Buffalo Bills officials continue to tinker with policy to curb the raucous behavior of fans on game day that last year resulted in 55 game-related arrests by Orchard Park police outside the stadium.
Those efforts are starting to pay off, according to a team executive.
“Not that long ago, we averaged 30 (in-stadium) arrests per game and 140 ejections a game,” said Andy Major, Bills vice president of operations and guest experience. “Last year we averaged three arrests and 46 ejections a game.
“We're not perfect. We know that. A small amount of fans will be irresponsible and drink too much. There’s always a few knuckleheads out there who will make it bad for the families,” Major said.
With the Bills off to a 2-0 start and anticipation high for the season, officials are concerned about fan behavior for Sunday's home opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at New Era Field. So on Tuesday, Bills officials teamed up with Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard and Orchard Park Police Chief E. Joseph Wehrfritz to outline some recent changes in stadium policy.
Expect a heavy police presence with 300 law enforcement personnel and another 300 private security personnel assigned to stadium grounds, Howard said. Orchard Park also will increase its game day patrols on roads surrounding the stadium.
“We will be enforcing the open container law on roads surrounding the stadium,” Orchard Park Police Capt. Patrick Fitzgerald said.
The game day effort includes SkyWatch, the surveillance tower on loan from the Buffalo Police Department. The observation deck on wheels stretches 25 feet into the air and will be set up in the bus and limo parking lot. Equipped with powerful, high-definition cameras, it allows officers to monitor activity hundreds of yards away in large crowds.
The biggest concern for team officials was to address unruly behavior in the bus parking lot, where fans were known to dive from school bus roofs onto tables that had been set on fire.
The experience last season was disturbing and scary, Major said.
Permits for bus and limousine parking will cost more this season, Major said. The designated parking lot is called Tailgate Village with service provided by Tailgate Guys, a national firm that supplies tables, chairs and the rest of the essentials for a tailgate party. Cost varies depending on the number of passengers, size of the vehicle and the tailgating service ordered. Buses and/or limo buses that do not order tailgate service pay $100 for a parking permit.
“If a bus or limo shows up without that permit, it won’t be allowed to park in the lot and will be directed elsewhere. The number of permits sold are down, but we expected that with the increase in cost, a change in the program,” he said.
Private lots park a majority of the fans, Major said. Stadium lots accommodate 10,000 vehicles.
“We want fans to have fun and to be safe,” Major said. “Don’t do silly things in the stadium – making the experience for others fans a negative one – or you will be ejected.”