Bills getting more than $200m in stadium subsidies in exchange for staying put six more years

The Buffalo Bills‘ stadium is getting $130 million in renovations at the end of this season, and the Buffalo News is ON IT! About how “like a football player at age 40, Ralph Wilson Stadium needs reconstructive surgery”! About how the renovations will “make the aging facility more fan-friendly”! How in place of nine entry gates there will be six “super gates” with more entry lanes and video boards so you can watch highlights while you have your non-clear plastic bags rejected for entry! How there will be a “huge new Bills Store” and 22 percent more restroom space!

And who will be paying for all this? Let’s see, scroll down, scroll down, here we go:

jointly funded by New York State, Erie County and the Bills

Okay, how much from each party, exactly? Scroll down, scroll down — really, Buffalo News? I have to do everything myself? Well, fine:

Under the proposed lease, the state [and county] would immediately pay $94.5 million toward renovations of Ralph Wilson Stadium, which is less than the $200 million that the Bills owners asked for earlier this year. The state would also be on the hook, though, for $132.3 million in operating subsidies over the next ten years.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson, meanwhile, will pay a grand total of $35.455 million toward the stadium improvements, about 27% of the total cost, and an amount that he’ll easily earn back in the first three years of “operating subsidies,” not to mention whatever new revenue he gets from the Bills store and the like. (Of course he doesn’t have to share any of this money with his public partners — why would he agree to something silly like that?) New York state taxpayers, meanwhile — including those nowhere near Buffalo, like, say, me — will be on the hook for most of the rest.

Still, I suppose $227 million isn’t an outrageous sum, as these things go, to keep the Bills in town for … let’s see … ten years? Counting the current season, so really nine years. And starting after the 2019 season, the Bills can break the lease by paying just $28.4 million, so it’s really just a six-year guarantee, after which Wilson (or more likely his heirs, since the man is 94 years old) will be free to take his money and run. But who really can put a price on roomier restrooms?


10 comments on “Bills getting more than $200m in stadium subsidies in exchange for staying put six more years

  1. The renovations seem nice enough so why exactly are people calling for the outright replacement of the Ralph still?

  2. “I don’t see anything wrong, from an owner’s perspective, with the idea of a new stadium every year.” —economist Rod Fort

  3. Odd part here is that I think Buffalo is the rare small market with leverage vs. the NFL. I think the league likes te number of Canadians that are into the Bills, but wants to stay out of Toronto.

  4. Reminds me of your Oakland article, Neil.

    As a Canadian season ticket holder, the place has its charms: The upper deck is about 20 feet lower than it would be if built post-1995, the sight lines in general are incredible, the area around is perfect for tailgating. It also has backed benches in most places, which I actually prefer to the narrow plastic seats that the NFL always seems to have. First 10 rows are terrible, but I guess that’s endemic to football, and people buy them anyway.

    Adding new washrooms helps, as do the new screens (although that probably means the supercheap seasons under the scoreboard will be raised). Problems they will claim after the renos are done:
    -Location is away from where new fans are trying to be drawn from (Rochester and Southern Ontario) . Once you learn how, it’s pretty easy to get to RWS from Niagara, but the border can sometimes be an hour each way; closer the better for promotions.
    -No view from the concession stands to the field, which I guess is important now.
    -RWS is too big. The size tends to make the team dependent on selling group tickets to busloads of Canadians and upstate New Yorkers who drink the whole drive there and tend to bring a few psychotics with them, though I think this is common around the NFL.
    -Winter weather. My god is it windy. Attendance drops 25-50%. Outdoor games also tend to change the in-game atmosphere into even more chaos as everybody moves down, drowns the miseries of the team, and fight each other.

    tl;dr version: Actually a great place to watch a game, but is against every principle in new stadium design, so it’ll get heaped on until it’s replaced.

  5. “No view from the concession stands to the field, which I guess is important now.”

    I’ve honestly never really understood this, and understand it even less in the era of cheap hi-res flat-screen displays that can be mounted en masse at every concessions stand. Fans would really rather be able to peer over the heads of people in standing room to see a distant sliver of field than to just watch a TV for the time it takes to wait on cheese fries?

    Given how many good seats it takes out of circulation to leave a giant swath of open space in the middle of every deck, this is easily my vote for “most pointless design trend.” When did it start, anyway? Comerica Park, around then?

  6. Interesting, if predictable. A Nonagenarian non-resident (he is and so far as I know always has been a Detroit – well, alright, Grosse Pointe – resident) owner gets more millions from the good folk of NY just for, um, not… well, probably not leaving… at least not right now.

    Just wondering… cutting the number of gates by 33%… is this based on casino-nomics? You know, make it hard for people to get into and out of the stadium without exitting through a giftshop/racino/whatever?

  7. “. Fans would really rather be able to peer over the heads of people in standing room to see a distant sliver of field than to just watch a TV for the time it takes to wait on cheese fries?”

    That’s exactly what happened at Rogers Centre: They tore out a bunch of seats so that the 100 level concourse has a full view, which kinda opens it up a bit, but people from other sections (like, cough, me) mainly just come around and stand in all the good viewing places for a few innings and eat their ice cream.

    The other issue I can recall with RWS is that those sitting in the first row of the “dugout” suites around the stadium generally have to stand if people in the row in front of them are. *plays violin*

  8. Neil/Ty:

    I don’t know if there is much in the way of hard data to demonstrate that concourses with an “open view to the field” are more attractive to fans. I’ve always looked at it from the opposite perspective… that the teams see “concourses with a view” as removing one possible disincentive for fans to leave their seats and stand in line to pay $8 for cardboard nachos with cheese simulant #118 on them.

    I doesn’t work for me (I prefer to watch the game on the tvs that now seem to be hung pretty much everywhere in the concourses – increasingly, I prefer staying home and watching on tv period… but that’s another story) instead of trying to see the field while waiting… Obviously, a better option entirely is to get your food near the end or start of a quarter/period whatever… but in a full stadium this can take quite awhile.

  9. I guess what I’m saying is that in my experience, it doesn’t remove a disincentive at all, because you can’t see squat from the concessions area. I guess if something incredibly exciting happened you could abandon your spot on line, dash over to the sliver of field that’s visible from the concourse, and get there just in time to … see the replay on the scoreboard?

    I’m guessing if you asked fans, “Would you rather have your seats 30 feet closer to the field, or be able to see a glimpse of green while waiting for hot dogs?” most would take the former. But then, nobody in stadium design ever asks those questions, and nobody in team marketing ever tries to calculate how many fans stay home to watch on TV because the seats at the stadium are too crappy.