The Buffalo Bills and their fans will get their first real look at the new Tailgate Village during the team’s home opener Sunday, and whether it has any impact on bad behavior.
As announced in May, fans arriving at New Era Field this season by bus or limo will no longer be allowed to tailgate near their vehicles. Instead, they will have to grill and drink in a new, more controlled area in the bus and limo parking lot, called the Tailgate Village.
“We’re all about tailgating, but we’re also about safety,” said Andy Major, Bills vice president of operations and guest experience, speaking with reporters Tuesday in the Bills team store. “So when we can combine that, that’s where we have the best fans in the NFL. Those that tailgate responsibly, they play cornhole, they grill, they have a good time, but they’re safe.”
The Tailgate Village can fit about 4,000 fans. Once inside, each group will receive a tent, tables and chairs, as well as help with the setup. There will also be live music and appearances by the team drum corps and mascot.
The permits for Tailgate Village will cost about $15 a person, as it’s $300 for vehicles carrying up to 20 people, $600 for vehicles carrying up to 40 people, and $900 for vehicles carrying up to 60 people.
The permits must be purchased ahead of time, and buses and limos that show up to the lot without one will be turned away.
Major acknowledged the number of bus and limo parking permits sold is down from last season, although he said he did not have exact numbers. More buses and limos may instead choose to park and tailgate in private lots around the stadium in Orchard Park.
The Bills, as well as the Orchard Park Police Department, Erie County Sheriff's Office, New York State Police and the FBI recently met with private lot owners to discuss safety and answer questions.
“We don’t want the issues to be leaving our lots and just happening in other lots — nobody wants that,” Major said. “We just want fans to have a great time, to tailgate responsibility and be safe.”
There will be approximately 300 law enforcement personnel and another 300 private security staff members at Sunday’s game, according to Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard. His advice for fans includes having a designated meet up spot with their friends, as well as designating a sober driver.
“Alcohol probably only enhances one thing, and that’s your ability to make bad decisions,” Howard said. “So drink responsibly, be on your best behavior and let’s keep this pleasant for everyone.”
Unruly fan behavior at Bills game like excessive drinking and table slamming has attracted national attention in recent years.
Major, while calling some fan behavior a “bit disturbing and scary,” said incidents at the stadium have actually decreased. He said the team averaged about 30 arrests and 140 ejections a game about 10 years ago, but only about three arrests and 45 ejections a game last season.
“We’re not perfect, we know that,” Major said. “We know there’s still going to be a small minority of fans that will be irresponsible and drink too much, maybe do dumb things. There’s only a few knuckleheads out there that can make it bad for the whole fan base.
“So the numbers are the numbers. We hope they get better and continue to get better, but we’ve definitely made some strides.”
Sunday’s Tailgate Village activities will be a “learning experience” for team officials, Major added.
“We want to take in as much information about game day as possible, get the fan feedback, and see how it’s working for them,” he said.