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Description
Ralph Wilson Stadium (originally Rich Stadium) is a stadium in Orchard Park, New York, a suburb south of Buffalo. Opened 43 years ago in 1973, it is the home of the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League. The stadium was renamed in 1998 for team founder and then-owner Ralph Wilson (1918–2014).
History
Finding a new place to call home[edit] An original franchise of the American Football League in 1960, the Buffalo Bills played their first thirteen seasons at War Memorial Stadium, a multi-use WPA project stadium that opened in 1938,[3][4] located on Buffalos East Side. While suitable for AFL play in the 1960s, the Rockpile (as the stadium came to be nicknamed), was in disrepair and, with a capacity of under 47,000, undersized for a National Football League team. The league mandate instituted after the NFL-AFL merger of 1970 dictated a minimum of 50,000 seats. In early 1971, owner Ralph Wilson was exploring options to relocate the team, possibly to Seattle,[5][6][7] with other cities such as Memphis and Tampa soon expressing interest as well.[8] The potential loss of the team hastened the stadium project[9] and Rich Stadium opened in 1973.[10] The location and construction of the stadium in Erie County were the source of years of litigation,[11] which ended with a financial settlement for a developer who had planned to erect a domed stadium in Lancaster.[9][12] However, plans changed because it was not wanted to be close to Lancaster High School.[13] The stadium was ultimately built by Frank Schoenle and his construction company. Stadium bonds were approved by the county legislature in September 1971.[14][15][16] Naming rights[edit] Rich Products, a Buffalo-based food products company, signed a 25-year, $1.5 million deal ($60,000 per year), by which the venue would be called Rich Stadium; one of the earliest examples of the sale of naming rights in North American sports.[17] (The name was somewhat of a compromise, after Bills owner and founder Ralph Wilson rejected the name Rich wanted to use, Coffee Rich Park.)[18] By a vote of 16 to 4, the county legislature approved the name in November 1972,[19] despite a matching offer from Wilson to name it Buffalo Bills Stadium.[20][21][22] When the Bills organization regularly referred to the stadium without the Rich name, Rich Products brought a $7.5 million lawsuit against the team in 1976.[23] After the original deal expired after a quarter century in 1998, the stadium was renamed in honor of Wilson. Rich Products balked at paying a greatly increased rights fee,[24] which would have brought the price up to par with other NFL stadiums. Stadium records and facts[edit] The first NFL playoff game at the stadium came in the 1988 season, 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 in 1996 by the Jacksonville Jaguars on December 28. From Ralph Wilson Stadiums opening until the end of the 2015 NFL season, the Bills have defeated each of the 31 other teams there at least once and are unbeaten there against the following teams: Arizona Cardinals (3-0), Baltimore Ravens (2-0), Green Bay Packers (6-0), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0).
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