What’s ahead for Highmark Stadium?

Sports

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) – When the Buffalo Bills take the field for their next home game, they’ll be doing so in Highmark Stadium. The health insurer has entered into a naming rights agreement with the team in what Pegula Sports and Entertainment is describing as a “long term deal”.

“Having your name on a stadium and a facility like this gives you a marketing aspect on a much broader scale,” said David Anderson, CEO of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York.

But entering the 2021 season, there are short-term and long-term questions surrounding the stadium.

In the short term, it’s unclear whether fans will be allowed into Highmark Stadium to see Bills game at full capacity in Fall 2021. No spectators were allowed during regular season games in 2020, per New York State COVID rules. The state did allow roughly 6,700 fans in to see each of the two playoff games the Bills hosted. Currently, New York State rules allow for 20 percent capacity at large outdoor stadiums for pro sports, which would amount to roughly 14,000 fans in the Orchard Park stadium.

As for full capacity in 2021, “We hope,” said PSE Executive Vice President Ron Raccuia before noting that it’s really up to the government.

The Bills current lease with Erie County, which owns Highmark Stadium, expires after the 2022 season. The team retains the naming rights in the lease. Raccuia says agreement with Highmark addresses what happens to the naming rights should the Bills continue to play in the stadium, renovate it, or play in a new stadium.

While Raccuia declined to share the term of the naming rights deal, the Sports Business Journal reports it lasts for 10 years. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz suggested Tuesday that wasn’t possible, since the lease granting the team naming rights expires in two years.

“I don’t know how it could be a 10 year deal because the naming rights would expire effective at that time, unless we grant them additional naming rights,” Poloncarz said.

Anderson said Highmark would like to be a part of the conversation over where the Bills will play post-2022.

“We can represent the community in those discussions,” he suggested.

The Bills have completed a study on what to do with the stadium, and have actually revised in within the past 12-18 months, Raccuia said.

“Because of COVID, because of some changing economics throughout the country and the league, we have since completed the revised study,” he added. “We are really looking forward to sharing that with our partners at the state and the county.”

No specific timetable was provided.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.

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