The Buffalo Bills are well aware of the tomfoolery that goes on in the parking lots surrounding New Era Field.
They’re making a couple of changes to one of those lots in an effort to reduce it. The team will raise the price in the bus lot from $60 to $100 per vehicle. Additionally, a permit will be required and must be obtained in advance, similar to the team’s RV lot.
Andy Major, the team’s vice president of operations and guest experience, said the hope is to cut down on the number of dangerous incidents.
“One of the items we're focused on is the bus lot,” Major said. “We've seen some negative issues in the bus lot. Fans jumping off buses, breaking tables, getting hurt with dangerous acts. There were a couple games last year we actually had to eject buses from the lot because their fans were so crazy.”
Major said it was the first time in the "history of the organization that we know of" that buses had to be ejected. "So last year was a little bit of a cause for concern, obviously," he said.
The person who obtains the permit for the lot will be responsible for the actions of those on the bus.
“We'll have a registration of who purchased the permit,” Major said. “We'll tie the permit number to the person in that group, so that will be helpful for us on a game day when the buses are coming in, we'll know this bus is valid to park on our site.”
There will also be a $100 deposit required for each bus that is refundable – provided none of the passengers creates any problems.
“Just like a season-ticket holder, sometimes it's not the season-ticket holder, it's who they gave the tickets to," Major said. "In this case, you're responsible for this bus, for your party. You're the person who's paying for this and putting the deposit up front. We're hopeful that will help that person manage that bus and the people they're bringing on it. If they're fine -- which most of the buses are great and most of the fans are great in that lot -- there's no issue. They'll get their deposit back.”
If a bus passenger violates the fan code of conduct policy, gets ejected or arrested or otherwise causes trouble, the permit holder will lose the deposit.
Alcohol-fueled WWE wannabes suplexing each other through tables before every home game has been a black eye for the organization in recent years. The website Deadspin, which has dutifully documented the goings on in the parking lots, even has a tag on the site for such videos called “Billspin.”
“We know we can't prevent everything,” Major said. “We also know a lot of the negative behavior by fans happens in neighborhood parking lots in other locations that we don't necessarily manage. But we've really made an effort over the past few years especially to handle our own lots. This is an extension of that.”
Major said the team has seen an uptick in the number of school buses in the lots.
“It’s a younger generation of fans -- from local colleges even -- where it sounds great that they're taking public transportation, taking a bus together,” he said, “but that doesn't give them a license to go nuts when they get here. … We just felt like we needed to do everything we can to make it a safe environment for the fans and respond to those fans who are complaining about what's going on around them.”
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was out of town Thursday and unavailable for comment, but recently made his feelings known on the rowdy behavior at the tailgates.
"People have been hurt, seriously hurt," Poloncarz said last month. "It's only a matter of time before someone dies. … We had one gentleman who set himself on fire. We had another person who was basically near-paralyzed from breaking their back, another person who snapped their leg.
"What we want people to understand is, not only does this make the community look bad, but you're putting yourself at risk.”
Major said the Bills worked with several organizations in developing the new policy.
“We work very closely with the Erie County Sheriff's Office, with the Erie County Commissioner's office, Orchard Park Police Department and our private security firm, Buffalo Protections and Investigations," Major said. "We consulted the NFL and other teams on what are they doing in their lots. ... That's really how we came up with what we're doing this year. We hope it's a safe environment for fans and a fun environment for the fans. We're still permitting tailgating, we just ask for fans to be responsible."