If you want to go to a Bills game in Buffalo this year, good luck. The Bills have sold 60,000 season tickets – the most in franchise history, surpassing even the Super Bowl years of the early 1990s.
That’s great for business. That’s great for excitement.
But – you knew that was coming, didn’t you? – there’s been a coaching change, the Bills still don’t have a quarterback and they still haven’t made the playoffs this century.
Is the excitement fool’s gold?
“Well, yes and no,” Buffalo News Bills writer Tim Graham said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “The part of me that’s not surprised is that the team is under new ownership. And what you need to understand about the Buffalo market regarding that is for decades, people were fearful that as soon as Ralph Wilson – who founded the team back in the 1960s – as soon as he died, that the team was gone. And this was a generational fear. Ralph Wilson lived well into his 90s, so for 20 years or so, fathers and grandfathers of the youngest fans now were just assuming that when Ralph Wilson died, Buffalo’s too small of a market to be an NFL city. Los Angeles still is without a team, Toronto had become a possibility and of course London has always been talked about as a future market. So what chance does Buffalo have?
“And so for a long time, there had been this erosion,” Graham continued, “this kind of bracing for inevitability, and I think to a certain degree – especially when the team’s not going to the payoffs for 15 straight years – of (not wanting) to keep supporting this thing that is going to rip my heart out at some point and go play somewhere else. So I think that there was just this preparation for what was to come.”
But then along came Terry and Kim Pegula, local owners who made billions in the fracking industry. They bought the Sabres, they bought the Bills and they’re investing in downtown. They’re developing major buildings – restaurants, a hotel complex, ice rinks where the Sabres will hold practices. They’re moving the NHL scouting combine from Toronto to Buffalo.
The Pegulas have been saviors for the community.
“There’s this belief (that) Buffalo’s coming back,” Graham said. “A lot of people are pointing to Rex Ryan as the reason why these ticket sales are so high – and he’s part of it, but not nearly as significant as this new ownership group. And now people in Buffalo are saying we’re going to have football for the rest of our lives. This team’s not going anywhere. And coming off a 9-7 season, Doug Marrone wasn’t the most popular coach – he’s gone. There was just this feeling of, ‘All right, let’s go. Let’s get all in on this.’”
Which is something the previous generation of Bills fans never fully did. Believe it or not, some of the Bills’ games from the early ’90s were blacked out. Even playoff games.
“That’s the part that surprises me,” Graham said. “The (number of season-ticket sales) wasn’t all that hard to beat.”