Teams sometimes make trades that result in the acquisition of a player to be named later. While the Washington Redskins are destined to play 2020 with a nickname and mascot to be named later, the Buffalo Bills appear to be facing the start of an NFL season in a stadium to be named later.
In a curious development, the company holding the naming rights to the stadium in suburban Orchard Park, New York, wants out of the deal – and the Bills are happy to accommodate.
New Era Field started out as Rich Stadium
The stadium where the Buffalo Bills play their NFL home games will soon be given its fourth name, matching the number of times the team has gone to (and lost) the Super Bowl.
The Bills were an original member of the AFL in 1960 and played home games in Buffalo at War Memorial Stadium, which was built in 1938 and came to be known to locals as “The Rockpile.”
The team moved to suburban Orchard Park in 1973, where a new facility was built and given the name Rich Stadium in a 25-year deal with a food products company that agreed to pay $60,000 a year.
When the agreement for naming rights expired after the 1997 season, Bills owner Ralph Wilson and Erie County officials balked at new bids that they thought were too low. Instead, the stadium was named in honor of Wilson, with fans often referring to it simply as “The Ralph.”
Wilson died in March 2014, with Terry and Kim Pegula taking ownership of the franchise later in the year.
In August 2016, the Bills signed a seven-year deal for naming rights with New Era Cap Company, with various reports putting the annual fee at between $4 million and $7 million.
The Buffalo Bills and New Era are ending their arrangement
The Buffalo Bills and New Era Cap Company were already discussing changes to the naming-rights agreement for the stadium in Orchard Park before the coronavirus pandemic struck earlier this year, the Buffalo News reported.
The paper reported that talks to restructure the deal began more than a year ago and eventually morphed into an agreement to part ways. The announcement on Wednesday, July 15, that New Era was relinquishing its rights said the two sides were negotiating the details and that the Bills are pursuing a new partner. The exact date that the change will take effect was not disclosed.
Why do the Buffalo Bills need a new stadium name?
Both the New Era Cap Company and the Buffalo Bills are facing financial challenges, with each taking a hit from the pandemic.
The Bills are a small-market team in a region in which few Fortune 500 companies have a presence. That makes selling sponsorships and expensive luxury-suite packages more difficult. That means the Bills have to squeeze maximum money out of every deal they make.
Their situation has been compounded by the pandemic. Forbes reported earlier this year that the Bills stand to lose $104 million of their estimated $386 million in annual revenue if no fans are allowed to attend home games in 2020, which is currently the policy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Bills’ most optimistic scenario during planning in May suggested a maximum of 50% usable stadium capacity.
Meanwhile, New Era has been hit hard by the shutdown of pro and college sports since early March. With games canceled and postponed, stadium sales of souvenirs have been non-existent across the country. Online and in-store sales have also take a hit. New Era had already closed a plant in nearly Derby, New York, in 2019 and furloughed most of its office staff during the pandemic.
Last week, the company announced layoffs of 117 employees at its Buffalo headquarters. It prompted Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz to announce he would no longer refer to the stadium as New Era Field.