On Sundays during the Fall, the Town of
Orchard Park comes alive as Bills fans invade the town for
football at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills history in upstate New
York began in 1959 when Ralph Wilson was awarded an expansion AFL
football team that began playing in 1960 at
Stadium in Buffalo. War Memorial Stadium, a 47,000 seat stadium
built in the 1930s, was constructed to host numerous events. When
the Bills became a part of the NFL in 1970, it was apparent that a
larger stadium was needed for the team. Owner Ralph Wilson sought
a new dome stadium in Buffalo but was unable to gain support.
Wilson met with officials in Seattle about the possibility of moving the
team there, but instead he reached an agreement to build a stadium on a 130
acre tract of land in Orchard Park, a town south of Buffalo.
Once the stadium was completed in 1973, Rich Foods bought
the naming rights to the stadium for $1.5 million a year, for 25
years. The Bills became one of the first teams ever to sell the
naming rights to their stadium. It was known as Rich Stadium until 1998,
when the stadium was renamed Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Buffalo Bills christened Ralph Wilson
Stadium on August 17, 1973. The stadium originally had a seating
capacity of over 80,000, consisting of three decks of
blue and red seats. The lower and second levels of seats circle
the entire Fieldturf playing field. An upper level of seats are
located on both sides of the playing field. The playing field is
located 50 feet below ground level, eliminating long walks to the
Wilson Stadium has underwent many changes over the years. In 1984,
the stadium's capacity was increased to 80,290 with the addition
of 16 executive suites, and in 1992, 24 more executive suites
were added. More additions were completed in 1994. The Red Zone
and Goal Line clubs, that are enclosed of glass and
500 seats were added along with 14 executive suites. The
main addition in 1994 was a massive 31.5ft high and 41.5ft
wide JumboTron video/scoreboard. In 1998 the seating
capacity was reduced to just under 74,000, as new larger seats were
installed. This addition also included more luxury and club seats.
In 2007, a new 88ft by 32ft HD video/scoreboard
was installed and replaced the old Sony Jumbotron. Electronic ribbon
boards were also installed in the interior.
In December 2012, the
Bills, the State of New York and Erie County officials agreed on
a 10-year lease agreement keeping the Bills at Buffalo until
2023. The agreement includes $130 million in improvements to
Ralph Wilson Stadium. Renovations include a new west size plaza,
updated concessions, bathrooms, an 8,000 square foot Bills team
store and a new 5,400 square foot HD
video/scoreboard. This project was completed by the 2014 season.
Although the Bills recently signed a lease agreement at Ralph Wilson Stadium until 2023, their future
is uncertain as owner Ralph Wilson passed away in March 2014. Potential new ownership groups have discussed
plans of building a new stadium for the Bills or possibly moving the team to Toronto.