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Might a new UB stadium spark something bigger?

September 1, 2012

I was previously inspired to write about UB’s football program due to my desire to see a true Division 1 college team in my hometown. The Bulls were close at one time, but still have some work to do.

During the time I spent thinking about that previous post, Brian Koziol and Mike Harrington were discussing the Big East’s hope for a 14th team. Their conversation evolved into a discussion over UB’s stadium and the shortcomings the building has.

Upgrade me, please.

UB Stadium is just about 20 years old and has a much younger, albeit unimpressive, addition on the north and south ends. It its current state – replete with Jacksonville-style trap advertisements on the north end – the stadium holds just over 29,000 people. That is an average number for a stadium that houses a team whose fan base is quite small. Filling it, however is a completely different problem. As detailed in that previous post, in-roads need to be made to establish the legitimacy of the Bulls in the Buffalo sports market. Truthfully, this team should be no lower than third in priority behind the Bills and Sabres. This is a DI football team that seems to get equivalent treatment to a double-A baseball by many.

Improving non-conference competition and providing your head coach the appropriate amount of time to build the program are vital parts of taking UB to the next level But if the digs aren’t up to snuff, big conferences and fans that is on the fence may not be lured towards the Bulls.

UB’s current set up is by no means old. But it is severely below the standard for most DI programs. An ideal situation would bring about a new facility to house the football, track and soccer teams, but finding that kind of funding is going to be next to impossible. As of now, the only changes due to the stadium under UB2020 is the removal of the – now tarped – north bleachers. That will make room for an indoor facility which is a wonderful recruiting tool, but it doesn’t do much for the glorified DIII stadium that stands at UB North today.

The current state of “The Bull Pen” doesn’t have much room for new additions or even much flexibility in the renovation department. Based on that, the only true solution to improve UB’s digs would be a new stadium. No matter how unrealistic the option.

Figure that a new stadium for UB would probably end up falling in the 30,000 capacity neighborhood but under a far more permanent construction than the pair of concrete stands with the newer bleachers making up the horseshoe.

I would love to see UB end up in a full horseshoe-style stadium that would remain open-air while using design standards that would create a true main concourse, something that is lacking at The Bull Pen.

Slightly expanding the amount of luxury suites wouldn’t be a bad idea, nor would providing brand new office space for the football program. The offices could accompany a new locker and training facility for the team to utilize.

Wrapping most of the lower levels in glass would give a contemporary feel to this project while also adding some serious curb appeal for those approaching. Ultimately, the goal would be to provide a class-a facility for the football and soccer teams that is more than capable of hosting concerts in the summer. This could even serve as a fine venue for Buffalo’s pro soccer franchise(s) should they choose to utilize it.

Now, as a well documented waterfront nut, I think putting UB’s home games down near the water and downtown in a multi-use facility is a phenomenal use of space. One issue would be ensuring that the venue would get the proper attendance to justify the location. There is one radical way to ensure the return on investment for such a property was guaranteed.

Put the Bills in it.

65,000 seats, waterfront, shared by an NFL and NCAA DI team.

I’m sure the conversation has taken place many times, but why wouldn’t a joint facility for the Bills and Bulls not be considered? Just like in Pittsburgh with the Steelers and Panthers, the Bills could get a new stadium and share the space with UB. A waterfront football stadium that would house the Bills and Bulls? Sounds like a win-win to me. Obviously the size would need to increase exponentially, but this seems like it could be a somewhat viable option. If nothing else it is a damn fun pipe dream to have.

Considering the astronomical cost to build any sort of sports venue in today’s economy, the potential for a new Bills stadium is a long shot. However, teaming up with the Bulls is likely the best option for the Bills. In addition, UB would greatly benefit from occupying such a stadium in the eyes of recruits and even potential conferences.

For the time being, UB would struggle to fill even half of the stadium. But if there was continued growth, due in part to the new digs, they could certainly produce a solid turnout on a regular basis.

Considering the massive amount of public assistance that is now requisite for building football stadiums, I assume that a combined effort from the Bills and Bulls could slightly defray the impact of the overall cost. In the end, not only would this provide a brand-new facility for each team, it could provide the necessary leverage to get the project off the ground.

Heinz Field would have cost just south of $400 million if it was built today. Well, that is the price adjusted for inflation. That is a 65,000 seat stadium, built in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh that houses the Steelers and Panthers. Why not erect a 65,000 seat stadium right near Buffalo’s waterfront (outer harbor) that would house the Bills and Bulls?

Keeping the capacity at 65,000 would ensure that scope of the project would be significantly lower than a ridiculous 80,000 seat dome built for Super Bowls. The most significant part of any plan would be to find a way to avoid seat licenses. Not only am I not an expert on such a topic, this is not the post to detail that portion. Just know that any new stadium would need to avoid the need for PSLs. If including UB aids in that, even better.

I’m working under the assumption that the bottom-dollar price for any stadium of this magnitude would fall in the neighborhood of $500 million, perhaps more. But it would be providing a home for not only the Bills, but the UB football program as well.

Perhaps the thought of digging up funding for a brand new NFL-caliber stadium is wildly unrealistic. In part, it is. However, the logic is actually quite sound. Putting two teams in the stadium provides two revenue streams to draw from in terms of funding. Perhaps any sort of contribution that would be made by, or on behalf of, UB would cover the PSL issue. That is, if that is even possible.

The Bills will need a new stadium one day and that day is fast approaching. UB, while in lesser need of a replacement might benefit more from a stadium on par with the rest of their DI peers. Whether or not the pair would need to get together to build such a venue is worth exploring.

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