ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WKBW) — It’s the biggest “who, what, where, when, and how” for Bills fans and the Western New York community. Where will the 2020 AFC Championship Buffalo Bills play in 2023 when the team’s lease is up with Erie County?
What will happen to the nearly 50 year-old Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park?
“A couple of years ago we did a study. That study was completed. We went back to that study recently over the last 12-18 months. Because of COVID and changing economics across the country, we have since completed the revised study and we are really looking forward to sharing that with our partners in the state and the county,” said Pegula Sports and Entertainment President Ron Raccuia in March, when the team announced it’s naming rights with Highmark.
Since that time, the Bills say PSE has met with state and county officials and outlined a plan for the “future stadium and arena projects in Western New York. That was in May, and that was the last we heard of potential stadium talk.
“The existing stadium has delivered a tremendous amount for the community, but it’s time to move on to a new stadium,” said Marc Ganis, President of Sportscorp. Ltd. Ganis has worked on dozens of stadium and arena projects for professional sports teams.
“Where a new stadium gets built is very much factor of what the communities priorities are and what it wants to do,” he said.
Ganis, who is not affiliated with a potential Bills project says when it comes to a new stadium for an NFL team, there are key factors—location, cost and the size of the market.
The Bills have the option to build a new stadium at the team’s existing site in Orchard Park, or explore other options like Downtown Buffalo.
“The easiest place to build a new stadium is where the existing stadium is,” he said.
Ganis says traffic patterns are already formulated, there is plenty of space for tailgating and there is potential for down-the-road development and add-ons like restaurants and shops.
“You can put a new stadium in a location where the intent is to build a large development, or you can put a new stadium in a downtown area if the intent is to build up the downtown area.”
There are three different NFL stadium options, and each come with a hefty price tag. Many teams opt for a retractable roof stadium, that can be open or closed at any time. Some have a full dome, indoor stadium, and many have open-air stadiums like the Bills have in Orchard Park.
Ganis says the cost depends on the scope of the project. An open-air stadium comes with a price tag of a little over $1 billion.
Retractable roof and dome stadiums can cost anywhere from $1.5 billion on up.
Ganis says NFL economics have changed dramatically since the Bills stadium was built in 1973. Buffalo is one of the smallest markets in the NFL. Ganis says to make the team financially viable in Western New York for years to come, there needs to be heavy buy-in and collaboration with the state for funding.
“There is a rule of thumb. The larger the market, the smaller the public sector contribution. The smaller the market, the larger the public sector contribution.”
He says this is because larger markets, like New England, Dallas and Las Vegas have a lot more private sector money to tap into for sponsorships.
Ganis says no doubt—conversations are being had behind the scenes, and he says it’s a good thing not much has been leaked to the public.
In terms of the lease, Ganis says that can always be extended if a deal is in place.
“Everyone needs to get together for a new stadium that the fans can enjoy for years to come,” he said.
In his professional opinion, he doesn’t see the 2020 AFC Championship Bills making any type of announcement until after this season is over.
Last month, 7 Eyewitness News confirmed through sources that the Bills are consulting with a company called Legends Global Planning about a potential new stadium.
Our request for comment from the state and the NFL was never returned.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz denied our request for a sit-down interview. His press secretary Peter Anderson released the following statement to our Hannah Buehler:
“Thanks for reaching out but that will not work for the County Executive. He does not want to engage in hypotheticals and right now there's really no way of knowing where this issue will take the county. I understand that people like talking about it and it's interesting as the season approaches but he's been adamant that we will not be discussing this issue, like the lease negotiations, in the media.”