Putting a cap on ‘The Ralph’: Fans react to naming rights deal

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Ralph Wilson Stadium is entering a New Era.

The Buffalo Bills announced on their Twitter account on Saturday they reached an agreement to sell the naming rights of their home stadium to Buffalo-based New Era Cap Company.

The team did not provide any further details except to say a news conference will be held next week.

Two people with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press the deal will run over the remainder of the team’s seven-year lease. New Era also has the right of first refusal to continue the agreement once the current lease expires in 2022, and also if the Bills elect to build a new facility.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because the team and New Era have not disclosed that information.

The people said the agreement was reached about 10 days ago, and after the Bills made a formal presentation to New Era company officials — including company president and CEO Christopher Koch — about six weeks ago.

The value of the agreement was described by one of the people as being close to “average market value” for NFL stadium naming rights deals. Without providing an exact figure, the person said it was “well north of $3 million” per year.

Bills co-owner Kim Pegula posted a note on her Twitter account saying: “Proud to be partners with a hometown team @NewEraCap.”

Bills president and managing partner Russ Brandon also tweeted: “Looking forward to a tremendous partnership with an iconic Buffalo company.”

The agreement will provide new revenue to a small-market franchise that has spent much of the past 17 years expanding its regional base. That included Buffalo playing regular-season games in Toronto over a six-year period from 2009-13.

News 4 talked to local Bills fans about their reaction to the agreement and the reviews were mixed.

“I would absolutely agree with it, New Era is a local company, they employ a lot of people, it’s just a great thing,” said Charles McDonnell, Bills fan.

“I don’t like it at all, I think it’s disrespectful,” said Polo Diaz, Bills fan.

The Bills’ stadium is named after the team’s late Hall of Fame owner, Ralph Wilson, who died in March 2014.

Wilson elected to place his name on the stadium in 1999, after a 25-year naming agreement expired with Buffalo-based Rich Products.

The Bills first began considering selling the stadium’s naming rights about four years ago before narrowing their focus on New Era because of its local ties.

New Era was established in Buffalo in 1920 and now controls about 66 percent of the sports cap headwear market.

New Era is the world’s largest outfitter of team caps, having struck 500 licensing deals worldwide, including the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL. The company’s products are sold in more than 80 countries.

Last year, the company said it sold more than 60 million caps in 81 countries.

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