So…just when are the Buffalo Bills going to be getting that downtown stadium anyway? Once Terry and Kim Pegula won the bidding process from the team in September 2014, it has seemed inevitable that the eventual conclusion would be a sparkling new downtown football stadium after a near half-century at New Ralph Rich Wilson Era Field Stadium in Orchard Park. Given the success of attractions like HarborCenter, Canalside, Seneca Buffalo Creek, and others this decade, the move downtown seems more logical.
But recently, that dream has had its share of cold water thrown on it. Kim Pegula, in a May 2018 interview, indicated once again there is no rush to begin the process of a new stadium. But the reality is that in the next five to ten years, Buffalo will have a new football stadium. The problem lies in what to do with the thing. With the lack of desire to increase ticket prices and avoid personal seat licenses, it stands to reason this stadium will need to be occupied frequently and used as a magnet to attract many outsiders to the city.
Taking the geography and infrastructure challenges involved, there are many opportunities to make a new downtown football stadium into a true success and not just an underutilized behemoth. Assuming a stadium with a retractable roof would be built downtown, what follows is probably more of a wish list than a realistic proposal…but why not dream big?
1. The Buffalo Bills should play there. Hell, make them play ten games instead of eight every single year! We’ve now concluded the obvious options.
2. Soccer USA: Most countries have a centralized stadium that the national team utilizes for international matchups. In the United States, we lack that current structure. Seattle has a passionate fan culture, as does Portland and Kansas City, amongst others. Columbus holds the legacy of “Dos A Cero” against Mexico. But oftentimes in larger cities like New York, Los Angeles and Houston, the US Men’s National Team is the rooting underdog against Mexico, Costa Rica and other regional rivals. Insert the new Buffalo downtown stadium. A tricky spot to travel to for international foes would create a natural home field advantage, USMNT supporter groups would be able to have the centralized home they’ve needed for years, and US soccer fans could finally have their Wembley or Azteca. The Pegulas should speak with the United States Soccer Federation and partner in order to help offset costs and customize the true American soccer facility our country needs.
3. MLS: A byproduct of the previously mentioned US Soccer partnership, Buffalo would be a logical landing spot for the league. Five teams (Atlanta United FC, Seattle Sounders, New England Revolution, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Toronto FC) currently share their facility with an NFL or CFL team. As the league continues to expand, with new teams scheduled to land in Nashville, Miami and Cincinnati in the next few years, why wouldn’t Buffalo be interested in attracting new fans downtown 17 times a year, plus extra Cup competitions.
4. Grey Cup: So…this is probably a reach, but initial research indicates a city doesn’t necessarily have to be in Canada to host Canada’s football championship, so let’s go with it. Fans of Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal would much rather look at another facility on the eastern half of the continent rather than a trip to Edmonton or Vancouver. Hosting the CFL’s Super Bowl would also potentially show NFL officials that maybe that Super Bowl played in Western New York could really happen.
5. College Football. Neutral site kickoff games have become part of the fabric of college football again in the last decade, after years in decline. Why wouldn’t a Labor Day matchup between Syracuse and Penn State be a big draw in this area with the Pegula influence and all those Syracuse alums that pop up every March? Besides the big matchup, the Buffalo Bulls could draw a big-name opponent into a two-for-one series with UB hosting downtown, the MAC Championship could finally move out of Detroit, and why not have a lower-level bowl game between the ACC and Big Ten?
6. College Basketball: Buffalo has routinely scored high marks in attendance and execution for its hosting of the NCAA Tournament six times in the current millennium. Why not for the granddaddy of them all, the Final Four? A stadium designed with basketball in mind would allow for a facility to break up the monotony that currently exists in host cities (from 2000-2022, just nine cities will host). An opportunity exists to take advantage and build a facility that is conscious of all sports, even when that chance may only exist once a decade, such as this.
7. Wrestlemania: Another once a decade shot, as Wrestlemania gone to the same 25,000+ seat facilities four times in 34 years (Toronto, Orlando, New Orleans… New York [East Rutherford] will join them with Wrestlemania 35 in 2019). A new stadium, given the location to the extremely valuable foreign fanbase for shows, would be a magnet for many to come to the Queen City for the biggest show of the year.
8. High School Playoffs: For basically every sport. We all know that the Carrier Dome in Syracuse hosts the high school football championships, but the facility is brutally dated. Not only could a facility of NFL quality in the state change the game for football, but it is not a stretch to assume lacrosse, soccer and field hockey could come aboard too.
Honestly, this list is just the start, and mostly focused on adding new events to the area. Concerts that would go to New Era Field today would just shift north a few miles (or a couple dozen miles west from Darien Lake). An actual Winter Classic that’s…ya know…a real home game instead of one in New York City. And the possibilities keep going.
We all know Buffalo is different. It’s small on the relative scale, and the city may need some help to build the facility. But a downtown stadium would be a help to our community. A refresh of the downtown area with a stadium as a focal point would change the dynamics of the entire region. It does mean that much, and for those with any concerns about the viability of the franchise, this would squelch those worries.
It’s time Buffalo dreams big and the city matches what it is in our minds. The Bills are the uniting thread that ties the city together. Build that stadium and invite everyone to reap the benefits.