Buffalo has been reminded time and time again in recent years that their stadium was out of date. And the NFL hasn’t shied away from making sure they know that. Goodell and the other owners have been pressing the Buffalo Bills to build an entirely new stadium almost annually. Just last season, he told the media that Buffalo needed a new stadium in order to “stay competitive”. It seems the Pegulas will finally oblige. New plans are in the works to build a stadium on or near the lot where ‘The Ralph” currently resides. But, before we move forward to that, let’s move back in time to an era long past. I’d be a poor historian if I didn’t start at the beginning.
The AFL Bills Find A Home
In a deal worked out by Wall Of Fame Inductee Patrick McGroder, the then-brand-new AFL Buffalo Bills went to work in War Memorial Stadium. (Also known as ‘The Rockpile” for its dilapidated state.) This pile of rubble was the home of the Bills from 1960-1973, carrying our beloved team through their AFL Championship days and the early post-merger years. As our Bills entered the NFL, owner Ralph Wilson wasn’t sold on keeping the franchise in Buffalo. They were the embarrassment of the NFL, playing in a stadium that was crumbling as fast as their playoff hopes. There were locations in Seattle, Memphis, and Tampa that were all favorable, but McGroder kept Wilson from pulling the trigger long enough to get a project in the works. By 1973, they would find their new long-term home.
An NFL staple
That new Stadium opened in 1973 and is the foundation for the building we know and love today. Rich Products, based in Buffalo, made an offer to name the stadium “Rich Stadium” on a 25-year, $1.5 million deal. However, Ralph Wilson matched the offer in order to name the building “Buffalo Bills Stadium”. So it went to a community vote. Even though Ralph’s suggestion was massively popular, the voters were worried that the team owning the stadium naming rights wouldn’t stimulate the local economy in the way a corporate sponsor would. “Rich Stadium” stood until the end of the deal in 1998, despite both sides of the deal having issues and several lawsuits being levied by Rich products.
Once the iron-clad deal with Rich Products expired, the stadium was renamed to honor Ralph Wilson. Unknowingly, the days of ‘The Ralph” would be some of the darkest days in NFL history. Buffalo’s infamous playoff drought would span just about the entire gap between the legendary Kelly era and the eventual Tyrod Taylor-led drought busters. There wasn’t a great deal to be happy about during this time, but our home became affectionately known as ‘The Ralph” by Buffalo Bills fans. A name which stands to this day.
A Brief New Era
As a natural progression in their takeover, The Pegulas reached a seven-year, $35 million agreement with Buffalo-based hat company New Era. Renaming the stadium “New Era Field” in 2016. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, New Era infamously laid off almost all of their local employees without benefits. As a result of the public outcry against the company, New Era asked for a release from their contract. The stadium would go by the name Ralph Wilson always intended for the 2020 season, “Buffalo Bills Stadium”. Once the season ended, the team signed a 10-year deal with Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. The Bills will play the 2021 season at “Highmark” S
The New Plans
It appears the end is finally near. The Buffalo Bills’ current lease ends in 2023 and the wheels are in motion for a new facility. The project is expected to take three to five years and may require Buffalo to play at an alternate site for two to three years. Alternate locations like Toronto (where the Buffalo Bills played international games in the early 2010s) and Penn State (Terry Pegula’s alma mater) are on the table.
The building itself will be located in or around Orchard Park, not too far from where ‘The Ralph” currently resides. After reviewing the results of the surveys, it seems unlikely that this new stadium will have a dome. Instead, it will likely have overhangs on one or both sides of the stands. Largely, the reasoning for a new stadium is as much about expanding it and renewing it as it is about adding more features. A complex similar to Patriot Place in Massachusetts is reportedly in the mix, which would add extra retail and food storefronts and create as much of an entertainment hub as a sports one. But there is still work to do. Follow the Buffalo Fanatics for more information as it becomes available.