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Ralph Wilson Stadium

Ralph Wilson Stadium
"The Ralph"
Former names Rich Stadium
Location 1 Bills Drive
Orchard Park, New York 14127-2237
United States
Owner Erie County
Operator Erie County
Capacity 71,870 (current)[1]
80,020 (original)
Surface A-Turf Titan (2011– )
AstroPlay (2003–2010)
AstroTurf (1973–2002)
Broke ground April 4, 1972 (1972-04-04)
Opened August 17, 1973 (1973-08-17)
43 years ago
Construction cost $22 million (1973)
Architect HNTB
Populous (2013 renovation)
Structural engineer David M. Berg
& Associates Inc.[2]
General contractor Frank Schoenle
Buffalo Bills (NFL) (1973–present)

Ralph Wilson Stadium (originally Rich Stadium) is an outdoor football stadium in the northeastern United States, located in Orchard Park, New York, a suburb south of Buffalo. Opened 43 years ago in 1973, it is the home of the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League. The stadium was renamed in 1998 for team founder and then-owner Ralph Wilson (1918–2014).


  • History 1
    • Seating capacity 1.1
    • Other sporting events 1.2
    • Concerts 1.3
    • Non-sporting or music events 1.4
  • Design 2
  • Future 3
  • Photo gallery 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


An original franchise of the American Football League in 1960, the Buffalo Bills played their first thirteen seasons at War Memorial Stadium, a minor league baseball park in downtown Buffalo. While suitable for AFL play in the 1960s, the "Rockpile" (as the stadium came to be nicknamed), was both in disrepair and, with a capacity of under 47,000, deemed undersized for a National Football League team. The league mandate instituted after the NFL-AFL merger of 1970 dictated a minimum of 50,000 seats.

In early 1971, owner Ralph Wilson was exploring options to relocate the team, possibly to Seattle,[3][4] with other cities such as Memphis and Tampa soon expressing interest as well.[5] The potential loss of the team hastened the stadium project[6] and Rich Stadium opened in 1973.[7] The location and construction of the stadium in Erie County were the source of years of litigation,[8] which ended with a financial settlement for a developer who had planned to erect a domed stadium in Lancaster.[6][9] However, plans changed because it was not wanted to be close to Lancaster High School.[10] The stadium was ultimately built by Frank Schoenle and his construction company. Stadium bonds were approved by the county legislature in September 1971.[11]

Rich Products, a Buffalo-based food products company, signed a 25-year, $1.5 million deal ($60,000 per year), by which the venue would be called "Rich Stadium"; one of the earliest examples of the sale of naming rights in North American sports.[12] (The name was somewhat of a compromise, after Bills owner and founder Ralph Wilson rejected the name Rich wanted to use, "Coffee Rich Park.")[13] By a vote of 16 to 4, the county legislature approved the name in November 1972,[14] despite a matching offer from Wilson to name it "Buffalo Bills Stadium."[15][16][17]

When the Bills organization regularly referred to the stadium without the "Rich" name, Rich Products brought a $7.5 million lawsuit against the team in 1976.[18] After the original deal expired after a quarter century in 1998, the stadium was renamed in honor of Wilson. Rich Products balked at paying a greatly increased rights fee,[19] which would have brought the price up to par with other NFL stadiums.

The first NFL playoff game at the stadium came in the 1988 season, a 17–10 Bills victory over the Houston Oilers on January 1, 1989. The Bills won every ensuing playoff game at the stadium until they were defeated in 1996 by the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 28.

On December 21, 2012, the lease negotiations between the Bills, Erie County, and the state of New York ended with the Bills signing a ten-year lease to stay in Buffalo.[20]

On January 17, 2013, the Bills revealed to the media the new entrance plaza, sports store, expanded concessions, and extra media board designs, created by Populous.

From Ralph Wilson Stadium's opening until the end of the 2014 NFL season, the Bills have defeated each of the 31 other teams there at least once and are unbeaten there against the following teams: Arizona Cardinals (3-0), Baltimore Ravens (2-0), Green Bay Packers (6-0), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0).

Seating capacity

  • 80,020 (1972–1983)[21]
  • 80,290 (1984–1994)[22]
  • 80,024 (1995–1998)[23]
  • 75,339 (1999–2000)[24]
  • 73,967 (2001–2007)[25]
  • 73,079 (2008–2013)[26]
  • 71,857 (2014)[27]
  • 71,870 (2015–present)[1]

Other sporting events

The size of the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium is specifically designed for National Football League dimensions and sightlines, making it extremely difficult for other outdoor sporting events such as soccer, baseball, track and field, or rugby to be held there. None of any significance have ever been held at the stadium.

Syracuse University played several home games at the stadium in 1979. Syracuse was left without an on-campus home for one season between the demolition of Archbold Stadium and the construction of the Carrier Dome.

On January 1, 2008, the Buffalo Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2008 NHL Winter Classic.[28] The Penguins won 2–1 in a shootout in front of more than 71,000 people.

The stadium annually hosts the region's Section VI and Monsignor Martin Athletic Association high school football playoffs.[29] The stadium rarely hosts college football games; the stadium hosted a Black Friday contest between the UB Bulls and the Bowling Green Falcons in 2013, but before that, the last college football game at the stadium had been in 1979, when the Syracuse Orange football team used the stadium as a temporary venue while the Carrier Dome was under construction.[30]

The opening ceremony of the 1993 Summer Universiade was held at the stadium.[31]

Adjacent to the stadium is 1,800-seat Jim Ball Field, the home field for Erie Community College's football team.

On July 14, 1984, the stadium hosted a one-time-only supercross motorcycle racing event.


Nearly 30 concerts have been held at the stadium starting in 1974 with Eric Clapton and The Band through 2001.[32]

Several bands have played the stadium multiple times, including The Rolling Stones, who played there in 1975, 1978, 1981, 1997 and 2015. The Grateful Dead played the stadium a few times in the 80's and early 90's with their July 4, 1989 Truckin' Up to Buffalo performance being documented on CD/DVD. The Who, Dave Matthews Band, and The Jackson Five have all played at the stadium multiple times as well.

Double and multi-billed concerts have also been scheduled at the stadium. The stadium held The Monsters of Rock Festival, featuring Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica and Kingdom Come, on June 19, 1988. Metallica and Guns N' Roses brought the Guns N' Roses/Metallica Stadium Tour to the stadium on July 25, 1992, with Faith No More as their opening act.

There were notable large concerts that were scheduled to take place at the stadium but were later canceled. Led Zeppelin was set to perform at the stadium on their 1977 North American Tour. The concert was one of the seven remaining concerts on the tour that were canceled due to the death of lead singer Robert Plant's son. A Bruce Springsteen concert, that was originally scheduled at the stadium in 2003 was moved to the smaller Darien Lake Performing Arts Center due to low ticket sales.

Concert appearances began to wane in the 1990s at the stadium. The last concerts held at the stadium were in June of 2001. These two concerts were 'N Sync, who performed at the stadium on June 1, and The Dave Matthews Band, who performed 10 days later. The end of concerts at the stadium was due to a combination of a declining number of stadium rock acts, population decline, and the availability of other, more intimate, venues in Western New York such as Artpark in Lewiston, New York, Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in Corfu, New York, the Thursday at the Square series among others, Seneca Niagara Casino, and the First Niagara Center, which opened in 1996, replacing Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in downtown Buffalo.

The Rolling Stones performed at the stadium on July 11, 2015 as part of the band's Zip Code Tour.[33] It is the first concert at the stadium since 2001.

International pop act One Direction brought their 2015 On the Road Again Tour to Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 3, 2015, which meant that concerts would return to the stadium for the first time in 14 years.[34]

Non-sporting or music events

The stadium has also hosted the Drum Corps International championships three times.


Ralph Wilson Stadium panorama, September 2014

The stadium is open-air, with a capacity of 71,870.[1] The stadium has never had a natural grass surface; AstroTurf was installed in the stadium upon its opening in 1973. In the 2003 offseason the original style turf was replaced with a newer AstroTurf product, AstroTurf GameDay Grass (also known as AstroPlay). In 2011, the Bills announced they would be changing their turf to a new product, A-Turf Titan, produced by a Western New York company, beginning in the 2011 season. Buffalo will be the only NFL stadium using the A-Turf Titan product.[35]

The stadium originally had a capacity of 80,020; however, the capacity was reduced in 1998 as a part of the Bills lease renewal with Erie County, New York.[19] The stadium at that time was refitted with larger seats and more luxury and club seating. The lease agreement also stipulated that Erie County would continue to upgrade the stadium; in summer 2007 a new High Definition Mitsubishi LED board measuring 88.8 by 32.5 feet (27.1 by 9.9 m) and ribbon boards were installed. Total cost for the project was $5.2 million. The new scoreboard replaced the old 41.5 by 31.5 feet (12.6 by 9.6 m) Sony JumboTron installed 13 years earlier for $8 million (inflation adjusted).

Buffalo, by virtue of its position downwind of Lake Erie, is one of the nation's windiest cities, and as a result, Ralph Wilson Stadium often is a difficult stadium for kickers, with swirling winds that change direction rapidly. This is exacerbated by the design of the stadium. The field is 50 feet (15 m) below ground level, while the top of the upper deck stands only sixty feet above ground. The open end lies parallel to the direction of the prevailing winds, so that when the winds come in, they immediately drop down into the bowl, causing the stadium's signature wind patterns.


Although new stadium ideas had been proposed before the death of Ralph Wilson, with the new ownership of Terry and Kim Pegula, the prospect of a new stadium has been raised again. During his press conference to acquire the team, Terry Pegula stated, "we will gradually proceed to plan and design a stadium for the Buffalo Bills."[36]

Photo gallery


  1. ^ a b c "2015 Buffalo Bills Media Guide". Buffalo Bills. p. 215. Retrieved August 22, 2015. 
  2. ^ Dave M. Berg Spring 2006 Newsletter
  3. ^ "Bills may move team to Seattle". Spartanburg (SC) Herald. Associated Press. January 13, 1971. p. 10. 
  4. ^ "Bills consider transfer". Michigan Daily. Associated Press. Jan 13, 1971. p. 9. 
  5. ^ "Memphis, Tampa express interest in Buffalo Bills". Spartanburg (SC) Herald. Associated Press. January 15, 1971. p. 14. 
  6. ^ a b "Buffalo making efforts to retain grid franchise". Wilmington (NC) Star-News. UPI. January 20, 1971. p. 12. 
  7. ^ CitySearch - Ralph Wilson Stadium
  8. ^ "Domed stadium out at Buffalo". Milwaukee Journal. press dispatches. January 20, 1971. p. 18. 
  9. ^ "Buffalo scraps stadium plans". Spartanburg (SC) Herald. Associated Press. January 21, 1971. p. 36. 
  10. ^ Stadium History
  11. ^ "Bills stadium bonds approved". Miami News. Associated Press. September 24, 1971. p. 2B. 
  12. ^ Fauber, John (May 17, 1989). "What's in a name?". Milwaukee Journal. p. 8C. 
  13. ^ Kwiatkowski, Jane (June 28, 2011). "Tales From a Life Full of Buffalo Sports History".  
  14. ^ Rich Stadium' name selected"'". Lawrence Journal World. Associated Press. November 8, 1972. p. 35. 
  15. ^ "Stadium name a costly bill". St. Petersburg Independent. Associated Press. October 31, 1972. p. 4C. 
  16. ^ "Bills exercise veto on name". Milwaukee Journal. press dispatches. May 8, 1973. p. 20. 
  17. ^ "Bills lose fight to name stadium". Milwaukee Yournal. Associated Press. May 17, 1973. p. 12. 
  18. ^ "Rich sues Bills for $7.5 million". Observer Reporter ( 
  19. ^ a b On the naming rights to Ralph Wilson Stadium
  20. ^ Wawrow, John (2012-12-21). "Bills staying put after agreeing to new lease".  
  21. ^ "Leypoldt Boosts Bills to Victory".  
  22. ^ Powers, John (December 16, 1984). "Ease on Down the Road: NFL Clubs Are Packing It In for New Cities and Sweetheart Deals".  
  23. ^ "League Extends TV Blackout Deadline for Bills Game".  
  24. ^ Bouchette, Ed (September 1, 1999). "Bettis Practices Despite Swelling".  
  25. ^ "Rain Chases Saints Indoors in Final Heavy Practice for Bills".  
  26. ^ Gaughan, Mark (September 26, 2008). "Deferring on Opening Kick Is a Growing Trend".  
  27. ^ "2014 Buffalo Bills Media Guide" (PDF). Buffalo Bills. Retrieved August 24, 2014. 
  28. ^ 2008 Winter Classic
  29. ^ Bills to Host High School Football Playoff Game at Ralph Wilson Stadium
  30. ^ [2]. Associated Press via Retrieved November 29, 2013.
  31. ^ "WORLD UNIVERSITY GAMES; A Bit of Athletic History Is Made in Buffalo".  
  32. ^ = One Direction to play Ralph Wilson Stadium = One Direction to play Ralph Wilson Stadium . Retrieved October 23, 2014. 
  33. ^ "Stones on tour". March 31, 2015. |
  34. ^ "On the Road Again Tour". On the Road Again Tour. October 23, 2014. |
  35. ^ Glynn, Matt (May 8, 2011). Local Firm Hopes to Score Points With Bills' New Field. The Buffalo News. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
  36. ^ Rodak, Mike (October 10, 2014). "Terry Pegula: Stadium will take time". ESPN. Retrieved October 31, 2014. 

External links

  • Official site
  • Ralph Wilson Stadium at
  • The Standard
Events and tenants
Preceded by
War Memorial Stadium
Home of the
Buffalo Bills

1973 – present
Succeeded by
Current stadium
Preceded by
Arrowhead Stadium
Foxboro Stadium
Byrd Stadium
Host of the
Drum Corps International
World Championship

Succeeded by
Cotton Bowl
Citrus Bowl
Camp Randall Stadium
Preceded by
First game
Host of the NHL Winter Classic
Succeeded by
Wrigley Field
Preceded by
Mile High Stadium
Joe Robbie Stadium
Host of AFC Championship Game
1991 – 1992
Succeeded by
Joe Robbie Stadium
Three Rivers Stadium
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