ALBANY – Tailgaters be warned: The Buffalo Bills would like more of your money. Your beer money, to be precise.
The football team is pushing a last-minute piece of legislation at the Capitol to permit its concession stands to begin selling beer at 11 a.m. on game days instead of noon as now permitted under law.
“The general purpose is to restore some of the family environment to the stadium and downgrade a little bit of the emphasis on tailgating,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, who said he was approached by the team to introduce the measure.
How might earlier beer sales promote a family environment?
It would provide a “more controlled environment” for beer consumption than might exist with tailgating traditions, Ryan explained.
“Bills fans seem to have a taste for beer before noon on Sundays,” he said.
Other football stadiums in the NFL have a similar approach to try to get fans to head inside, and he noted the Sabres are able to pull fans into the arena before many Bills fans might think of heading from the parking lot.
The Assembly bill applies only to the Buffalo Bills stadium, though the word “Buffalo” and “Bills” are not specifically mentioned. Rather, it applies to an “outdoor athletic stadium located in the County of Erie with at least 60,000 fixed seats.”
Of course, there’s nothing to force a tailgater inside.
“I think the thought is die-hard tailgaters maybe on a cold day will come in an hour earlier and find new options,” Ryan said, noting that tailgaters miss the opportunity to see both teams on the field doing warm-ups prior to a game while they party out in the parking lot.
A similar, fourth-quarter-style push to move the sales to an hour earlier was attempted two years ago in the Legislature but failed. Perhaps by coincidence, the new legislation comes as the Bills’ owners have retained an investment banking firm to come up with a potential value on the team as they seek new owners in the coming months. One of the items on the checklist of assets? Concession sales.
He said the legislation could bring some fans to the gates earlier.
“This would enable fans to enjoy more of the pregame atmosphere inside the newly renovated stadium, which will include the new interactive fan experiences and dining options that were previously unavailable to fans,’’ he added.
Ryan’s one-paragraph piece of legislation was introduced Tuesday in the Assembly, and a companion bill could be added in the Senate in the coming days. The legislative session is due to end June 19.
Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a Republican from Elma, said the Bills approached him to introduce the bill. He said Tuesday he had not yet seen the bill’s specific provisions, and that, like two years ago, it could end up being sponsored by Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican.
But Grisanti said a Bills-only beer legislation will have a problem getting passed. He said the similar legislation introduced a couple of years ago was met with resistance from other stadiums and retailers near stadiums.
“We have to be conscious of our small businesses that are located in and around the ballpark to make sure if there’s any changes we need to be fair to everybody,” Gallivan said.
Grisanti introduced a bill last year, still live in both the Assembly and Senate this year, to change the time when alcohol could be sold in all establishments across the state from retail stores and restaurants to the Bills stadium from noon to 11 a.m. on Sundays.
”We tried this and it didn’t go anywhere because it was too specific and alienated the restaurants and taverns around the stadium," Grisanti said.