ORCHARD PARK, NY - In case you haven't noticed... it's football season. And it will really start to feel like it Saturday, when the Buffalo Bills host their first pre-season game in a newly renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"We are absolutely ready, and I think the fans are too," said Marc J. Honan, the team's Chief Marketing Officer, who boldly predicted the first words out of the mouths of most fans will be, "wow".
$130 million of off-season renovations are 90 percent complete, according to Honan, save for some housekeeping matters like planting grass and hanging signs…. things that can be done later and won't impact fans attending the game.
Upon their arrival, the first thing fans might notice is fewer gates, but bigger ones, and ones the Bills promise will make it easier to get in.
Because the gates have been moved farther away from the stadium, once inside there is noticeably more space to mill about.
"Some of the congestion you used to experience when you walked through the gates is gone because we've really created a much bigger footprint for the stadium," Honan told WGRZ-TV.
Wider entrances to the seating bowl itself means more natural light into the formerly dimly lit and dungeon-like 100-level concourses, which serve as the main channel of stadium fan traffic.
But beyond the new sports bar, newer and more plentiful concession stands and restrooms, a new team store, and bathrooms, all of which the Bills say are components of a "revolutionized game-day experience," Honan predicts the stars of the new show will be the three new state-of-the-art scoreboards.
The three screens were being put through their final testing paces Friday, offering high-definition replays and more.
"We heard so much from fans that they wanted fantasy stats, out-of-town scores, and they didn't want that one or two times during the game, they wanted that all the time," said Honan. "So we got a new scoreboard in the east end zone, and that's exactly what it's going to do."
Even if the team doesn't perform better, chances are your phone will inside the stadium. Though the Bills didn't go for installing a wi-fi system as part of the renovations, they did improve their distributed antenna system (DAS) to make cell service better.
The true test will be Saturday, perhaps fittingly on Kids Day, when there will no doubt be thousands of young fans attending their very first Bills game. Honan anticipates many a remark by parents about the way things used to be and how they have changed, and expects they will find them for the better.