Ralph Wilson Stadium

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Ralph Wilson Stadium
"The Ralph"
RWSLogo.png
Bills.jpg
Former names Rich Stadium
(1973–1998)
Location 1 Bills Drive
Orchard Park, New York
Coordinates 42°46′26″N 78°47′13″W / 42.774°N 78.787°W / 42.774; -78.787Coordinates: 42°46′26″N 78°47′13″W / 42.774°N 78.787°W / 42.774; -78.787
Broke ground April 4, 1972 (1972-04-04)
Opened August 17, 1973 (1973-08-17)
40 years ago
Owner Erie County
Operator Erie County
Surface A-Turf Titan (2011– )
AstroPlay (2003–2010)
AstroTurf (1973–2002)
Construction cost $22 million (1973)
Architect HNTB
Structural engineer David M. Berg
& Associates Inc.[1]
General contractor Frank Schoenle
Construction
Capacity 73,079 (current)[2]
80,020 (original)
Tenants
Buffalo Bills (NFL)
(1973–present)

Ralph Wilson Stadium (originally Rich Stadium) is an outdoor football stadium in the northeastern United States, located in Orchard Park, New York, a suburb south of Buffalo. Opened in 1973, it is the home for the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League. The stadium was renamed in 1998 for team founder and then-owner Ralph Wilson.

History[edit]

An original franchise of the American Football League in 1960, the Buffalo Bills played their first thirteen seasons at War Memorial Stadium, a minor league baseball park in downtown Buffalo. While suitable for AFL play in the 1960s, the "Rockpile" (as the stadium came to be nicknamed), was both in disrepair and, with a capacity of under 47,000, deemed undersized for a National Football League team. The league mandate instituted after the NFL-AFL merger of 1970 dictated a minimum of 50,000 seats.

Rich Stadium opened in 1973,[3] but in early 1971, Wilson was exploring options to relocate the team, possibly to Seattle,[4][5] which hastened the stadium project.[6] Other cities such as Memphis and Tampa soon expressed interest.[7] The location and construction of the stadium in Erie County were the source of years of litigation,[8] which ended with a financial settlement for a developer who had planned to erect a domed stadium in Lancaster.[6][9] However, plans changed because it was not wanted to be close to Lancaster High School.[10] The stadium was ultimately built by Frank Schoenle and his construction company. Stadium bonds were approved by the county legislature in September 1971.[11]

Rich Products, a Buffalo-based food products company, signed a 25-year, $1.5 million deal ($60,000 per year), by which the venue would be called "Rich Stadium"; one of the earliest examples of the sale of naming rights in North American sports.[12] (The name was somewhat of a compromise, after Bills owner and founder Ralph Wilson rejected the name Rich wanted to use, "Coffee Rich Park.")[13] By a vote of 16 to 4, the county legislature approved the name in November 1972,[14] despite a matching offer from Wilson to name it "Buffalo Bills Stadium."[15][16][17]

When the Bills organization regularly referred to the stadium without the "Rich" name, Rich Products brought a $7.5 million lawsuit against the team in 1976.[18] After the original deal expired after a quarter century in 1998, the stadium was renamed in honor of Wilson. Rich Products balked at paying a greatly increased rights fee,[19] which would have brought the price up to par with other NFL stadiums.

The first NFL playoff game at the stadium came in the 1988 season, a 17–10 Bills victory over the Houston Oilers on January 1, 1989. The Bills won every ensuing playoff game at the stadium until they were defeated in 1996 by the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 28.

On December 21, 2012, the lease negotiations between the Bills, Erie County, and the state of New York ended with the Bills signing a ten-year lease to stay in Buffalo.[20]

Seating capacity[edit]

  • 80,020 (1972-1983)[21]
  • 80,290 (1984-1994)[22]
  • 80,024 (1995-1998)[23]
  • 75,339 (1999-2000)[24]
  • 73,967 (2001-2007)[25]
  • 73,079 (2008–present)[26]

Other sporting events[edit]

The size of the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium is specifically designed for National Football League dimensions and sightlines, making it extremely difficult for other outdoor sporting events such as soccer, baseball, track and field, or rugby to be held there. None of any significance have ever been held at the stadium.

On January 1, 2008, the Buffalo Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2008 NHL Winter Classic.[27] The Penguins won 2–1 in a shootout in front of more than 71,000 people.

The stadium annually hosts the region's Section VI and Monsignor Martin Athletic Association high school football playoffs.[28] The stadium rarely hosts college football games; the stadium hosted a Black Friday contest between the UB Bulls and the Bowling Green Falcons in 2013, but before that, the last college football game at the stadium had been in 1979, when the Syracuse Orange football team used the stadium as a temporary venue while the Carrier Dome was under construction.[29]

The opening ceremony of the 1993 Summer Universiade was held at the stadium.[30]

Adjacent to the stadium is 1,800-seat Jim Ball Field, the home field for Erie Community College's football team.

On July 14, 1984, the stadium hosted a one-time-only supercross motorcycle racing event.

Concerts[edit]

Occasional concerts that had high demand were prominently held at the stadium during the 1970s through 2001.

Some bands have played the stadium multiple times. This would be The Rolling Stones who played here in 1975, 1978, 1981, and 1997. The Grateful Dead played the stadium a few times in the 80's and early 90's with their July 4, 1989 Truckin' Up to Buffalo performance being documented on CD/DVD. The Who, Dave Matthews and the Jackson Five have all played at the stadium multiple times as well.

Double and multi-billed concerts have also been scheduled at the stadium. The stadium held The Monsters of Rock Festival, featuring Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica and Kingdom Come, on June 19, 1988. Metallica and Guns N' Roses brought the Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour to the stadium on July 25, 1992, with Faith No More as their opening act.

There were notable large concerts that were scheduled to take place at the stadium but was later canceled. Led Zeppelin was set to perform at the stadium on their 1977 North American Tour. The concert was one of the 5 remaining concerts on the tour that were canceled due to the death of lead singer Robert Plant's son. The last concert that would have played at the stadium was a Bruce Springsteen concert in 2003. That concert was canceled due to low ticket sales and moved to the smaller Darien Lake Performing Arts Center instead.

Concert appearances began to wane in the 1990s at the stadium. The last concert held at the stadium was on June 10, 2001, featuring 'N Sync, with Dream as their opening act. This was due to the availability of other venues in Western New York such as Art Park in Lewiston, New York, Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in Corfu, New York, the Thursday at the Square series among others, and First Niagara Center, which opened in 1996, replacing Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in downtown Buffalo.

Non-sporting or music events[edit]

The stadium has also hosted the Drum Corps International championships three times.

Design[edit]

The stadium is open-air, with a capacity of 73,079.[2] The stadium has never had a natural grass surface; AstroTurf was installed in the stadium upon its opening in 1973. In the 2003 offseason the original style turf was replaced with a newer AstroTurf product, AstroTurf GameDay Grass (also known as AstroPlay). In 2011, the Bills announced they would be changing their turf to a new product, A-Turf Titan, produced by a Western New York company, beginning in the 2011 season. Buffalo will be the only NFL stadium using the A-Turf Titan product.[31]

The stadium originally had a capacity of 80,020; however, the capacity was reduced in 1998 as a part of the Bills lease renewal with Erie County, New York.[19] The stadium at that time was refitted with larger seats and more luxury and club seating. The lease agreement also stipulated that Erie County would continue to upgrade the stadium; in summer 2007 a new High Definition Mitsubishi LED board measuring 88.8 by 32.5 feet (27.1 by 9.9 m) and ribbon boards were installed. Total cost for the project was $5.2 million. The new scoreboard replaced the old 41.5 by 31.5 feet (12.6 by 9.6 m) Sony JumboTron installed 13 years earlier for $8 million (inflation adjusted).

Buffalo, by virtue of its position downwind of Lake Erie, is one of the nation's windiest cities, and as a result, Ralph Wilson Stadium often is a difficult stadium for kickers, with swirling winds that change direction rapidly. This is exacerbated by the design of the stadium. The field is 50 feet (15 m) below ground level, while the top of the upper deck stands only sixty feet above ground. The open end lies parallel to the direction of the prevailing winds, so that when the winds come in, they immediately drop down into the bowl, causing the stadium's signature wind patterns.

Future[edit]

Lease negotiations[edit]

The Bills' lease on Ralph Wilson Stadium was to expire on July 31, 2013.

One of the conditions the Bills have insisted on receiving in return for the team renewing the lease is a large package of renovations, costing a minimum of US$200,000,000.[32] In order to offset that, the Bills planned on participating in a league financing program that partially subsidizes the cost of stadium construction and renovation; the team, however, missed a key deadline to receive league funding for renovations to begin. A dome stadium could be in the works when the lease to Ralph Wilson Stadium is completed.

A new 10 year lease agreement was reached by the parties which called for $130 million in upgrades to the stadium. The deal stipulates a one-time $28.4 million option to buy out the final three years of the lease after the 2019 season.[33] There have been conflicting reports on how to break the lease before that; initial reports had a punitive $400 million buyout option if a prospective owner were to want to move the team early; later reports after Ralph Wilson's death suggested there was no such buyout and that the lease could only be broken by mutual agreement before 2019.[34]

2013-2015 renovations[edit]

On January 17, 2013, the Bills revealed the new entrance plaza, sports store, expanded concessions and extra media board designs, created by Populous to the media.

New stadium proposals/relocation[edit]

After the Bills signed their December 2012 lease, they agreed to form a committee to explore the possibility of a new stadium, preferably in downtown Buffalo. This has opened the possibility of new stadium proposals for the Bills.

Waterfront stadium proposal[edit]

Rendering of the 72,000-seat, $1.4 billion stadium on NFTA land

On October 23, 2012, George Hasiotis and Nicholas Stracick of Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex, a Delaware-based LLC, presented a rendered plan created by architect firm HKS, Inc. to the Buffalo Common Council. The plan included a $1.4 billion, seventy-two thousand seat retractable roof stadium, convention center, hotel and sports museum plan for the Buffalo Outer Harbor.[35] At first this plan was met with some cynicism, in particular because of the feasibility of the project. The request of these plans were never proposed by anyone from the County or the Buffalo Bills organization,nor had they publicly asked for designs of any kind. Meanwhile more rumors circulate regarding Howard Milstein, the Manhattan real estate developer with close ties to Gov. Cuomo. Milstein owns more than 140 acres of prime land adjacent to Niagara Falls, and could be a major player as this location would make sense to attract Canadian fans having a closer proximity to Toronto.

On December 11, the company met with local AFL-CIO members to discuss the amount of jobs created by the proposed project, which was said to be 10,000. Stracick also disclosed that there are "15 private, secret sponsors" willing to fund the project. He also stated that no tax money would be used to fund a stadium. The meeting comes a week before the land is sold by the NFTA to the City of Buffalo or the Erie County Harbor Development Corporation.[36]

In January 2013, the group met with Erie County legislators, their second major appearance since October. During this meeting, the idea of having the Strong Foundation open a sports museum on the $1.8 billion premises was also strengthened.[37]

Photo gallery[edit]

http://sports.cbsimg.net/u/photos/football/nfl/img21435763.jpg

References[edit]

  1. ^ Dave M. Berg Spring 2006 Newsletter
  2. ^ a b Ralph Wilson Stadium Facts and Figures
  3. ^ CitySearch - Ralph Wilson Stadium
  4. ^ "Bills may move team to Seattle". Spartanburg (SC) Herald. Associated Press. January 13, 1971. p. 10. 
  5. ^ "Bills consider transfer". Associated Press. Jan 13, 1971. p. 9. 
  6. ^ a b "Buffalo making efforts to retain grid franchise". Wilmington (NC) Star-News. UPI. January 20, 1971. p. 12. 
  7. ^ "Memphis, Tampa express interest in Buffalo Bills". Spartanburg (SC) Herald. Associated Press. January 15, 1971. p. 14. 
  8. ^ "Domed stadium out at Buffalo". Milwaukee Journal. press dispatches. January 20, 1971. p. 18. 
  9. ^ "Buffalo scraps stadium plans". Spartanburg (SC) Herald. Associated Press. January 21, 1971. p. 36. 
  10. ^ Stadium History
  11. ^ "Bills stadium bonds approved". Miami News. Associated Press. September 24, 1971. p. 2B. 
  12. ^ Fauber, John (May 17, 1989). "What's in a name?". Milwaukee Journal. p. 8C. 
  13. ^ Kwiatkowski, Jane (June 28, 2011). "Tales From a Life Full of Buffalo Sports History". The Buffalo News. Retrieved June 29, 2011. 
  14. ^ "'Rich Stadium' name selected". Lawrence Journal World. Associated Press. November 8, 1972. p. 35. 
  15. ^ "Stadium name a costly bill". St. Petersburg Independent. Associated Press. October 31, 1972. p. 4C. 
  16. ^ "Bills exercise veto on name". Milwaukee Journal. press dispatches. May 8, 1973. p. 20. 
  17. ^ "Bills lose fight to name stadium". Milwaukee Yournal. Associated Press. May 17, 1973. p. 12. 
  18. ^ "Rich sues Bills for $7.5 million". Observer Reporter (Washington, PA). Associated Press. September 22, 1976. p. B-6. 
  19. ^ a b On the naming rights to Ralph Wilson Stadium
  20. ^ Wawrow, John (2012-12-21). "Bills staying put after agreeing to new lease". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 2012-12-21. 
  21. ^ "Leypoldt Boosts Bills to Victory". The Victoria Advocate. October 1, 1973. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  22. ^ Powers, John (December 16, 1984). "Ease on Down the Road: NFL Clubs Are Packing It In for New Cities and Sweetheart Deals". The Boston Globe. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  23. ^ "League Extends TV Blackout Deadline for Bills Game". The Buffalo News. December 25, 1995. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  24. ^ Bouchette, Ed (September 1, 1999). "Bettis Practices Despite Swelling". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Rain Chases Saints Indoors in Final Heavy Practice for Bills". The Baton Rouge Advocate. September 7, 2001. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  26. ^ Gaughan, Mark (September 26, 2008). "Deferring on Opening Kick Is a Growing Trend". The Buffalo News. Retrieved September 26, 2011. 
  27. ^ 2008 Winter Classic
  28. ^ Bills to Host High School Football Playoff Game at Ralph Wilson Stadium
  29. ^ [1]. Associated Press via ESPN.com. Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  30. ^ "WORLD UNIVERSITY GAMES; A Bit of Athletic History Is Made in Buffalo". The New York Times. July 8, 1993. 
  31. ^ Glynn, Matt (May 8, 2011). Local Firm Hopes to Score Points With Bills' New Field. The Buffalo News. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
  32. ^ Gaughan, Mark and Denise Jewell Gee (April 15, 2012). What's the Bills' game plan? Significant outlay of public dollars will be needed for upgrades to nearly 40-year-old stadium. The Buffalo News. Retrieved April 15, 2012.
  33. ^ Ludwiczak, Mark (2012-12-21). "Bills: What does lease agreement mean for long-term future?". CBS Sports. Retrieved 2014-01-12. 
  34. ^ Kryk, John (March 26, 2014). Bills cannot be relocated before 2020: the long-reported $400M buyout option does not exist. Sun Media. Retrieved March 26, 2014.
  35. ^ Sommer, Mark (October 23, 2012). "Retractable-roof stadium proposed for outer harbor". The Buffalo News. Retrieved 27 October 2012. 
  36. ^ Martinez, Natalia. "Pitch to Union for New Bills Stadium". Retrieved 17 January 2013. 
  37. ^ Raguse, Lou. "Businessmen push for downtown stadium". Retrieved 17 January 2013. 

External links[edit]

Events and tenants
Preceded by
War Memorial Stadium
Home of the
Buffalo Bills

1973 – present
Succeeded by
Current stadium
Preceded by
Arrowhead Stadium
Foxboro Stadium
Byrd Stadium
Host of the
Drum Corps International
World Championship

1990
1995
2001
Succeeded by
Cotton Bowl
Citrus Bowl
Camp Randall Stadium
Preceded by
First game
Host of the NHL Winter Classic
2008
Succeeded by
Wrigley Field
Preceded by
Mile High Stadium
Joe Robbie Stadium
Host of AFC Championship Game
1991 – 1992
1994
Succeeded by
Joe Robbie Stadium
Three Rivers Stadium