New-look stadium, higher ticket sales lift Bills

May 30, 2014 Updated May 30, 2014 at 9:22 AM EDT

By James Fink, Buffalo Business First

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Credit: ESPN

New-look stadium, higher ticket sales lift Bills

May 30, 2014 Updated May 30, 2014 at 9:22 AM EDT

With slightly more than two months before kickoff, the Buffalo Bills are on pace to complete the dramatic $130 million makeover of Ralph Wilson Stadium and to sell the most season-ticket packages in five years.

The heavy construction and sales pace comes as the National Football League franchise also prepares for a sale, just months after owner Ralph Wilson died. The sale, and the future of the team and where it will call home, are principal stories hovering over the team.

In terms of pure bricks-and-mortar issues, the stadium's massive renovation project is nearly 65 percent completed and well on target of meeting the team's internal Aug. 1 deadline. Work began last December.

"All of the work is being done with the fan in mind," said Marc Honan, Bills' chief marketing officer.

Fans will notice a remarkable different Ralph Wilson Stadium this fall with wider, more light-driven concourses, new concession stands, entrance gates and even staircases.

Behind the scenes, work includes new back-office operations for Delaware North Cos.' Sportservice commissary and a network broadcasting center. The 50-yard-line press box has been shifted to the stadium's east end corner while new scoreboards, with the latest digital software, are being installed at both the east and west ends.

Some 3 million linear feet of cable has been installed while more than 5 million pounds of steel have been erected since December.

An 8,000-square-foot Bills retail store will grace the stadium's Abbott Road front.

"From a fan standpoint, we really addressed the convenience factor," Honan said. "We want fans to want to be here. These renovations are a big step towards that."

Fans will notice be more open concourses that allow for easier access to seats, bathrooms and concession stands. The stadium will now boast 43 concession stands up from 38 that previously operated in the concourses.

Even the number of bathrooms have been increased to 64 from 48, a 33 percent hike.

A small army of workers make the early August construction deadline possible, Bills officials said.

Currently there are 750 workers at the stadium, working 10-hour days, Monday through Friday. Some 200 workers are at the stadium on Saturdays and the same number on Sundays. Weekend shifts run eight hours.

LPCiminelli is the project's construction manager.

Virtually all of the workers hail from either Buffalo or Rochester.

The work is credited for one of the factors why season ticket sales have surpassed the 44,000 mark, Honan said. Last season, the Bills sold 42,540 season tickets.

The 44,000 season ticket mark - and counting - is the team's most since 2009 when it sold 55,194 season tickets.

Honan said the construction project, coupled with the feeling the team is on the rise, is helping to propel season ticket sales. This off-season alone, through May 29, the team sold 6,845 new season tickets.

"And, we're still two months away from kick-off," Honan said.