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Bills bow to popular demand; Fan feedback drives change in uniforms

The dissatisfaction of Buffalo Bills fans with the team's current uniforms was the impetus for the decision to redesign their duds.

"We take a lot of feedback from our fans and fan forums and focus groups," said Bills Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon. "One of the things we heard loud and clear over the last few years is that fans did not really care for our previous uniforms. We felt the uniform served us well over the past decade. But we felt it was time to make a change."

The Bills unveil that change this evening in an event at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Gates open at 5:45, the program starts at 6:30 and the uniforms will be trotted out about 7:15 p.m.

It's expected the new uniforms will include a change from a red helmet to a white helmet and a shift from dark, navy blue to more of a royal blue home jersey. The road uniforms are expected to ditch the blue shoulders and bring back royal blue pants, reminiscent of those worn by the team from 1973 through '85. The Bills will keep their charging buffalo logo.

"It's been a long time coming," Brandon said. "Any time you change any element of the uniform, it's an 18-month lead time with the NFL. This has been in the works actually beyond 18 months, but we made the decision to put in a request with the league and worked in conjunction with the league and Reebok [the NFL's uniform supplier]."

The Bills have been wearing their current uniforms since 2002. The team introduced a 1960s-style throwback home uniform in 2005. Those throwbacks, however, have been worn only twice a season. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the American Football League, the Bills wore all-white road throwbacks in two games in 2009. Both throwbacks were well received.

"The throwback uniforms definitely played a large role in the thought process," Brandon said. "They've been enormously popular. With the popularity of the [home] throwback and then the popularity when we debuted the road throwback a few years ago in the opener against New England, was very telling from our fan base back to the organization."

The NFL likes teams to use their throwbacks only occasionally. Using them permanently was not an option.

Brandon acknowledged that fans never seemed to warm up to the current road uniforms -- with the blue shoulders.

"I think that's a fair statement," he said.

Brandon said the team will wear the new uniforms all 16 games in 2011 (presuming there is a timely resolution to the league's labor impasse). The throwbacks will not be worn this season.

Complimentary tickets for the unveiling event are available in person at select Verizon Wireless locations in Buffalo, all Erie County M&T Bank branches, and at the Ralph Wilson Stadium ticket office.

Meanwhile, Brandon was in Chicago this week for the report on labor negotiations given by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to member clubs. Brandon would not offer details of the briefing. However, he did reiterate his view that regionalization is the key to keeping the Buffalo franchise viable.

"We focus on the here and now here in Buffalo," Brandon said. "When you look at it from our standpoint, we're always looking to do everything in our power to keep this team viable. And as you've heard many times from me, regionalization, regionalization and regionalization. Ten years ago when we went off to Rochester that was step one in the plan and a few years ago when we went north to Toronto that was another step in our process. When you look at our region of totality, it's a very large market and we're looking to bring fans back to Ralph Wilson Stadium. It's been a very successful venture for us and we're going to continue that process moving forward."

Brandon would not say there is a hard deadline for deciding whether training camp can be held as scheduled at St. John Fisher College in suburban Rochester. The college is flexible with its plans and could get ready to host camp on very short notice.

The Baltimore Ravens already have decided not to take their camp to a college campus, as scheduled, and instead hold it -- whenever it begins -- at the team facility. It's likely the Bills could go well into July waiting for a labor deal to be closed before being forced to call off camp.

"Our thought right now is we're in a fluid situation," Brandon said. "Fisher has been a great partner. I've been keeping President [Donald] Bain briefed. We're in full prep mode to go to training camp at St. John Fisher College. One of the factors that assists us is the cooperation from the senior staff at Fisher and the campus to allow us that flexibility to come to camp."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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