Bills exec: New stadium wouldn’t help us, because Buffalo fans can’t afford pricey seats

Buffalo Bills president Russ Brandon gave a long interview to the Buffalo News yesterday in which he gave a good explanation of team owner Terry Pegula’s puzzling reticence to demand a new stadium like Roger Goodell and the rest of the league would like him to do. In short: A new stadium with luxury suites and all that wouldn’t help them much, because Buffalo.

“We have not met and discussed anything relative to all the noise,” Bills managing partner and President Russ Brandon said of the New Stadium Working Group, formed two years ago, that includes state and local political leaders. “We have not met since April (2014), right after (previous team owner) Ralph (Wilson) passed away, on a new stadium.

“We’re going to take a very slow, quantitative, objective view on what makes sense.”…

“We have made the model work on the Bills side, based on how we have built the business from a volume standpoint,” Brandon said. “So you have a lot of tickets in the building, general-admission seats in the building, 6,800 club seats, a lot of suites and price points have been fairly manageable, amongst the lowest in the league. As we go through market-condition studies and different things that you do when you look at things, like we’ve done previously with renovations, and as you update that information, you have to look and see what makes sense.

“The key is to realize that we are not LA. We are not Atlanta. We’re not Minneapolis. People say, ‘Oh, we’re very similar to Minneapolis.’ They have 28 Fortune 500 companies in that community. We have zero. We have to be a regional operation. We know that. That’s proven.

“But with a new stadium comes new economics. And with new economics comes a public-private partnership, (personal seat licenses), a lot of infrastructure cost. So we have to look at it in a very macro view and make sure that, as a community and as an organization, that there’s a partnership that exists that makes sense.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, but this is the first time I can recall a pro sports team owner arguing, Hey, our fans don’t have enough money to buy all the high-priced seats that a new stadium would give us, so what’s the point? Trying to make money on volume rather than by focusing on extracting as much money as possible from deep-pocketed fans goes against the sports tide in the post-Reagan economy, but it’s not hard to believe that Buffalo might still be a different world in this regard. (Though it’s also possible that Brandon and Pegula are just waiting for “a partnership that makes sense,” aka an appetite for more public money that would make a new stadium worth their while.)

The real question now is why Goodell keeps beating the new-stadium drum when the Bills owners don’t want him to. Is it because he thinks the league would somehow make more money even if the Bills owners are convinced they wouldn’t? Because having Buffalo in an old stadium hurts the argument of other team owners that they can’t possibly survive in their 20-year-old place? Because it doesn’t look shiny enough on TV? Because he’s just so used to playing bad cop that he can’t get out of character? All of the above? Your guess is as good as mine.

23 comments on “Bills exec: New stadium wouldn’t help us, because Buffalo fans can’t afford pricey seats

  1. As an engineer by training, maybe Pegula thinks analytically, has a conscience and knows it just does not makes sense for the public to finance stadiums. Or maybe his wife who is a co-owner has pointed this all out. I noticed he contributes to both parties even though he is a declared Republican like most owners. Maybe the current presidential race has made him read the tea leaves about income gaps and anger in the United States. Who knows – I read about him on Wikipedia to make some guesses. I do not think he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth – neither his wife who is also the owner. Maybe they grew up with different values than most billionaire owners. Good for them – so far.

  2. This link also explains how he got his wealth different from many billionaires and the wife connection.

  3. To me, this sounds like planting the seeds for relocation, without pissing the Bills fans off. Or maybe just confessing the realities & now Goodell can’t hop on a plane to Buffalo & say “Los Angeles”.
    I can’t think the NFL is thrilled about Buffalo in general.

    • If you look at the above link at, it discusses why the Bills will likely stay in the Buffalo area with the Pegula’s as owners. The wife/co-owner is from the area. Apparently, he has karma with the locals, as well.

  4. As someone from Minneapolis/St. Paul it was great to hear a person with an actual understanding of the relative size of cities that are not on the coasts or Chicago.

    I have literally had adult humans with professional careers (in places like NY/DC) tell me things like “Other than Chicago, there are no “big cities” in the US except on the coasts”. I have no idea how to even respond.

    And you do exactly hear the Minneapolis = Buffalo comparison at times, which is just beyond silly. Buffalo (1,200,000) is closer to Duluth (300,000) than Minneapolis (3,800,000).

    Look, Dallas/Minneapolis/Indianapolis/Denver/Nashville/Pittsburgh are not Chicago, but they also are not Green Bay/Buffalo. They are generally lower cost perfectly pleasant places to live with a lot of great jobs and high quality of life. Now it is not the immediate 20-40% raise you might get in DC or SF, but the housing is also only 60% as much.

    I have even had particularly ignorant people be like “oh do you have to go to the coasts for certain medical procedures?”…before pointing out that people from all over the world come to Minnesota for their medical care (Mayo Clinic).

    Thus ends you sponsored message (rant) from the Greater Minneapolis Economic Development Corporation (not a real thing).

    • As a West Coaster who loves my midwestern countrymen, all I can say is, morons are everywhere.

  5. I think this is mostly about “hey, Buffalo, you’re making us all look bad — our business model depends on extorting taxpayers and you need to fall in line.”

  6. “All the time, our customers ask us, ‘How do you make money doing this?’ The answer is simple: Volume. That’s what we do.”

    – Paul McElroy, Service Representative, First CitiWide Change Bank

    (SNL Skit from Season 14. One of its best faked ads. Makes me laugh every time.).…change-bank/n9701
    [hulu id=2315]

  7. My guess is that the Bills owners are actually quite happy to let Goodell continue the stadium push.

    Remember, the Bills still have to sell tickets. They bottomed out with about 9,000 unsold seats per game in 2011 and they’ve been building it back ever since. They were down to 2,000 unsold per game last season. No need to kill that momentum by looking like a “greedy owner”.

  8. It may be a dangerous thing to start believing billionaire sports owners, but I’ll take Pegula at “his” word here.

    I believe he loves Buffalo and bought the Bills (and Sabres) in some limited sense out of “duty to the community”.

    He will make money with the Bills, obviously. He will just make less money than he could have if he bought the Patriots or Vikings or Cowboys etc. Maybe he and his family are ok with being profitable in itself. There are all sorts of twisted accounting practices that one can use to make a modest profit look like a horrendous loss. Perhaps he will use these to offset taxable earnings from other businesses etc.

    Whatever. The Bills, it seems, understand their market better than most teams (are you listening, Trost & co?). They are one of the few US based professional sports franchises that hasn’t effectively excluded their long time fans in favour of new wealthier ones.

    We will see how long Pegula can hold out when all his fellow owners lean on him to get the most he can (in a manner, it must be said, virtually identical to the way player agents manipulate players into taking the most money even if it means moving from their home town franchise to somewhere absolutely awful… for a net difference of $100k over three years…). He may find that Goodell gets him a new stadium whether he wants one or not… the fact that he doesn’t seem to be part of Goodell’s extortion tours suggests the ball may already have been taken out of his hands on this one.

  9. For once… honest team owner. And more power to due to same.

    Also….when logic is applied, the Ralph can be retrofitted/improved on, which in turn will not only keep the team in the region, but maintain those aspects so that their fans are not turned off. This is better than building a new echo chamber in downtown, which may appeal only to the few really well heeled who can afford tickets, let alone PSL’s.

    As for the amount of unsold seats, oddly enough…..this was a known issue back when they were REALLY competitive. Usually, those would be bought up by a group of businesses in town, or by the NBC or CBS affiliate to insure local airing, as well as distribution to some who would not go otherwise. Even with the new blackout rules (as in the lifting of same for this season as well, if memory serves) those tickets will still be picked up in that manner.

  10. I remember when “Rich Stadium” was the newest and largest stadium in the NFL. First with (some) private suites and first with a video replay screen for the fans. It’s not falling down, and it’s packed most Sundays. Leave it alone. There’s nothing structurally wrong.

    • Well said. And it was a huge improvement over War Memorial stadium. I don’t think anyone can reasonably say that places like The Vet, Shea and Three Rivers didn’t need to “go” as entertainment venues. The question really is how much should the public have been forced to pay for their replacements… and whether or not teams should still be renting these facilities from the host cities (who mostly pay for them).

      • John,

        Shea did not need to go, seeing it was one hell of a place as it was. It was a victim of a rather bad trend…as in ‘new to keep up with the joneses’.

        Also….it had one hell of a home field advantage for the Jets in late fall/early winter. The winds off Flushing Bay can be rather cold and vicious during that time. The Giants and their fans (counting myself as one then) found this out during that sharing period in the 70’s. A game v the Chargers at Shea was cold, windy….just right for November *S*. Made the day and the victory worth freezing the a** off.

        The Bills….much like the Packers have this. So no need to move to a sterile, enclosed downtown structure where those tangibles and intangibles would be lost.

      • War Memorial Stadium, where whatever war it was memorializing appeared to have been fought within its confines.

      • “I don’t think anyone can reasonably say that places like The Vet, Shea and Three Rivers didn’t need to “go” as entertainment venues.”

        I’ll say it, but I guess it’s up to you whether or not I’m being reasonable. I lived in Philly during the early 90s, and the Vet was so huge that it forced the Phillies to price upper-deck tickets at like $5 each. I’m not sure if I ever would have become a baseball fan if not for those cheap 700-level seats back when I was in college.

        Also, those places may not have been all that great, but they were paid for.

        • Andrew,

          Same thing like with Shea, in re:the cheap seats. Which was part of why our family went to as many Mets games as we could, thanks to those cheap upper deck seats.

          Which in it’s own way….goes to the issue of the Ralph. The Bills would be doing the right thing, if they were to stay, improve the park….and in turn…make sure those folks who have there when things were good or lean…can still be there.

          As a sidebar…the Ralph has in common with Arrowhead, having been built at that time….that they are still in use. Multipurpose use at that…and are still as modern as….let’s say M&T or Paul Brown….all things considered.

          • The only problem with the Vet (from the fan/player perspective) was that it wasn’t cared for properly, which had nothing to do with its age but rather the politicians running the city.

            For all the complaining about the round, multipurpose stadiums (their “boring design” borrowed from the Colosseum in Rome), they had excellent sight lines and were pretty fan friendly. Had they replaced the turf with grass, they would have been perfectly fine. But of course that wouldn’t have allowed an NFL team to control all revenues.

            Cincinnati and St. Louis are two cities that definitely took a step back by losing their multipurpose stadiums.

          • GDub,

            If I am correct about Busch, it like Riverfront left very little room for internal expansion. Meaning those extra seats to bring the NFL capacity up to or above 60k. Although this could have easily been done with extra moveable seating.

            Also….you are right. The sightlines, all things considered, were excellent at Busch. (Baseball and football……which was cool for both) And for the football Cardinals….when they were good, they had a reverb chamber for their fans that was brutal for the opposition. At least that is what I remember from those old NFC East games we would watch on CBS way back when.

  11. I think Goodell can’t get out of that mindset. Not that he can’t mentally or emotionally but that it’s an important part of his job’s requirements. If he ever eases up on that role he will lose some of the leverage his bad cop persona supplies owners in other cities

  12. Im thinking 1) he wants Goodell to be the guy hated for pushing for a new stadium and not himself, and 2) hes waiting for the team to be good enough that fans definitely back the new stadium and get the new seat licenses (wheras it will be far, far harder for both with a crap Bills team)