Given the economic hardships wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, it could take a while for the Buffalo Bills to find a new sponsor to name their stadium after, now that New Era has removed its cap from the ring.
I would love to see the place called Robert Kalsu Memorial Stadium after the former Bills offensive lineman who was killed during the Vietnam War, but, sadly, that’s not going to happen. I pushed for Kalsu Stadium, to no avail, after the agreement with Rich Products ended in 1998. The stadium formerly known as Rich wound up being named after team founder and owner Ralph Wilson, with fans cleverly shortening it to “The Ralph.” I wouldn’t have a problem with Wilson’s name being used again. After all, without him, the team wouldn’t have come here, nor would it have stayed here. Wilson’s iron-clad estate demands ensured the Bills would stay put after his death.
Upon further review, I have a more radical naming idea: Why not call the place Fandemonium Field in honor of the Bills Mafia? To my knowledge, there hasn’t been any stadium or arena that pays tribute to the fanatics whose cash and loyalty make their sports team’s existence possible. On Sundays, when the Bills are at home, or for special events, such as a Rolling Stones concert, it could be referred to as Fandemonium, the phrase coined and popularized by the late, great Voice of the Bills, Van Miller. But on every other day of the year, it could be named for a different fan.
The possibilities would be endless. What wonderful gestures these would be.
For example, one day it could be called, “Jennie Fagen Stadium” after the creative woman whose hilarious song parodies have made her an internet sensation. Known to most fans simply as “Bills Girl,” she could be photographed on the field with the huge salutation, “Welcome to Jennie Fagen Stadium,” on the Jumbotron behind her.
On another day, it could be “Pinto Ron Stadium,” after the devoted, well-traveled Rochesterian who has attended a zillion Bills games in a row. Buffalo native and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer (what a magnificent football name) should be part of the fan homage. As should Tom Girot, aka Conehead, the sultan of suds beer vendor whose Bills fandom runs brewery storage silo deep. And there definitely would need to be a day when the stadium is called Pancho Billa, after Ezra Castro, the late Texas resident whose passion for the team and whose courageous battle against cancer struck a chord with fans everywhere.
Now, I’m not naïve enough to think my Fandemonium idea will fly because it’s always about money, and I realize the Bills will feel compelled to sell the rights in order to chip away at some of those huge player contracts soon coming due.
There’s speculation Rich Products could be a bidder again, but neither Wegmans nor Paychex — founded by former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano — are interested, according to a recent Buffalo News story. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has suggested All-Veterans Stadium, which would honor Kalsu and other Western New Yorkers who have served their country.
Current Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula have final say, and undoubtedly will be looking for a deal similar to the one they negotiated with New Era, which paid the team roughly $4 million per year. That’s a far cry from the $20-million SoFi is forking over to affix its name to the new Los Angeles stadium that will be home to the Rams and Chargers. Those figures merely illustrate the stark differences between teams in the NFL’s second-smallest and second-largest markets.
Clearly, this isn’t exactly the best of times to be negotiating these types of deals. It’s difficult justifying such a huge payout in this precarious economic climate, especially if your company is laying off and furloughing its workers.
Although the Bills are one of the NFL’s up-and-coming teams, and could garner even more national television coverage, thus enhancing their advertising and sponsorship appeal, there’s a real chance this promising 2020 season will be played without any fans in Orchard Park. And there’s also the chance the season either gets interrupted by COVID-19 or, in the worst-case scenario, not played at all.
Interestingly, there are stadium naming rights issues across upstate New York, with Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome and Rochester’s Frontier Field also up for grabs. Could be a while before we’re able to name names.
Leave that masked man alone
Twitter’s well-deserved reputation as a cesspool was underscored again recently when tweeters viciously attacked New York Yankee outfielder Clint Frazier’s decision to wear a mask while playing. Sadly, despite the recommendations of respected medical experts, wearing a mask in public during COVID-19 continues to be politicized. For cripes sakes, this should be viewed as a matter of safety and science, not partisan politics or some assault on your individual rights. You’re not being asked to make the enormous sacrifices that previous generations willingly did.
Grow up, put on the mask, and stop ridiculing people like Frazier, who are trying to do the right and unselfish thing as we battle a pandemic that is real to the tune of 140,000 deaths so far.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. His latest book, “Remembrances of Swings Past: A Lifetime of Baseball Stories,” was just published and is available in paperback and digitally at amazon.com.