Kansas City and I think it would work here. On top of that, what we haven’t talked about is how building a new stadium means a new owner would inherit a 300-million debt. It would take forever for them to recoup that based on the companies/median income around the region.
If you do retrofit, you can probably get NYS to pay for a ton of it. Going down that road is the best course of action. Also, I think it’s going to be what a new owner wants and that’s what really matters. The fans, Goodell, and politicians can all offer their two cents, but the cents from the owner’s bank account is what will decide whether or not a new stadium gets built. If he doesn’t think he can make back money back on that 300-million debt, no way he’d want a new stadium IMO.
Chris: While I’m not up on some of the economics that surround the looming sale of the team, I agree that undertaking a major renovation of The Ralph makes a whole lot more sense than expecting a new owner to not only take on the massive cost of the team but also whatever fraction of the funds for a new stadium he’ll be responsible for. We talked a bit about PSLs and how the best option for Buffalo’s economics wouldn’t do much in terms of impacting a new stadium. But would that not have a bigger impact on a right-sized renovation project for the stadium? I look at what Green Bay did to upgrade Lambeau and I see the first steps of that type of project being taken already at One Bills Drive.
They’re building a proper front door to the stadium (something they never had before), installing modern gates, upgrading the concourses. They’re taking necessary steps to keep the stadium in pace with the rest of the league. Why not take on a serious renovation project like Green Bay and Kansas City did in recent years and not only bring The Ralph up to modern standards in terms of service and appearance but also keep the team and region from footing a $1 billion construction bill?
Joe: The mini-retrofit stuff they are doing now sounds really cool. I’d rather the retrofit-bashers view the renovations first before they continue to call the stadium a dump. Throw in another 300-million like in Green Bay or Kansas City and it will look pretty money. Anyway, I think we can safely say we are both pro-retrofit. Do you have any final words?
Chris: I think that taking the current renovations a step further, albeit a major step, is the best option. Put The Ralph, Lambeau, and Arrowhead in a shared category of storied vestiges of the game- sort of like Fenway and Wrigley are to baseball.