Skip to main content

A mascot waves a flag after an NFL divisional round game between the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens, on Jan. 16, 2021.Adrian Kraus/The Associated Press

State and county taxpayers will be asked to commit US$850-million in public funds toward construction of the Buffalo Bills’ new stadium – which has a state-projected price tag of US$1.4-billion – as part of a 30-year lease agreement reached on Monday.

New York state will commit US$600-million in funds, which will be in included in the budget due on Friday, Governor Kathy Hochul announced in a press release. Erie County will commit US$250-million toward the project, with the NFL and the Buffalo Bills committing US$550-million in financing.

The dollar amount is considered to be the largest public commitment for an NFL facility. The deal is meant to secure the NFL team’s long-term future in Buffalo, with the proposed 60,000-plus-seat facility to be built across the street from the Bills’ current stadium.

Although the taxpayer burden of 60 per cent is considered high, the agreed upon funding falls in line historically. The state and county have shared about 73 per cent of the cost to build, maintain and upgrade the Bills’ existing facility, now called Highmark Stadium, which opened in 1973. Under the proposed agreement, the Bills will be responsible for covering any costs that run over the budget.

“I wanted to accomplish two major goals: Keep the Bills in Western New York, keep them in the state of New York because this is not just a Western New York point of pride, it’s a point of pride for all New Yorkers,” Hochul, a Buffalo native herself, said during a press conference. The second goal, she said, was “making sure that it made sense for our taxpayers in terms of our commitment and our return on the investment, which will be paid off in the next 22 years.”

Without going into detail, Hochul said the project will create 10,000 union jobs with the commitment recouped by the economic activity generated by the team. The state previously projected the Bills – the only NFL team actually based in New York – generate US$27-million in direct annual income for the state.

The announcement came as the the Bills’ stadium proposal was approved at the NFL’s owners meetings in Florida. Owners also approved granting the Bills what’s called a US$200-million G4 loan to go toward construction costs.

Under the G4 program rules, Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula are required to at least match the loan.

The NFL’s US$200-million contribution was already factored in as part of the funding package.

The Bills are expected to recoup part of their cost of construction by having season-ticket holders – for the first time – pay one-time seat-licensing charges, potentially doubling the price of their ticket package.

Hochul did not include the stadium commitment in the US$216-billion budget proposal submitted in January, but it will be added this week. Hochul said there are numerous options at her disposal to draw upon the necessary money to fund the project.

The Buffalo News previously reported the largest commitment of taxpayer funds for an NFL stadium involved the Las Vegas Raiders, with US$750-million of public funds directed toward constructing the US$1.97-billion Allegiant Stadium, which opened in 2020.

There have been, however, higher splits of public-private funds for NFL facilities, the newspaper found. Taxpayers covered 86 per cent of the US$720-million cost to build the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium, which opened in 2008. The public commitment for the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, which opened in 2000, covered US$425-million of the US$450-million construction costs.

The Bills’ existing facility was deemed too expensive to renovate. A state study in November pegged renovation costs at US$862-million.

The Bills project the new facility could be built in time for the start of the 2026 season. The Bills’ existing lease with the state and county runs through July, 2023.

As part of the new agreement, the state will take over as the sole lease-holder of the stadium after previously sharing that role with the county.

In anticipation of the agreement, the Bills already hired the architectural firm Populous to begin rendering plans and designs, which are expected to be completed by fall. Although the stadium will not feature a roof, the Bills plan to have 80 per cent of seating protected from the elements.