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Bills Stadium Committee & Next Owner Should Consider UB Amherst Site

Author: Aaron Walker – Snyder, NY

If NY State and Erie County are going to spend $800 million + of taxpayer money on a new football stadium to help the next Bills owner keep the team in WNY, then I believe that money should be leveraged to have a bigger impact in WNY beyond the Bills.

Mark Poloncarz“We’re becoming land locked in the immediate downtown core, you can go a little further out, but what you want to do is put a football stadium in a place where it’s also going to generate economic benefit all year round. I certainly don’t want to build a football stadium in downtown Buffalo that’s going to be used eight days out of the year.”

Russ Brandon: “Typically early in the season, we don’t have issues moving tickets.  But regardless of opponent, December games even going back to the 1990s have been historically difficult to sell. I think we sold out 63 percent of those games in December in the ’90s and about 67 percent in the 2000s in December.” 

The mediocre Buffalo Sabres sell close to 19,000 seats to 42 games a year, attracting about 800,000 fans and have a waiting list for season tickets.  Even with the Toronto  game, the Bills have struggled to sell 74,000 seats to 7 home games.  Over the last 5 years the Bills rank 19th in NFL home attendance, selling an average of 458,131 tickets to 7 home games or 65,477 per game.  Why?   To paraphrase James Carville, “It’s the stadium stupid!”   The Sabres data shows WNY and Southern Ontario will still pay to see a mediocre sports team if the venue and experience of “going to the game” make it worth the time and money.

So there are no suitable locations in the city logistically with real added economic benefit for Buffalo and the Bills have a history of not being able to sell tickets in the colder weather at the Ralph.  One logical way to solve those issues is to replace the current UB Football stadium with a new retractable roof 65,000 seat stadium across the street at the current site of the Audubon golf course.  How does this make sense for WNY?

1.  More bang for the buck – the Buffalo Bills, UB Bulls Football, the University at Buffalo and other conventions or concerts all can utilize this new venue so it goes from 8-9 games, to 20+ events every year.  If all NY taxpayers are paying for this stadium to help a privately owned NFL team, it should also directly benefit them as an investment that helps our local NY State public university.

2.  Weather is no longer a factor in selling tickets every December for the Bills and the commute from Toronto and Rochester is now 30 minutes less.  A smaller stadium limits inventory, making it easier to increase demand, raise ticket prices, sell out and get every game on local TV.  The next Bills owner will want to attract a more business and family oriented clientele like you see at Sabres games, but the current stadium and rowdy, drunken tailgate atmosphere keep much of that fan base away.

3.  UB Football would have a dynamic Division 1 football stadium and facilities to take the next step to big time college football.  Why continue to ask taxpayers and donors to invest in upgrades at the current UB Stadium, when we can build a dual use facility that works for the Bills and UB Football?  It would be a catalyst to building top-tier NCAA D1 athletic programs in football, basketball and hockey that would have a dramatic impact on UB and WNY for decades regardless of what happens with the Bills.  Athletics are a big part of the atmosphere, camaraderie, alumni loyalty, donations and long-term success of most major colleges and universities, but have been lacking at UB and SUNY schools in general for decades, compared to their university peers in other states.   With new facilities, investment, hard work, planning and luck, in 10 or 15 years we may see teams like Notre Dame, Florida St., Michigan, Ohio St., B.C., Penn St.,  North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse or Miami playing college football, basketball and hockey in WNY!

Buffalo is a pro sports town you say and can’t support that.   The University of Pittsburgh just down the thruway shares a stadium with the NFL Steelers and competes in the ACC with great community support. “With a killer of a home schedule last season, Pitt’s football team had a strong year in terms of ticket sales with a virtual season sellout. Home games against Florida State, Miami, and Notre Dame… The Panthers average home attendance at Heinz Field in 2013 was 49,741.”  Pitt fans will tell you they would draw even better with a stadium closer to the campus and students.

This will be a calculated investment we need to keep the Bills viable in Buffalo, but also the best chance we have to give the State University of New York at Buffalo the tools to compete athletically with other major universities.   The one chance we have in our lifetimes to provide UB with a football stadium near campus that can help attract top-tier football talent and make Saturday games on campus something all of WNY embraces.  Start competing with the major universities from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan in the major college sports and build UB into a school that sends teams to Bowl games, March Madness and the Frozen Four on a regular basis.

4.  The Town of Amherst can use the proceeds to buy the bankrupt Westwood Country Club across the street from Audubon and give town golfers a better golf course to play, while helping UB to continue to grow and be a catalyst for Amherst and WNY.

5.   The current UB football stadium could one day become an NCAA D1 hockey arena,  by soliciting some generous donors similar to the $70 million donation Terry Pegula made to his alma mater at Penn St. to build a D1 hockey program.  D1 Hockey should be a natural for UB and an integral part of their growth in athletics in the coming decades.

6.  With state and federal funding the NFTA could finally extend the metro rail to UB Amherst so people could ride the rail to football games from all over the city.  Plus students and more people will actually ride it daily and travel easily from Amherst all the way to the UB Main St. campus, the medical corridor, downtown, 1st Niagara/Harbor Center and the Buffalo waterfront.

Hopefully the next owner of the Bills will take a look at the big picture and a few of our elected leaders on the stadium panel will look to do more than just keep the Bills in Buffalo and take this opportunity to also invest in our State University and the future of athletics at UB.

 

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