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New Stadium Prospectus: Size Matters – Utility & Versatility

Author: Lance Sabo | Part 3 of 6.

The term multi-use facility is used in all discussions concerning a new stadium and it is included in every proposal that has come down the pike. So what does it truly mean? Ralph Wilson Stadium (“RWS”) is used for other proposes than football; albeit that it is underutilized. Wouldn’t it be considered multi-use? By definition, it would qualify. But, the open air design and fixed configuration limit its ability to be utilized for other events.

Professional event organizers have stated that in order for any stadium to be considered a true multi-use facility it would have to be enclosed, have retractable seating for reconfiguration and it would need to include or be paired with another facility that has defined exhibition and meeting space.

That said, we should not be looking for new stadium to provide additional convention space to supplement our existing convention center (“CC”). We need to seize the opportunity if a new stadium is built to create a new adjoining CC for our region to replace the current one that is located in downtown Buffalo.

In doing so, we can accomplish two long sought after objectives: the first would be have a CC that has a competitive capacity with other CC’s nationally, and second, would be to demolish the current CC in order to restore a portion of Joseph Ellicott’s radial street design to its original state (the Hyatt would preclude a full restoration of the Genesee Street spoke).

So, what size CC would be appropriate for our community? Our current CC has 110,000 square feet of meeting/exhibit space; which would put it in the fourth tier of all CC’s nationally. Market analysis of the space available at other CC’s nationally indicates that the appropriate sized CC for our region would be between 300-400 thousand square feet of dedicated exhibition space. Using the Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana CC pairing as a benchmark, and combined that new CC space with the space that would be available in a “covered stadium” (approx. 200k), the total square footage would be 500-600k; which would rank the new facilities firmly in the second tier of CC’s nationally and would open up the possibility of hosting events and conventions that the current CC simply cannot accommodate.

In terms of stadium size the NFL has issued guidelines for new facilities to have a minimum seating capacity of 65k; with the two exceptions being Minnesota (50k) which is temporarily playing at a college stadium while the new arena is being constructed and the other is Oakland (53k) the vagabond team of the NFL, which is rumored to be seeking to relocate to yet another facility. Reducing the seating capacity in a new stadium from the 73k currently available at RWS to 65k would increase the probability of having more sold-out home games; which would allow more games to be shown on local television and create more exposure for businesses that advertising at the stadium, thus generating more income for the Bills.

The Bills current stadium is undergoing renovations to improve its amenities in the hope of promoting a better fan experience. Will these improvements be enough to appease fans on game day, and more importantly will these improvements realize a significant financial return for the team?

Most would agree that the improvements being made to the stadium are necessary, but these improvements are really only band aid solutions. The stadium’s design will limit the ability to significantly improve it much more through renovation, and as result it will never meet the standards established by newer NFL stadiums. Thus, at some point a new stadium will be necessary.

If a new stadium is built it needs to be “covered.” I choose that term because I want avoid being drawn into the conversation of it having a retractable roof/dome. We need to remember that we live in Buffalo, New York where we are fortunate to have 4 to 5 games a year that are considered ideal weather for fan comfort. We also need something that is a bit more structurally sound than a fabric dome, in order to avoid a collapse from a heavy snow load; one such incident during its life span would cost millions of dollars to repair and may temporarily displace the team while repairs are made.

With any new stadium the discussion of luxury boxes or suites will always at the forefront for the team and its owner because under the current NFL rules allow the home team to keep a majority of income that is generated from them.

Unfortunately, for our region and the Bills, more is not necessarily better. It has been well established that our region lags behind other NFL markets in terms of the number of fortune 500 companies that reside in our area; less big corporations equates to less corporate money to invest in luxury seating.

While we definitely need to acknowledge that our region is experiencing a mini-boom or upswing, and our corporate citizenship is likely to grow as we do, the stadium luxury seating needs to be designed to meet our current and long-term needs. It is obvious the original designers of RWS did have the foresight to know how important luxury seating would eventually become to the NFL’s financial model, if they had we would have spent far less on each subsequent suite expansions/ upgrades over the years. Each has cost tax payers millions.

If we plan well now, we can reduce the costs of suite expansion by building space that would be currently utilized for other purposes, such as restaurant/bars, club level buffets, group parties, or simply for club seating with concessions. This space could be easily be converted into temporary press box or suites for special events or converted to permanent luxury box seating at minimal cost.

In conclusion: a stadium & convention center complex would be the most viable option for all parties involved. Taking a utilitarian approach by taking into consideration what would be “right sized” and practical for our region would help to lessen the buildings future maintenance costs. Designing the stadium so that is versatile would allow the team to update or change existing spaces, if the need arises at minimal cost.

Also see: New Stadium Prospectus: Economics – Balancing Expectations with a Desire for Something More | Part 2 0f 6

Lance Sabo is currently a master’s student at Buffalo State College and will complete his master’s degree in economics and finance in the fall of 2014. Serves in the Air Force Reserves at the Niagara Falls Airbase and has been a Federal Civil Servant for 20 years. Contact Lance Sabo | twitter Lance_Sabo


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