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Back to being a hot ticket

The Buffalo Bills are on pace to break a 23-year-old record for the sale of season tickets.

According to the Bills, they have sold about 53,000 to date and are roughly 5,000 above their 2014 total of 47,482.

With more than four months of selling to go, they have a realistic shot at beating the franchise record of 57,132 set in 1992, the third season of the Bills’ four-year Super Bowl run.

“Right now, we’re pacing very well and the franchise record is within our sights,” Bills president Russ Brandon told The News. “But we still have a lot of work to do to achieve that number.”

The Bills’ robust sales have come despite the fact they increased season-ticket prices by six percent overall, Brandon said. However, he noted that, at $64 per game, the Bills continue to have one of the lowest average prices for season tickets in the NFL.

Brandon said the Bills have had a 95-percent rate of renewal of season tickets. He credited a good portion of that to the fact that fans could use the credit they received for the Nov. 23 game against the New York Jets that was moved to Nov. 24 in Detroit because of a blizzard as a deposit for 2015 season tickets.

New season-tickets sales are pacing 200 percent over where the Bills were a year ago, according the team president.

Brandon said the sale of season tickets started pacing well “even in the fourth quarter of last year.”

“I think at the foundation of the sales pace has been the stability of the franchise, with the Pegulas’ purchasing the team, Brandon said. “No longer does that anvil hang over our collective community of where this franchise is going to be in the future. That’s certainly a huge factor into the psyche of our community.”

The Bills’ sales efforts received a clear boost with the hiring of high-profile coach Rex Ryan, whose larger-than-life personality made him an instant hit with fans.

The team has kept the wave of optimism going strong the past few weeks by making a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for one of the NFL’s top running backs, LeSean McCoy, and making sure it didn’t lose one of the game’s better pass rushers, Jerry Hughes, who was due to become a free agent. The Bills also appear to have made clear upgrades at tight end (by offering Charles Clay a contract that was too rich for the rival Miami Dolphins to match), wide receiver (by signing free agent Percy Harvin) and fullback (by signing free-agent Jerome Felton.

Club owners Terry and Kim Pegula have provided the financial wherewithal for the Bills to rank as one of the biggest spenders in the free-agent signing period that began on March 10. According to ESPN, the Bills have spent an NFL-high $91.5 million in guaranteed money to players.

Other factors that Brandon cited as influencing the boost in season-tickets sales were:

• Flexible payment plans for season-ticket holders.

• A strong home schedule that, besides AFC East rival and defending Super Bowl champion New England, includes three other playoff teams in Dallas, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

• The termination of the Toronto series that, through 2013, saw one Bills home game per year played in Rogers Centre.

• Improvement of the conduct of fans inside and outside the stadium. “There has been a commitment on the part of the organization and Erie County to always improving the game-day experience,” Brandon said. “We want families and young people in our building, and we’ve seen a marked improvement in that over the last few years with some of the programs that we have instituted.”

• Season-tickets benefits that include a rebate in Bills Bucks, free access to NFL Rewind, exclusive access to NFL RedZone Channel on smartphone devices, early purchase opportunities for individual-game tickets, exclusive season-ticket member events, discounted season-long parking pass, discounts at the Bills Store, and a personal account representative.

“Season-tickets sales is now a year-round business for us,” Brandon said. “Our sales department has done a tremendous job, not only on the sales side, but on the customer service side.”

In the last 10 years, the Bills’ largest season-tickets sales total was 56,011 in 2008. After that, they saw a steady decline, falling to 37,355 in 2011. A year later, they jumped to 43,265 before taking a slight dip to 42,540 in 2013.

Last year, the Bills saw an increase of 4,942, and the upward swing has continued.

“This process began a couple of years ago,” Brandon said. “It goes back to” former General Manager Buddy Nix “and to” current GM “Doug Whaley and to” former coach “Doug Marrone, and the job they did when the cupboard was pretty bare. But we made a significant jump last year. The number one factor in sales is always the direction of the franchise, and you could see a massive leap in seasons from ’13 to ’14.”

email: vcarucci@buffnews.com

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