ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Bills fans made headlines in January for their antics in and around The Ralph. But nearly seven months after new security measures were put in place — both to deal with unruly fans and as a reaction to worldwide terror attacks — are local families feeling any easier about attending a game?
They were among the lasting images from the 2015-2016 season: Bills fans behaving badly.
Things got so bad in early January, even County Executive Mark Poloncarz told News 4 he wasn’t sure if his home team’s stadium was suitable for children.
“It would be nice if you could take a 9 or 10 year old to a football game,” he said in January. “But I don’t know if you can take a kid to a football game.”
News 4 talked to local families to see if their feelings had softened since the end of last season.
“I know a lot of people that go, and I know that a main attraction is the tailgating beforehand all day long,” said Jordon Elliott, of East Aurora. “Lots of drinking, lots of having fun.”
Recently, those headlines reappeared when the internet site Deadspin asked visitors to rank their favorite Bills fan moment. And none of them paints a positive picture.
“It’s definitely a deterrent,” Elliott said. “They’re (her daughters) very young and impressionable. I’m pretty conservative, so I don’t let them around that kind of drunken craziness.”
Others said they feel the Bills and law enforcement work well together. But some fans can take it over the top.
“I’ve been to quite a few games over the years, and I think they do a pretty good job of keeping things secure, when things get rowdy time and again,” said Paul Ahrens, of Dunkirk. “But everybody seems to have a good time. Everybody wants to go. For the few that spoil it, it shouldn’t spoil it for everybody. Maybe just take it down a notch sometimes.”
The Bills have taken a number of actions to provide a more family friendly environment, including a text tip line to report fan behavior, and the addition of nearly 130 law enforcement officers on game days. They also said they’re experiencing growing popularity in their designated driver program, which gives DDs free soda, water or coffee. Last season they increased security at gate entry areas with more screening staff to reduce line wait times. They have Club Buffalo Bills, which focuses on kids, families, interactive games, photo opportunities, Billy Buffalo and other unique Bills game-related elements. The Family Corner is an alcohol-free family zone in sections 224 to 227.
Law enforcement officials said security measures put in place by Orchard Park police and the Erie County Sheriff’s Office last season will remain as the new status quo heading into next season. The hope is to be more aggressive outside the stadium to bring more families inside the stadium.