Despite its relatively new name, New Era Field is old.
You know it. I know it. Terry and Kim Pegula certainly know it.
That's why whispers of a new stadium somewhere in Buffalo shouldn't be hushed. This is going to happen.
Consider that New Era Field — more famously known as Rich Stadium or Ralph Wilson Stadium — is currently the sixth-oldest venue in the NFL. And it's only going to climb that list in the coming years once the Los Angeles Rams move out of the L.A. Coliseum to their new digs in Inglewood in 2020 while the Oakland Raiders ditch the Bay Area for the Las Vegas desert in ... well, sometime in the near future.
That would leave Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Soldier Field in Chicago and Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City as the only venues older than the one in Buffalo, and all of those stadiums are tied to historic teams who spent a hefty chunk of cash keeping those venues up to modern standards. All due respect to New Era Field, but it doesn't really have the same allure.
Now, this isn't a Colts-to-Indianapolis situation where the Pegulas will pack up the front office into a Mayflower truck and move the team elsewhere. The lease between the Bills, Erie County and New York state runs through 2023, and while the Bills could exercise an opt-out clause in 2020, the Pegulas have expressed that they will not utilize that option.
Really, the question isn't if the Bills will have a new stadium, because they will at some point. The question is, like so many other teams in need of a new home, who is going to pay for it and where is it going to be?
The Pegulas are rich, obviously, but probably not rich enough to build a new stadium — which estimates conclude will cost around $1 billion — without money from the state and its taxpayers. Remember, they do own another professional team in town (surely you've heard "One Buffalo") that is also in need of upgrades to their arena.
For comparison's sake, Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, which opened last year, was projected to cost around $1.6 billion. U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota, completed in 2016, cost over $1 billion.
Those two stadiums have roofs though. The newest outdoor stadium is Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, home of the San Francisco 49ers, and that cost an estimated $1.3 billion.
Regardless of whether the Bills build their next stadium to play indoors or outdoors, it's not going to come cheap.
Where will it be? Will the Pegulas build in a suburb of the city, like how New Era Field is in Orchard Park, or will they construct a venue somewhere downtown?
Considering the terrible traffic, non-existent parking and lack of an atmosphere that come with most downtown NFL stadiums, let's hope the Pegulas pick another suburb. Heck, they could stay in Orchard Park and build on New Era Field's parking lot.
Maybe the Pegulas will decide to renovate New Era Field instead of building anew. Lest we forget that the state, the county and the Bills paid $130 million in renovations in 2014, while $18 million in renovations, privately funded, were planned for this year according to The Buffalo News. New Era Field also underwent major renovations in 1998 that included improved suites, larger seats, new restrooms, improved stadium lighting and a then state-of-the-art sound system.
Earlier in October, the Pegulas hired an executive to handle government relations, which is writing on the wall for, "We need someone to convince the government, and public, that we need help for this." Asking for public money can be a sticky situation — some, like me, believe new stadiums should (at least mostly) be paid for by these billionaires instead of taking money away from the Average Joes. Others think that it's a fan's civic duty to chip in to keep their favorite team in town.
Either way, there's probably no need to fear that the Bills are going anywhere because the Pegulas have too much invested in the city to leave. They took an empty lot next to KeyBank Arena and built the beautiful HarborCenter, and now Buffalo is a hotbed for youth, high school, college and recreational hockey (and the Sabres have a nice spot right next door to practice). They surely view Buffalo as a worthwhile place to stick around.
Until ground is broken on a new stadium, though, consider the Bills' future plans in development.