BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – After severe winter weather caused the postponement of a Bills playoff game and required thousands of fans to trudge through a foot or more of snow to get to their seats, fans locally and nationally have asked, why don’t the Bills have a dome?
Or, at the very least, why aren’t they building a roof on their new stadium?
To be clear: Having a roof would not have stopped Sunday’s game from being moved to Monday. That decision was made for safety, so tens of thousands of people didn’t try to commute in whiteout conditions, and it proved to be “100%” the right call, Bills executive Andy Major said Monday.
But a roof would have prevented the snow pile-up in the seating bowl that proved far too much for the team and its $20-an-hour shovelers to remove by game time. In addition to finding their seats covered in snow, some fans even resorted to sliding down the stairs in their aisle on their rear end because the stairs were unusable. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Tuesday that stadium conditions could have resulted in the game being played without fans in the stands.
Yet, an enclosed stadium or a retractable roof was never on the Bills’ wish list for their new facility. One team document made their preference clear: “No roof. Outdoor football,” their wish list said (although “365 day use” was another goal).
Two main reasons were given in the lead-up to stadium negotiations. One was the cost. The other factor, according to the team, was that they believed fans didn’t want it.
How much more would a domed stadium cost?
A 2021 study that design firm AECOM presented to New York’s Empire State Development detailed the costs associated with having a roof on the stadium, though the numbers would likely be higher now.
Building a stadium with a roof added a projected $298 million to the cost, the report said, upping what was then a $1.354 billion projection for the entire project by about 20%.
Making the stadium “roof-ready” — able to accommodate a roof at a later date, should the team have issues getting the funding — would add $109 million, the study found.
Do fans want it?
Although the results have never been made public, team executives frequently referenced surveys in which they said fans reported being OK with the cold as long as they were kept dry.
Former Bills Executive Vice President Ron Raccuia and others often referenced those surveys in explaining the team’s desire for a canopy that covers some seats instead of a full roof. About two-thirds of seats will be shielded in the new stadium, though snow will still accumulate inside.
“The financial piece is a huge part of it,” Raccuia told the Buffalo News in 2022. “I would say the other part is the way we envisioned the stadium being designed” with a canopy covering many seats.
“The canopy is also a key component to mitigating the wind,” Raccuia said on One Bills Live.
The stadium also plans to have more overhead heating in the seating bowl and in the concourses.
The idea of a dome received a mixed response on social media during stadium negotiations. While some fans felt a roof was a no-brainer, keeping fans protected from the elements while giving the players perfect conditions, others felt the playing in the cold was part of the city’s bravado that added an advantage for the Bills.
What about the wishes of owner Terry Pegula? His preference for an open-air stadium was no secret, but Raccuia said that wasn’t a demand.
“Terry is a traditionalist. He loves football in its natural element. But they have never imposed any of their personal wishes onto these projects, in any way shape or form. It’s always been about what’s best for the organization long-term? How do we create this winning commitment?” Raccuia said on WBEN radio in 2021 “…Yeah, Terry loves an outdoor football experience, he’s been perfectly clear on that, but that’s not the reason at all. And if, the state and county come back and say we want you to consider a retractable roof, the Pegulas would be fine.”
But don’t think a dome would bring a Super Bowl to Buffalo. That is not happening. Raccuia said repeatedly during the stadium process that Buffalo does not have the infrastructure required to hold a Super Bowl, such as available number of hotel rooms. Hosting the NFL Draft might be possible.
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