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Which questions remain surrounding the Bills’ new stadium? A Q&A with COO Ron Raccuia

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Many months after the franchise, the state and the county thought their deal would be settled, the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium project — at last — has been given the green light to proceed.

The final step to excavating dirt came Thursday, when Erie County’s legislature approved the $1.54 billion proposal to build the Bills’ new playpen along with a three-decade lease.

The deal has been controversial. The state is contributing $600 million; the county is giving $250 million. Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula will pay the rest, but the public subsidy has many folks upset the stadium will remain in the suburbs and not feature a dome.

Even so, calendar pages have passed since those details were settled, and observers have fallen asleep wondering when the pact would be cemented.

Bills COO and executive president Ron Raccuia spent some with The Athletic to explain the bargaining process and where everything stands as a colossal deal moves forward.

Erie County’s vote Thursday to approve the new stadium project was a formality, but there’s symbolism as construction can begin in earnest. How does it feel to finally reach this point?

It wasn’t unexpected, but it still feels great. This was a long process, but we did the work. There were a lot of moving parts. It was very complicated. The fact that it’s finally done alleviates any bit of concern that things could have gone astray.

What are some of the specific aspects of the stadium that have you most excited to see?

I cannot wait to be in the seating bowl. We’ve talked about the stacked design of our decks, how intimate and intense the action will be for our fans. But there are some seat locations that are, in my opinion, the best seats in the NFL to watch a game. If that’s important to you, then you’re going to love this stadium. You’re on top of the field. Your pitch and angle and how close the seats are … The upper deck is significantly closer to the field than our current upper deck. The noise from the canopies and the stacked design is going to be amazing.

The last piece about making this a place designed first and foremost to watch football: When you’re on the concourses, there is nothing blocking you from seeing the field. At our current stadium, when you’re on the concourse, you never see the field and can’t hear what’s going on because the tunnels are so long. In the new stadium, everything is pushed to the outer wall. So you can be waiting in line for whatever, but you’re still watching the game live, and the noise will be felt. Kim and Terry have always said they want this to be a place players want to play and every opponent hates to be. We think the design accomplishes that.

How literal are the renderings and designs we’ve seen so far?

They’re really close to being final. Now, they’re never quite final because even during construction you’re tweaking a few things. But the vast, vast majority of what we’ve shown so far is what the stadium will look like when it opens.

A rendering of the Bills’ new stadium. (Courtesy of the Buffalo Bills)

Now that the deal is finalized, what can you reveal were your chief concerns about getting here?

I think we all wish it would have gotten buttoned up sooner, but there are many legitimate reasons it took so much time. We all have responsibility for this dragging on longer than we thought. But my biggest concern was the unknown. What’s going to happen in our world or in our lives that could potentially derail this. Unfortunately, those are real worries in today’s world. Could we have gotten tied up in court or bogged down in political discourse like the new Peace Bridge that never got built? I was confident all the controllables were in line and being managed the proper way, but time isn’t always your friend, and the fear of the unknown was ever-present as this went on.

Most of the concerns were phantoms, just anxiety, but that’s the reality of today’s society: You just never know. Listen, when we started this process, we had a different governor. We weren’t dealing with Gov. (Kathy) Hochul. (Andrew Cuomo’s resignation) is a monumental example of the unknown. Look at everything that’s happened to our community and our organization over the last 12 months. We couldn’t have predicted so much of what transpired.

How much did Western New York native Gov. Hochul’s entrance into your negotiations make an impact?

It was the turning point in getting the deal done. There were relationships already in place. There was more willingness to discuss collaborative solutions. She understood the urgency. She understood the importance of the Bills to Western New York. She had the fortitude to see it through, especially when negotiations were difficult. I don’t know how it would have turned out with the former governor, but clearly we didn’t get off to a great start. I don’t know if that was part of his negotiation style and we would have gotten to a good place eventually, but we never got to that point. Gov. Hochul deserves a ton of credit for keeping the Bills in Buffalo for the next 30 years. We were fortunate.

With no more negotiations or posturing or political gamesmanship required to get the stadium deal done, what can you say about how close the Bills came to genuinely exploring relocation?

I don’t think it was ever something we wanted to contemplate. Our goal was to get a deal done, and thankfully we did. There were some darker days than others, but we never strayed from our ultimate objective.

What made them dark days?

When you exchange proposals and you’ve made no progress after weeks of talking about making progress, those are dark days. When other things get in the way, through no fault of anybody, your priorities at a given time can shift and the conversations slow down. Those days make it difficult to keep your focus and keep everybody pointing in the right direction. That’s going to happen over the course of a two-year negotiation.

Instances of smaller-market teams getting new stadiums without threatening to move are rare. Why didn’t you truly have to play that card where other clubs must?

I hesitate to talk about other teams, but I can say that in our case it was a credit to all the major people involved, from Kim and Terry to Gov. Hochul to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. There was such mutual respect on a personal level amongst everybody. We’ve known each other a long time, and those relationships carried the day. We could always rely on that foundation. Nobody wanted to go down a bad road.

While not finalized until Thursday, negotiations were completed months ago, and yet some fans still seem to think there’s time to spend a few hundred million more and build a retractable-dome stadium downtown. How have you dealt with the complaints?

From the very beginning, we said we were just going to present the facts. When we told the public about the need to replace our current stadium because it would simply cost too much to keep it going — over half as much as the cost of a new one — we knew that transparency would be effective. We weren’t going to BS this community. I’m from here. I know that doesn’t work.

I respect the opinions of those who disagree. As long as they listen to our facts, they can come to whatever conclusion they want, no offense taken. The frustrating part was when people were not looking at the facts and basically making up their own. Listening to people who claim to be experts and in-the-know, but who absolutely didn’t know what they were talking about or cared to know the details of what we were trying to do, that was tiresome. But it also was a great learning experience.

We were very consistent and forthright with our message. I spoke before the Rochester Chamber of Commerce two weeks ago, and either the first or second question after I got done speaking was: “Why no dome?” I gave him the exact same answer I gave two years ago. That helped us get past some of the opposition to building in Orchard Park.

There’s a big difference to your job as Bills executive vice president and COO compared to when you were the agent for popular players Fred Jackson and Brian Moorman and Coy Wire and Terrence McGee. How have you handled being the face of a controversial project where fans don’t feel they got all they wanted despite the public money and they’ll be forced to pay personal seat licenses for the first time?

It hasn’t been that big of a transition. Growing up in this community and being active in this community from a business and sports standpoint, I’ve had a lot of these personal-professional relationships. I’m dealing with people that are friends, family, fellow Western New Yorkers. I also felt Kim and Terry have done so much for this community and have done such a heavy lift to get the Bills franchise in the right spot — and now the Sabres franchise too — that it was my job to help them carry it forward.

This stadium will be a significant part of your professional legacy. As a Canisius High and Canisius College grad, as a lifelong Buffalo sports fan, how does that feel?

I refuse to answer that question until it’s built.


That’s the truth.


Some of it is, yeah, but there’s also just a lot of work to do. There’s plenty of time of reflection, time to look back. But I’d just rather focus on getting the work done so we can have that moment once the stadium opens.

What types of noticeable construction will we see next?

If you drive down Abbott Road today, you will see construction. ECC’s football stadium is no longer there. There are huge piles of dirt and whatever because there are giant holes. There’s fencing. A lot of equipment and supplies have been dropped off on the site. Every day that goes by, people will see more and more. Our head of the construction project, (Turner Construction vice president and senior operations manager) Joe Byrne, says we’re going to have big, yellow toys on property very soon. That sounds pretty cool.

When will people driving past be able to tell that’s a stadium being built?

That’s hard because it’s going to take a few months to dig that giant hole. Not really until about winter will you see steel getting placed. But that hole will be there in June, and you’ll know something enormous is going in there.

How will construction impact the 2023 fan experience, whether it be transportation, parking or tailgating?

Unfortunately, our RV lot will not be available until construction is complete. So we’re trying to work on some solutions with our community partners in the neighborhood to relocate them, but we’re going to lose that. Lots 3 and 4 will adjust a bit. The bus and the limo lot will move from the west side of Abbott Road to the east side. But overall, parking shouldn’t be impacted much in 2023 other than for the campers. We’re going to lose spots, but not for our fans. We’re going to compensate by changing our staff parking so the fans won’t be inconvenienced.

What’s the latest on revealing how personal seat licenses will work?

Hopefully in August or early September at the latest, the sales and experience center will open up in Tony Walker Plaza (in Williamsville). Every season ticket holder, suite holder, club seat holder or corporate sponsor will come through this center to pick out where they want to sit, how they want to experience Bills football, everything from where they want to park, what gate they want to enter, any amenities they’re looking for. It’s an elaborate experience. They’ll make those decisions through technology, virtual reality, models of the stadium, a historical perspective of the journey from War Memorial Stadium to Rich Stadium to today. A suite will be built out to sit in. It’s all meant to explain the experience we’re building for them. Construction is going on currently. Once that’s open, it will be fast and furious.

Pricing isn’t finished yet, but some of the price ranges that’ve been reported out there have been pretty accurate (a survey sent to current Bills season ticket holders noted $500 for reserve seating and as much as $16,500 for premium seating). But it’s not final yet. I would hope that’s pretty close to final by the time we open the sales center.

Now what about renovating KeyBank Center for Sabres fans?

(Laughing) I have enough to worry about with one stadium.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

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On 5/5/2023 at 6:19 PM, thinwhiteduke said:

The reason the Sixers and Bills have been winning lately. New Stadiums in the works.

The question is, will this give them a super bowl appearance in a year or Two?


Probably.  For the rest of you this isn't one of his more outlandish theories.  

  • Agree 1
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10 hours ago, seandelevan said:

Agree with you on that…

Dome preferred....now we can likely look forward to this team travelling to Detroit on yearly basis

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