Disclaimer: Buffalo is a truly amazing sports town that almost every fabric of a Buffalonian’s existence is tied to the performance of their sports teams. The question remains though that when all the chips are on the table, is Buffalo a football or hockey town?
The Rockpile War Memorial
Rich Ralph Wilson Stadium
Buffalo Memorial Auditorium
Marine Midland HSBC Arena
Ralph Wilson (1959-present)
Knox Family (1970-1997)
John Rigas (1997-2002)
Ummm, NHL? (2002-2003)
Tom Golisano (2003-2011)
Terry Pegula (2011-present)
Brian: First off, every city that has an NFL team is essentially a football city. That definitely includes Buffalo.
Matthew: This one is tough to argue. Football has become the American past time in the last two decades by a considerable margin. A great deal of that has to do with television presentation, marketing and gambling. In other words: things outside just the game itself. But it also has to do with the game, which requires a once-per-week commitment as opposed to a commitment of multiple times a week, and the game is somewhat easier to learn than other sports. Of course, with hockey the old adage is that there are only 40,000 hockey fans in every town but they're almost all season ticket holders. Buffalo sort of exceeds that 40,000.
Brian: The Bills have been atrocious for over a decade, whereas the Sabres have fielded teams with legitimate Stanley Cup hopes and it’s a marginal discussion. If (When) the Bills make the playoffs, this isn’t even debatable.
Matthew: Though, I think it can be reasonably argued that the Sabres at their worst still draw better than the Bills at their worst. I think a part of that has to do with threshold. The Sabres, after all, have to draw less people, just more often. Would Buffalo be anymore football mad if the Bills made the playoffs? I'm not so sure. Buffalo is already pretty crazed about the game. The media coverage would certainly be amplified, that's for sure. But in terms of "asses every 18 inches", I don't think things can get that much better than they are or have been. Football, in other words, has peaked. It just so happens to be a mighty high peak.
Brian: I’ll give Buffalo credit where credit is due. This is definitely a hockey town as well. Buffalonians do hockey as well as just about anyone else in the league. The problem is there are more people who do it harder for the Bills. The entire region’s week has the tone set with a Bills win or loss. It lingers. It hurts. It is undeniable.
Matthew: Well, that hurt has sort of dulled over the years, hasn't it? I mean, we're not masochists, and they did lose *a lot* this past decade. What has been the toughest loss to swallow for the Buffalo sports fan this past decade? Probably the Game 7 loss to Carolina in 2005-06. I think your biggest losses and victories help define what kind of town you are over a decade.
Brian: Football is a more popular sport and that includes in Buffalo. Die hard Sabres and die hard Bills fans is not the argument here because both are equally passionate. The difference is the amount of additional people that pay attention to the Bills every Sunday is much more prevalent. Football is an easier sport to get into for casual fans. It’s once a week, it’s usually the weekend and you can put your entire emotional stake into that event.
Matthew: Again, this is one that's hard to argue with. Football is a more popular sport. But that doesn't mean it is the be all, end all of every sports town. Detroit is certainly far more a hockey town in the last two decades, for example. It is rare, but also admittedly possible.
Brian: The Bills making the playoffs would almost literally make the city of Buffalo an uncontrollable mess. You remember the Monday Night Football game a couple years back? How jacked up the entire city was? For a regular season game? This has nothing to do with the fact that they haven’t made it in over a decade. The fact remains that when its Bills season and their playoff hopes are alive, Sabres season doesn’t really start until the Bills are eliminated from the playoff picture.
Matthew: I think the problem that I keep coming back to is that your argument is contingent upon "If the Bills make the playoffs", an argument that seems presently unlikely. I'm not saying that Buffalo wasn't once a football town and I'm absolutely not saying it won't be again. But right now -- here, in the thick of it, I'm saying Buffalo is a hockey town. A chunk of that is because of the disparity in success between the two clubs, and that again will certainly change. But if we're going off of, "if the Bills make the playoffs", well, we might be waiting a while longer.
Brian: I understand that I keep going back to that point. For me, this comes down to if all things are equal, what does the city of Buffalo love more, the Bills or the Sabres? So with the Sabres making the playoffs the last two years, I am trying to reset the barometer for what we are comparing here. I am also trying to not use the bottled up energy about the playoffs for the Bills as an argument as well. My argument goes back to the point that die hard fans of either or both teams cancel each other out. The winner in this argument are the Bills because they get more casual fans emotionally attached to watching the games than the Sabres do. As die hard fans, we are surrounded by other die-hard fans and sometimes it is more difficult to remember the casual fan. Football is a made for as a TV sport and hockey is a made to watch in person. That television component has allowed people to develop a love affair with the Bills that they have yet to develop with the Sabres. How many times have you heard someone say after their first live hockey game how amazing it was? Almost everyone. The Sabres haven't built that love the way the Bills and NFL have through their television production capabilities.