The Buffalo Bills officially have a new name for their stadium, as the team has reached a naming rights agreement with health insurer Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York.
The team announced the new name, “Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Stadium,” or the shortened version more likely to enter the vernacular of Bills Mafia, “Highmark Stadium,” on Monday evening before holding an on-field ceremony in Orchard Park Tuesday morning.
“We wanted to make sure that we found a partner that could not just put a name on a building, but also can be someone we felt was a partner in our values and our commitment to this community,” said Bills president and co-owner Kim Pegula Tuesday.
Bills officials declined to reveal the length and worth of the naming rights deal, saying they don’t announce specifics of any of their sponsorships. However, Sports Business Journal reported the deal is for 10 years, and while the monetary value is unknown, the Bills had been seeking about $6 million a year.
The Bills’ last naming rights deal with Buffalo-based hat company New Era was a seven-year deal worth about $35 million. New Era pulled out of the deal last July, the fourth year of the contract, causing the stadium to go under the moniker “Bills Stadium” last season.
Ron Raccuia, executive vice president of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, said the Bills received higher bids from other companies, including national ones, but wanted to go with a local partner like Highmark.
“They have a history here. They have a tradition. We're very familiar with them. From our relationship personally and professionally, it was just very natural for us to do that,” Raccuia said. “I don't want to disrespect any of the national [companies] that talked about it because they all had great intentions as well, but having a local partner was the most important thing.”
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York has only recently been branded under the Highmark name.
Highmark, a $19 billion dollar nonprofit health care company that operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware, came to an affiliation with HealthNow New York, which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western and Northeastern New York, in June of last year. The deal was approved last month.
Dave Anderson, president and CEO of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York, said the deal was about showing Highmark’s commitment to the region, as well as pushing the stadium to be more of a community asset.
“Yes, Highmark Stadium will be the proud home of the Buffalo Bills, but it will also become home for health and wellness and charitable events, for high school graduations, for high school football games,” he said.
The Bills have a lease agreement at the Orchard Park stadium with Erie County through 2023. County Executive Mark Poloncarz did not attend Tuesday’s ceremony — the Bills announced he was unable to attend — but did express concern at his afternoon COVID-19 briefing whether the deal would increase insurance rates for Blue Cross Blue Shield members, which include Erie County employees.
“It would be really silly for Erie County employees to be paying fees to an entity that then uses part of their fee to pay for the name on our own stadium,” he said.
Anderson said the deal will have no impact on Blue Cross Blue Shield consumers, adding that the marketing budget is separate from insurance premiums.
Although there are reports the deal is for 10 years, Poloncarz said the naming rights will revert back to the county when the lease ends in two years. He reiterated he would prefer the stadium be named “Erie County Veterans Stadium.”
There are questions about whether the Bills will remain at the Orchard Park stadium or build anew, possibly in downtown Buffalo. The team commissioned a study on stadium options that was completed in January 2020, but Raccuia on Tuesday said the study has been revised over the last year to account for COVID-19 and other economic changes.
“The world moves really quickly and our industry changes quickly, so it all had to be updated,” he said. “COVID was just one impact of what we're looking at, in terms of what type of technology is needed now, what type of additional spacing is needed, all of that was contemplated in the revisions.
“We are really looking forward to sharing that with our partners at the state and the county.”
Raccuia said the naming right deals with Highmark addresses “every contingency,” whether the Bills are playing in a renovated Orchard Park stadium or a brand new stadium.
The Bills had the Highmark Stadium name displayed on its video board during Tuesday’s ceremony, but physical signage will still need to be posted around the stadium before the season starts this September.