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CRAMPING THEIR STYLE
NEW STADIUM SEATS DON'T SIT WELL WITH SOME BILLS FANS

At 6 feet tall and 235 pounds, Mark Herle, 43, is way too small to join behemoths Jamie Nails and Robert Hicks on the Bills offensive line.

But Herle's too big to sit comfortably in the newly installed sideline seats in the lower bowl of Ralph Wilson Stadium.

And he's not alone. Legroom and seat width have become hotter game-day topics than Doug Flutie vs. Rob Johnson.

"I'm a little uncomfortable," said Herle, a chef at the Clarkson Culinary Arts Institute, just before the kickoff of Sunday's Bills-Eagles game, after he had wedged himself into his seat in Section 129. "I can't move left or right. I'm stuck in one position the whole game. I'm hoping for an (early) score so I can get up and stretch."

And Herle's cup holder became just a decoration for the Cheektowaga man. One of his knees was resting where the cup would sit.

The newly renovated Ralph Wilson Stadium has provided plenty of new amenities for fans, including new restroom towers, heated club seats, 76 new dugout suites just 40 rows above the field and improvements to the sound and lighting systems.

The Bills also have trumpeted the new sea of 30,000 royal-blue sideline seats in the lower bowl, featuring armrests for the first time and resilient cup holders.

All the comforts of home.

But there may be more leg cramps among fans in the stands than among players on the sideline this season, thanks to the cozy new seats on the lower-bowl sidelines.

The legroom is tight, even for an average-sized person, and it's nearly impossible to enter or exit a row without everyone standing up to let the person go by.

The Bills have heard some of the complaints, and they're vowing to do everything they can -- both during and after the season -- to solve the problem for any uncomfortable fans.

"We're going to make our customers happy," said Bill Munson, the team's vice president for operations. "We've had a number of calls on the legroom. We've called these people back, and we're addressing it individually with each person."

See Stadium Page A4
Stadium: Cold-weather gear likely to cause more problems
Continued from Page A1
The team plans to relocate some dissatisfied season-ticket holders, if possible, and remove the cup holders for others.

Why is there less legroom, if the new chairs sit on the same concrete rows as before? There are several possible factors:

The backs of the chairs in the row in front are tilted back several inches.

Those backs are curved more. And where the seat back from the row in front is not curved, a fan's knees bump into the cup holders.

With the old bench seats, a taller fan could stick his knees in the space between the back rest and the seat in front of him. There's no such space with the new seats.

The tread depths -- basically, the depth of each concrete row -- vary from row to row. Bills officials -- and some fans -- suspect that those tread depths may be up to a few inches shorter in the last few rows of the lower bowl.

Fewer than 1 percent of the fans have complained about such changes in the renovated stadium, Munson emphasized.

Engineers and the seat manufacturing company have been out to study the situation, he added. It's not clear what other steps could be taken to remedy the problem.

Lack of legroom wasn't the only complaint heard after the first three games in the new stadium.

The seats also seem narrower to some fans, apparently because of the new armrests.

"You have to pray for little kids -- or nobody -- sitting next to you so you can have a little room," Herle said.

Sunday's game wasn't the toughest test for the seat width. That will come in late fall and early winter when fans come dressed for cold weather.

"The width's OK for me, but once we get our weather gear on and the person next to you has his weather gear on, we're going to be like sardines," said Herle's father-in-law, Ed Clohessy.

Actually, the new armchair seats are as wide or wider than the old aluminum benches. Bills officials have said the new seats are all 19, 20 or 21 inches wide, compared to 19 inches for each fan in the old benches.

So why do they seem narrower?

Because when there were no armrests, a fan, if necessary, could float over to steal a little space from his next-door neighbor.

Grumbling from squeezed-in fans could be heard throughout the lower bowl Sunday.

"When I first sat down, I realized I had to shift my body in an awkward manner to actually sit," said a financial consultant from Amherst sitting in Section 112. "I had to stand to let people by, and I had to contort my body to get to the cup holder."

And that was on a hot day when people opted for shorts and short-sleeved shirts.

"I dread going there in the winter when I have more clothes on," this fan added.

Clohessy suggested that the Bills could have paid more attention to how the seats were designed and how much room fans would have in their new seats.

"How could the Bills spend $53 million of our money and do such a horrible job on the size of the seats?" he asked.

But the Bills promise to work with the fans.

"I feel confident that we're going to resolve any frustrations people have," Munson said.

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