The Buffalo Bills stadium deal is one step closer to being fully approved.
At the National Football League meetings in Dallas on Wednesday afternoon, owners voted 32-0 to approve two key elements of the deal: a year-to-year lease for the Bills at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park and a 30-year contract. A one-year lease agreement for the new stadium, which is expected to open in early 2026.
With this new stadium, which will open in 2026, with negotiations and construction schedules underway – how will it differ from a matchday at Highmark Stadium?
Construction on the new stadium, which will cost at least $1.4 billion and will be located across Highmark Road, is expected to begin next year. The stadium is being financed with $600 million from New York State, $250 million from Erie County, and at least $550 million from the Bills and the NFL.
All parties concerned are in the process of finalizing the agreement. The main terms of the agreement were announced in March and are outlined in a 15-page memorandum of understanding.
People are also reading…
The deal includes a non-transferability clause that Gov. Cathy Hochul described as “iron-clad” when she announced the deal. If the team leaves Buffalo during the first 14 years of the lease, it must pay all public contributions and cover the cost of demolishing the stadium. From 15 to 30, the financial penalty is reduced, reaching zero in the last year of the lease. However, the state may still require the team to pay to demolish the stadium.
Hochul said in the spring, “If we make this promise, I want to iron out that they’re going to stay.”
Community advocates feel they are being left out of the bargain for community benefits associated with the new $1.4 billion Buffalo Bills stadium planned for Orchard Park.
All signs point to the full deal being finalized soon. Negotiations on a community benefits agreement outlining how the Bills will invest back into the community have made significant progress, and Erie County Legislature Chairwoman April Baskin said they hope to reach an agreement soon. She said the latest proposal received from Bills by the CBA was positive.
More than 500 representatives attended meetings last month in Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany for interested contractors, suppliers, vendors and professional service providers. That doesn’t include the standing-room-only crowd attending Tuesday’s meeting — the second in Buffalo since November — at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries.
Neither Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz nor Erie County Attorney Jeremy Toth ruled out the possibility of the deal being finalized before the new year. Toth recently told county lawmakers it’s “optimistic,” but not impossible. Various county officials involved in the negotiations said significant progress has been made in recent weeks.
However, the construction agreement that specifies who is qualified to build the new stadium and who will be employed is still being discussed.
The new stadium will be different from Highmark and will be demolished and used as a parking lot or pregame event. The new facility will have a little more than 60,000 seats, or about 10,000 fewer than the current stadium.
Although the new stadium is an outdoor facility, it is being designed to be drier and warmer than the bowl-shaped Highmark that was built in the early 1970s. The new stadium will be more vertical with a perforated steel exterior designed to absorb and dissipate the strong winds from the Great Lakes. A partial roof, or roof, is designed to deflect a certain amount of wind and eliminate the swirling effect that, especially in cold weather, cools fans and sometimes makes life difficult for football players and quarterbacks.
The canopy, combined with stacked tiers that provide overlap for those seated below, is expected to cover 65% of the seats in the new stadium.
“The cover is a big part of keeping people dry, and the concourses are a big part,” said Scott Radesich, an architectural engineer and principal at Populous, the Kansas City firm that is designing the new stadium for the Bills.
Those concerts will be built on the outer wall of the stadium with an open design that allows fans to look out over the field as they wait in line. (At Highmark, concessions can be found on the interior wall of the concourse.)
“Another big design move was wanting to create a visual connection to the field,” Radesick said.
Those features and amenities — including club seating options, overhead heating, standing-room-only areas, and bars and social gathering spaces — will be included in the sales pitch when the Bills and their stadium consultant, Legends, begin marketing sponsorships. Premium seat and personal seat licenses, may begin as early as late winter or spring 2023.
The Bills are responsible for any cost overruns, meaning the team’s total investment in the stadium could ultimately exceed the $550 million included in the original outline of the deal. A large portion of the bills’ contribution is supported by the NFL’s G4 Stadium Loan Fund program and the sale of private seat licenses.
PSLs, as they say, are a one-time expense. Fans are given the ability and obligation to purchase season tickets each year. Ticket sales for the new stadium are the first time PSLs have been used in the Buffalo market.
Bills executive vice president and chief operating officer Ron Rakuya told the News in an interview last year that PSLs are “very important when we start this, especially in a market like Buffalo, where we don’t have the ability to increase (ticket) prices in a way that other markets have.”
He added that PSLs — some of which cost less than $1,000 — also provide assurance that fans will remain customers for a long time.
“They help retain a fan,” he said. “The majority of fans who have a PSL linked to their seat, no matter how small, will have a significantly increased chance of securing match tickets.
Staff reporter Sandra Tan contributed to this article.