Three sports venues get new corporate names that you’re going to forget immediately

Lots of old sports venues getting new names this week!

The price tags on the Buffalo deal was $40 million for seven years; no money changed hands in Charlotte, obviously, while the Dolphins declined to say how much they got for 18 years of their stadium name. I’m guessing not much, since nobody is going to remember this corporate name any better than the last five or six, but maybe since they just did a renovation, people will think of it as a new building with a new name?

Anyway, the fact that naming rights are worth more for a brand-new, nameless venue continues to be an incentive for teams to demand them. It’s probably not the best thing from an environmental sustainability standpoint that teams and cities are building stadiums partly just to act as giant billboards, but I can’t complain too much so long as it does allow them to fob off some costs on another sucker.

Bills owners sell naming rights to publicly owned stadium, pocket cash

The Buffalo Bills owners have sold the naming rights to Ralph Wilson Stadium for an undisclosed sum to New Era Cap Company, and immediately took down the lettering with the old name:

This made many Bills fans unhappy that the stadium will no longer be named for the team’s founding owner:

We’ve seen this before in other cities, of course. What’s odd here is that Ralph Wilson Stadium isn’t the building’s original name: From 1973 to 1997 it was Rich Stadium, named for a local food company in one of the first naming-rights deals in pro sports. When that deal expired and Rich Products wouldn’t agree to an increased rights fee, Erie County instead named it after the Bills’ owner.

Wilson died in 2014, and somewhere along the way, so did the county’s ownership of the naming rights, as it appears new owners Terry and Kim Pegula will be pocketing whatever cash comes from this deal, even though Erie County still owns the building. It seems like that’d be more worth getting upset over, but there’s no accounting for football fans.


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.

Bills owner: Fine, I’ll think about demanding new stadium, get off my case

Man, Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula really doesn’t want to talk about building a new stadium, no matter how many times NFL commissioner Roger Goodell encourages him to, does he? Pegula was asked about it again yesterday on WGR radio, and here’s the sum total of his responses, as reported by ESPN:

“We’ll look into that,” Pegula told WGR 550. “We’re a different market than [Los Angeles], right?”…

“I think they think we need a new stadium, that’s where they’re coming from,” Pegula said Wednesday of the owners’ comments. “You listen to that and you make your own judgment. Our stadium is one of the older venues in the league, if not the oldest.”…

“We’re not going to make any hasty decisions,” Pegula stressed Wednesday. “We’re evaluating.”

That’s a whole lot of “we’ll get to it when we get to it.” Either Pegula has an admirable distaste for demanding new stadiums for no better reason than because he can (yes, Ralph Wilson Stadium is among the oldest in the NFL, but it just got more than $200 million in renovations, funded by New York state taxpayers), or he’s just biding his time and waiting for the right moment to ask for new-stadium cash. Either way, it’s really unusual behavior for a pro sports team owner, and we should probably cherish it while it lasts.

Goodell yammers some more about how Bills “ultimately” need new stadium (if they’re not paying for it)

Speaking of Roger Goodell throwing his weight around, the NFL commissioner has started speaking out again on how he really really wants a new stadium in Buffalo, and the Bills owners had better start demanding one if they know what’s good for them:

“Stadiums are important, just to making sure that the team can continue to compete, not only throughout the NFL but also compete in this environment. Because we’ve got great facilities here now and the Bills have to stay up with that.”…

“That’s up to [Bills owner] Terry [Pegula] and the community to really get focused on — What does it take? What is the right location?” he said. “Those are the difficult decisions that have to be made locally. We’ll support it any way we can. But ultimately, those decisions are made here.”…

“I think every team in the league continues to look at, whether it’s a new stadium or a renovation or renovations to their stadium — they just completed a renovation here — but ultimately, long term, you have to look down that road. What’s the right thing for the franchise and the community?”

This isn’t anything new, really — Goodell has been spouting “need new stadium!” soundbites since before Pegula even bought the team — and the guy was asked the question at a charity golf event, of all things, so it’s not surprising that he fell back on league boilerplate. Still, it’s a clear sign that the league isn’t eager to let talk of a new Bills stadium drop, even if Pegula and his wife Kim have been downplaying new-stadium talk since purchasing the team a couple of years back. (Or passing the buck to Goodell to rattle the stadium saber, however you prefer to view it.)

Why does the NFL care, if the Pegulas don’t? WGRZ-TV in Buffalo asserts that “the league and other owners would make millions and millions of dollars in additional revenue if the Bills were to build a fancy stadium, because every home game the Bills play makes money for the other 31 franchises.” But then, if those “millions and millions of dollars” (is that more than just millions of dollars?) had to go to pay for stadium construction, neither the Pegulas nor the NFL would make money on the deal. So really the message here, such that there is one other than “leave me alone and let me play my round of golf,” is “the NFL would love it if somebody else bought the Bills a new stadium, because we like free stuff as much as the next guy.” Stop the presses.

NFL owners step up pressure for new Bills stadium, Schumer says Congress could chip in funds

I’ve heard of sports team owners standing back and letting league officials do the heavy pressuring around new stadiums, but the scene in Buffalo, where Bills owner Terry Pegula has been saying he doesn’t need a new stadium anytime soon while sportswriters and now NFL officials say otherwise, is just bizarre:

A source with intimate knowledge of the NFL’s stadium situations described Ralph Wilson Stadium as one of the “three worst stadiums in the league,” along with those in Oakland and San Diego…

“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 said. “We’d all like to see them get a new building.”…

The NFL doesn’t see the $130-million face-lift of The Ralph as major.

“No, it isn’t,” said a league official, who requested anonymity. “In fact, I was not for that renovation. None of us were. In other words, we thought we should have gone right to the question of what should be the big renovation or a new facility. Because if you’re going to build one, you’re going to try to break ground within five or 10 years from now. If you’re going to do that, then you sort of didn’t need to spend that $130 million. You should have saved that for the new facility.”

There are so many possibilities here of what’s going on: Pegula could be playing good cop, and letting his fellow owners rattle the new-stadium saber on his behalf; there could genuinely be a split between him and the rest of the league on how soon to push for a new stadium right after the state of New York spent $130 million to renovate the old one; or everyone involved could be in agreement to wait a few years and then see where the political climate stands.

Regardless, even this level of non-threats has seemingly shaken loose a potential offer of stadium cash from one local politician:

[U.S. Senator Charles] Schumer says he’s talked with National Football League Commissioner Roger Goddell and Bills owner Terry Pegula.

“The original rush to build a stadium was to keep the Bills in Buffalo, and the stadium would. Pegula’s committed to Buffalo. Everyone’s convinced he’s committed to Buffalo. And so…there’ll be talk about a stadium. Nothing definitive nothing answered. But I don’t think there’s a rush towards it.”

But when the time comes, Schumer says, he want’s to do the right thing for Buffalo. And he says some federal funding may be available for infrastructure improvements required for any potential stadium site.

If there’s anything that should cheer you up with tax day just a couple of weeks away, it’s the prospect of your federal tax dollars soon going to help the Buffalo Bills owner get a new stadium. Because don’t we all want to do the right thing for Buffalo?

“Aging stadium makes Bills fans drunk and stupid” is totally a meme now, guys

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle football reporter Sal Maiorana has a story up today about how fan misbehavior in the parking lot outside Buffalo Bills games is concerning team execs — Bills fans were apparently rated #1 in drunkenness in 2015, which is impressive both because of the baseline and as something that can actually be measured — which naturally enough segues into a discussion of how Buffalo could solve this by building the team a new stadium with fewer parking lots:

Of course, much of the nonsense in the parking lots would go away if and when the Bills build a new stadium in downtown Buffalo because with so little space to park, the tailgate experience would almost cease to exist.

However, that’s not happening anytime in the near future. [Bills president Russ] Brandon said the issue of building a new stadium has been pushed to the back burner, going so far as to say that the New Buffalo Bills Stadium committee that was formed in 2014 has, for now, been “suspended.”…

“With the lease being up when it is (2023), there’s going to be very thoughtful conversation in both the private and public sector down the road if that’s the route we go,” said Brandon.

If this bizarro argument sounds familiar, it’s probably because you remember when SBNation’s Bills blogger said pretty much the exact same thing less than two months ago. It’s tough to guess from this distance whether “Aging stadium causes football fans to get drunk and act stupid” is a meme that someone in Bills management is trying to plant in the sports media, or just something that sportswriters have come up on their own in hopes of having something to write about in the offseason, but here we are. Can we maybe somehow blame the Buffalo accent on it, too? Crazier arguments have been made!

Bills fans like to get drunk and act stupid, blogger says stadium is to blame

As an early entrant to the “Craziest Reasons of 2016 to Build a New Stadium” competition, I present to you SBNation Buffalo Bills blogger Matt Warren, who thinks the Bills need a new stadium because their fans keep getting drunk and acting stupid in the parking lot of the old one:

As Bills fans’ behavior continues to make national headlines for all the wrong reasons, that timeline might be moved up; the rationale holds that that behavior can be ameliorated by moving the stadium to a more controlled, downtown location.

“The rationale holds” — not sure whose rationale this is, but Mr. Straw Man has some ‘splaining to do about how a parking lot downtown is any more “controlled” than one out in the sticks. Warren adds that “a new downtown stadium could change not only the zip code, but the clientele in attendance at the game,” which seems to imply that he thinks people who attend football games at schmancy downtown venues don’t get drunk, or at least when they do are less likely to do backflips onto folding tables. Which, I haven’t spent that much time in Buffalo, maybe he’s right — but spending a billion dollars on a new stadium just in hopes that your doofus fans don’t end up on Deadspin seems like an awfully inefficient use of resources.

Bills owner says he’ll wait to ask for new stadium until it’s less embarrassing to do so

Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula was asked yesterday about his demands for a new stadium right after getting $130 million in state-funded renovations for his old one, and said, in essence, Shh, not so loud:

“The only answer to that question is the state and county, there’s been a lot of money put into Ralph Wilson Stadium,” Pegula said. “We’re in no hurry. We realize that if that work was just done, how foolish would you look if you start looking around for a new stadium when we’ve just renovated the one we have? We have time. We have an existing lease on the current stadium.”

Yeah, what kind of schmuck would demand a new stadium right after collecting a pile of state subsidies for renovations? I mean, really

“Well, there’s going to be a new stadium somewhere, that’s all I know,” Terry Pegula said. “The league was pretty emphatic that Buffalo — we’re a small market — needs to be as competitive as we can.”

It’s all about the timing.

Cuomo now says Bills stadium plan not “imminent,” acts like he’s not the one who raised it

It’s time again to play follow the bouncing Cuomo! To recap New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s statements on funding a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills right after funding $227 million in renovations to the old one:

May 26, 2014: “If it was essential, I would support it.”

June 4, 2014: “I am very cautious about anything that would cost more money.”

August 10, 2014: “If we need a new stadium to keep the Bills here long term, that’s something that I’m interested in talking about.”

September 10, 2014: “I think the stadium with the renovations is doing very well.”

September 15, 2014: “The stadium’s good. Let’s stay right here for a while.”

And now yesterday:

A decision on whether and where to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills is not “imminent,’’ Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday in Buffalo.

After a state-funded report that the administration commissioned was released last month identifying possible sites for a new stadium, Cuomo signaled to reporters that resolution of the stadium issue is far from a burning issue for his administration.

““I’m not at a point where I have a preference … I think the location question is premature,’’ Cuomo said.

Right, it’s so not urgent that Cuomo had to appoint a state commission to investigate it. Clearly something is going on here — either the Bills’ new owners have signaled to Cuomo that they want to hush up all the stadium talk until it’s a better time, as the Buffalo News’s Tom Precious speculates, or Cuomo himself wants to wait until it’s a better time — but it’d take a state-commissioned investigation to find out what.