When the NFL announced on Monday that the Buffalo Bills’ Week 15 game would be moved to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17, it didn’t take long for the repercussions to be felt.
“The phone immediately started ringing at the box office, with people wanting to redeem their tickets,” Daniel Hart, president and executive director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, said of the Dec. 17 Holiday Pops concert. “Saturday night is the biggest night, of course, but we have four performances of Holiday Pops, so all is not lost.”
In Babeville, a caller asked if the raunchy “A John Waters Christmas” show scheduled for this Saturday night could be changed to an earlier time so the caller could watch the Bills play the Miami Dolphins at Highmark Stadium.
“Buffalo is a small market, and the Bills are the common denominator that crosses racial and economic lines, and musical genres,” said Scot Fisher, owner of Babeville. “Our experience is that no matter the series, if it’s competing against the Buffalo Bills, it takes a hit because people are crazy about the Bills.
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“Maybe we should do a split screen, with John Waters on one side and the Bills on the other with the Bills volume turned down,” he laughed.
From birthday and cookie-decorating parties to live events, the schedule change a week before Christmas has taken a toll on people’s plans.
Jeremy and Brenna Sniatecki had already planned to celebrate their two sons’ birthdays, four days apart, that Saturday. Their sons live out of state and already had their travel tickets, so they’re keeping the date.
The Rochester couple, who are Bills fans, can’t watch the game for free now either. Although they consider themselves part of the Buffalo market, they must sign up with the NFL Network if they want to watch the game.
“Obviously we love our kids and we’ll be there, but I’ll be looking at my phone,” Brenna Sniatecki said with a laugh. “I guess we’ll just see the highlights later.”
A family ritual of cookie decorating has also been uprooted by the change in game day.
Reine Hauser said her family gets together every holiday season to decorate cookies made with an old family recipe. December 17 seemed like an ideal date. Why?
“Because the Bills weren’t playing,” she said.
When the schedule changed, it meant that at least one of the family members, who has season tickets and loves tailgating, wouldn’t be there.
“We knew he wouldn’t be gone,” she said. “It upset everyone’s plans. If it was an away game it wouldn’t have been a problem because we could have just staged the game.”
After numerous phone calls and emails, the family members decided to meet at a cousin’s house in Clarence that Sunday.
The Buffalo Beauts often play on Sundays and are used to their schedule colliding with the Bills. So Nate Oliver, the team’s general manager, was looking forward to a game Saturday against the Toronto Six.
“Let’s face it, anytime we have the schedule for us, that obviously paves the way for more fan involvement for us,” Oliver said.
The Beauts have die-hard fans who will show up no matter what, he said, but that’s almost not everyone.
“As far as the causal fan goes, especially given the Bills season, I think Buffalo sports fans want to witness that,” he said.
Samantha Rae Hughes of SM Events, who organizes the Black and Gold Holiday Party at Sto Lat Bar Events in the Eastern Hills shopping center in Clarence, said the first thing she did when she heard about the change in schedule had been to breathe deeply.
Then she began answering the 15 or so phone calls received within the next 10 minutes, people asking her if she had heard the news.
Hughes said she decided to embrace the Bills’ play that night rather than see it as a negative.
“We immediately made calls to make sure we had at least two to three big-screen TVs with tables and chairs set up to watch,” Hughes said. “Since people go to bars all the time to watch games, what better way to do that than to dress up and party with 400 other people?
The sold-out event has been asked to give only two refunds so far. Both were from Bills season ticket holders.
Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, waterfront, culture and more. He is also a former arts editor for The News.