The deal may be for a Bills stadium, but fans of 'futbol' see opportunities, too
When it was announced Monday that an agreement had been reached to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills, remarks made by one local leader raised the eyebrows of fans of a different kind of football.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, during his remarks, indicated the new facility would be designed to accommodate other sporting events besides National Football League games.
“We have come to an agreement with regards to the construction of a 1.35 million square-foot facility, which will house Bills games, of course, but also could be used for multi-use, including soccer, which I think is great, because hopefully we'll be able to get some of those international friendlies here and play,” he said Monday.
Those remarks drew quick reaction from American Outlaws, a nationwide network of soccer fans who follow and support the U.S. Soccer men’s and women’s national teams.
“It's something that we have wanted or thought of for so long, and it just wasn't a possibility to host a big time international friendly in the current stadium, just due to the dimensions,” said Jeff Fabin, president of the Buffalo chapter of American Outlaws. “The fact that this is now going to be your reality, to be able to bring big time soccer to Buffalo, it’s just very exciting to us.”
The Bills’ current home, Highmark Stadium, does not have a playing surface wide enough to fit a soccer pitch.
The city has welcomed foreign clubs for exhibitions, or “friendlies” as they’re referred to in soccer/football, in recent years. FC Buffalo, which fields men’s and women’s teams, hosted a men’s friendly against English lower-level side Bedlington Terriers FC in 2011 and then welcomed German club FC St. Pauli in 2019.
FC Buffalo co-owner Nick Mendola says despite the lack of a large marketing and advertising budget, they were able to draw thousands of fans to those matches. He’s among those who believe hosting an international match in Orchard Park would be a big draw.
“You have an opportunity, hopefully, to kind of raise your hand and say we'd like a shot here. You know, we'd like a chance to have a U.S. Men's National Team game or U.S. Women's National Team game or international friendly when Borussia Dortmund comes to the United States. These are things that are exciting,” he said.
Dortmund is Buffalo’s official sister city in Germany and is perennially among the top clubs in that nation’s premier league, the Bundesliga.
American Outlaws reports having at least 30,000 fans registered among 200 branches nationwide. Fabin notes that many travel to follow the U.S. programs, and even he has traveled to support the national teams. He believes fellow American outlaws and other fans would travel if Buffalo were to host an international-level match in the future.
“It would definitely generate that type of revenue as well, to bring outside folks into Buffalo. For example, the U.S. (men) just had a match up in Canada, in Hamilton specifically. And a lot of people from around the country, they came up, they stopped in Buffalo first and were here for a little bit and then drove up to the match up in Hamilton,” Fabin said. “So if the game was actually in Buffalo, I would feel pretty confident saying that a lot more people would come up for those matches from around the country.”
Traditionally, the biggest rival for U.S. men’s soccer has been Mexico, and for the women, Canada. More recently, Canada’s men’s and women’s teams have both risen considerably in prominence. The women won their first-ever Olympic gold medal last summer, while earlier this month the men secured their first trip to the FIFA World Cup since 1986.
The rise of Canadian soccer has local fans feeling Buffalo is the right place for a U.S.-Canada soccer rivalry to grow.
“I think you circle the women's team first because this rivalry is both teams’ biggest one. It's been heated. There’s every reason to expect that people would cross the border for both ways. And as we just saw with the men when the US men played Canada in Hamilton, that was sold out in a hurry,” Mendola said. “This is a natural spot for that rivalry to grow, and as we've seen with the Sabres-Leafs games, it's really no different.”
But for the time being, all that local fans can do is wait. The Bills stadium agreement still awaits the completion of documents and approvals, all of which are due Sept. 1.
American Outlaws members will gather to watch US matches at a local establishment, while FC Buffalo opens its 2022 NPSL season in May, with their first home match scheduled for May 22 at All-High Stadium.