American Football Wiki
Highmark Stadium
"The Ralph"
Location 1 Bills Drive
Orchard Park, New York 14127
Broke ground April 4, 1972
Opened August 17, 1973
Owner Erie County, New York
Operator Erie County, New York
Surface AstroTurf 1973 to 2002
AstroPlay 2003 to 2010
A-Turf Titan 2011 to present
Construction cost $22 million
Architect HNTB
Structural engineer David M. Berg & Associates Inc.[1]
General Contractor Frank Schoenle Construction
Former names Rich Stadium (1973–1997)

Ralph Wilson Stadium (1998-2015) New Era Field (2016-2019) Bills Stadium (2020)

Tenants Buffalo Bills (NFL) (1973–present)
Capacity 80,020 (original)
71,608[2] (current)

Highmark Stadium (originally Rich Stadium, then Ralph Wilson Stadium from 1998 to 2015, and New Era Field from 2016 to 2020, then Bills Stadium during 2020) is a football stadium, located in the town of Orchard Park, a suburb of Buffalo, New York. It is the home for the Buffalo Bills, of the NFL. The stadium is named after Pro Football Hall of Famer, Buffalo Bills founder and current owner Ralph Wilson.


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

Rich Stadium opened in 1973.[3] The construction of the stadium and its location were the source of years of litigation, which ended with a financial settlement for a developer who had planned to erect an all-weather stadium in Lancaster, New York. However, plans changed because it was not wanted to be close to Lancaster High School.[4] The stadium ended up being built by a man named Frank Schoenle, and his construction company. In 1972, Rich Products signed a 25-year, $1.5 million deal, by which the venue would be called "Rich Stadium"; this is one of the earliest examples of the sale of naming rights in North American sports. (The name was somewhat of a compromise, after Bills owner and founder Ralph Wilson rejected the name Rich wanted to use, "Coffee Rich Park.")[5] After the original deal expired in 1998, the stadium was renamed in honor of Wilson, after Rich balked at paying a greatly increased rights fee,[6] which would have brought the price up to par with other NFL stadiums.

The first playoff game at the stadium was 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 by the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 28, 1996.

On December 21, 2012, the lease negotiations between the Bills, the County of Erie and the State ended with the Bills signing a ten-year lease to stay in Buffalo.[7]

Seating capacity[]

  • 80,020 (1972-1983)[8]
  • 80,290 (1984-1994)[9]
  • 80,024 (1995-1998)[10]
  • 75,339 (1999-2000)[11]
  • 73,967 (2001-2007)[12]
  • 73,079 (2008–2013)[13]
  • 71,857 (2014) [12]
  • 71,870 (2015) [13]
  • 71,608 (2016-present) [14]

Other sporting events[]

The size of the pitch 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.

On January 1, 2008, the Buffalo Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2008 NHL Winter Classic.[14] The Penguins won 2–1 in a shootout, but, despite the loss, over 71,000 fans showed up making it the best attended NHL Winter Classic to date.

The stadium annually hosts the region's Section VI high school football playoffs.[15]

The opening ceremony of the 1993 Summer Universiade was held at the stadium.[16]

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

Sometime in the 1990's, the stadium hosted a one time only supercross motorcycle racing event.


Occasional concerts that had high demand were prominently held at the stadium during the 1970s through 2001.

The Grateful Dead, as documented on their Truckin' Up to Buffalo CD/DVD on July 4, 1989.

The stadium also held The Monsters of Rock Festival, featuring Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica and Kingdom Come, on June 19, 1988.

There were notable large concerts that were scheduled to take place at the stadium but was later canceled. Led Zeppelin was set to perform at the stadium on their 1977 North American Tour. The concert was canceled due to the death of lead singer Robert Plant's son. The last concert that would have played at the stadium was a Bruce Springsteen concert in 2003. That concert was canceled due to low ticket sales and moved to the smaller Darien Lake Performing Arts Center instead.

Concert appearances began to wane in the 1990s at the stadium. No concerts have been held at the stadium since 2001. This was due to the availability of other venues in Western New York such as Art Park in Lewiston, New York, Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in Corfu, New York, the Thursday at the Square series, and First Niagara Center, which opened in 1996, replacing Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in downtown Buffalo.

The last concert at the stadium took place on June 10, 2001, featuring 'N Sync, with Dream as their opening act.

Non-sporting or music events[]

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


The stadium is open-air, with a capacity of 73,079.[2] 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 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.[17]

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.[6] 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' 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' 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 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.


Lease negotiations[]

The Bills' current lease on Ralph Wilson Stadium expires July 31, 2013. (21 December 2012, a new 10 year lease agreement was reported by the Buffalo News, keeping the team in Buffalo for another 7 years guaranteed).

One of the conditions the Bills have insisted on receiving in return for the team renewing the lease is a large package of renovations, costing a minimum of US$200,000,000.[18] In order to offset that, the Bills planned on participating in a league financing program that partially subsidizes the cost of stadium construction and renovation; the team, however, missed a key deadline to receive league funding for renovations to begin in 2013. A dome stadium could be in the works when the lease to Ralph Wilson Stadium is completed.

2013-2015 renovations[]

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

New stadium proposals/relocation[]

After the Bills signed their December 2012 lease, they agreed to form a committee to explore the possibility of a new stadium, preferably in downtown Buffalo. This has opened the possibility of new stadium proposals for the Bills.

Waterfront stadium proposal[]

Bills Stadium Proposal Waterfront

Rendering of the 72,000-seat, $1.4 billion stadium on NFTA land

On October 23, 2012, George Hasiotis and Nicholas Stracick of Greater Buffalo Sports and Entertainment Complex, a Delaware-based LLC, presented a rendered plan created by architect firm HKS, Inc. to the Buffalo Common Council. The plan included a $1.4 billion, seventy-two thousand seat retractable roof stadium, convention center, hotel and sports museum plan for the Buffalo Outer Harbor.[19] At first this plan was met with some cynicism, in particular because of the feasibility of the project.

On December 11, the company met with local AFL-CIO members to discuss the amount of jobs created by the proposed project, which was said to be 10,000. Stracick also disclosed that there are "15 private, secret sponsors" willing to fund the project. He also stated that no tax money would be used to fund a stadium. The meeting comes a week before the land is sold by the NFTA to the City of Buffalo or the Erie County Harbor Development Corporation.[20]

In January 2013, the group met with Erie County legislators, their second major appearance since October. During this meeting, the idea of having the Strong Foundation open a sports museum on the $1.8 billion premises was also strengthened.[21]

Photo gallery[]


  1. Dave M. Berg Spring 2006 Newsletter
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ralph Wilson Stadium Facts and Figures
  3. CitySearch - Ralph Wilson Stadium
  4. Stadium History
  5. Kwiatkowski, Jane. "Tales From a Life Full of Buffalo Sports History", June 28, 2011. Retrieved on June 29, 2011. Archived from the original on July 23, 2012. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 On the naming rights to Ralph Wilson Stadium
  7. Wawrow, John (2012-12-21). Bills staying put after agreeing to new lease. Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved on 2012-12-21.
  8. "Leypoldt Boosts Bills to Victory", October 1, 1973. Retrieved on September 26, 2011. 
  9. Powers, John. "Ease on Down the Road: NFL Clubs Are Packing It In for New Cities and Sweetheart Deals", December 16, 1984. Retrieved on September 26, 2011. 
  10. "League Extends TV Blackout Deadline for Bills Game", December 25, 1995. Retrieved on September 26, 2011. 
  11. Bouchette, Ed. "Bettis Practices Despite Swelling", September 1, 1999. Retrieved on September 26, 2011. 
  12. "Rain Chases Saints Indoors in Final Heavy Practice for Bills", September 7, 2001. Retrieved on September 26, 2011. 
  13. Gaughan, Mark. "Deferring on Opening Kick Is a Growing Trend", September 26, 2008. Retrieved on September 26, 2011. 
  14. 2008 Winter Classic
  15. Bills to Host High School Football Playoff Game at Ralph Wilson Stadium
  16. "WORLD UNIVERSITY GAMES; A Bit of Athletic History Is Made in Buffalo", July 8, 1993. 
  17. Glynn, Matt (May 8, 2011). Local Firm Hopes to Score Points With Bills' New Field. The Buffalo News. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
  18. Gaughan, Mark and Denise Jewell Gee (April 15, 2012). What's the Bills' game plan? Significant outlay of public dollars will be needed for upgrades to nearly 40-year-old stadium. The Buffalo News. Retrieved April 15, 2012.
  19. Sommer, Mark. "Retractable-roof stadium proposed for outer harbor", October 23, 2012. Retrieved on 27 October 2012. 
  20. Martinez, Natalia. Pitch to Union for New Bills Stadium. Retrieved on 17 January 2013.
  21. Raguse, Lou. Businessmen push for downtown stadium. Retrieved on 17 January 2013.

External links[]

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Buffalo Bills

1973 – present

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Current stadium

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| style="width: 40%; text-align: center;" rowspan="1"| Host of the
Drum Corps International
World Championship


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First game

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| style="width: 40%; text-align: center;" rowspan="1"| Host of AFC Championship Game
1991 – 1992

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