What is now known as Ralph Wilson Stadium was commissioned as a result of the AFL-NFL merger
. While suitable for a second-tier league such as the American Football League
, Buffalo War Memorial Stadium
was both in disrepair and grossly undersized for a National Football League team, with a capacity of under 47,000.
The stadium opened in 1973
. 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 near Lancaster High School
. 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. After the original deal expired in 1998, the stadium was renamed in honor of Bills founder and owner Ralph Wilson
, after Rich balked at paying a greatly increased rights fee, 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
. The Bills won every ensuing playoff game at the stadium until they were defeated by the Jacksonville Jaguars
on December 28
On January 1
, the Buffalo Sabres
hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins
in the 2008 NHL Winter Classic
The Penguins won 2–1 in a shootout.
It has also hosted, three times, the Drum Corps International
championships and annually hosts the region's Section VI high school football playoffs. Occasional large-scale concerts are held at the stadium, although these are increasingly rare.
The stadium is open-air, with a capacity of 73,967. The field is made of AstroTurf
GameDay Grass, which replaced the AstroTurf that was original to the stadium. 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
. 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 (including inflation).
Buffalo is one of the nation's windiest cities, and as a result, Ralph Wilson Stadium often is a difficult stadium for kickers
to play in, with swirling winds that change direction rapidly. This is exacerbated by the design of the stadium. The main bowl of the stadium is fifty feet under ground level, while the upper deck stands 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.
- 2008 Winter Classic