A couple of weeks ago, in his own colorful way, Cole Beasley wanted to set the record straight.
When a Twitter user suggest that Beasley might be “starting to realize Buffalo isn’t quite Dallas,” the Bills’ new wide receiver shot down that idea.
Comparing things from a player’s perspective, Beasley tweeted back “Buffalo (expletives) on Dallas. Facilities for recovery and training are top notch!”
The Bills maybe would have preferred a less direct approach – Beasley has since deleted his entire Twitter account – but the point was made.
In terms of resources available for players, the Bills believe they can offer as much, or more, than any team in the NFL.
The latest, and according to those directly impacted, greatest example of that is the opening of a 41,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art sports performance center. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held April 12, and the new facility was ready for use when players reported last Monday for the start of the team’s voluntary offseason conditioning program.
“I think it's a game-changer for us,” General Manager Brandon Beane said. “This is the one thing that we didn't have that was top level, and we went from probably below average to the best — I think clearly the best.”
Construction began in September on the project, which renovated the existing 18,000-square-feet of space for the training center and added a 23,000-square-foot addition on to the northwest corner of the team’s fieldhouse. During the height of construction activity, more than 130 workers were on site daily.
The finished product has left those who have seen it in awe.
“I can't overstate the importance and the significance of this,” kicker Stephen Hauschka said. “It will help everyone in the building do their job better. We have tripled or quadrupled the amount of tools we have to perform at our best. … A lot of the players have been talking about this, just how thankful we are that the organization would do something like this, because we're the ones who get the benefit from it.
"It helps us play our best and helps us extend our careers. It will help get wins on the field, most importantly. I really believe that this expansion is the new face of the Buffalo Bills — a turning point for the organization.”
A major investment
Team owners Terry and Kim Pegula footed the bill, which was expected to come in at about $18 million.
“Honestly, we do it for the players,” Kim Pegula told The Buffalo News. “From a business standpoint, if they're not on the field playing, it's not good business, but just from caring about players in our league – whether they're with us for a day or for their whole career — being able to keep them safe and healthy, it's something we have to do. It's something that we want to do, and we want to make sure Buffalo is ahead in that area.”
The sports performance center is not the only remodeling project the Pegulas have undertaken inside the team’s fieldhouse. Previously, the team’s cafeteria and players’ locker room were upgraded. The significant investments come at a time when Pegula Sports and Entertainment has hired a consulting firm to examine stadium options for both the Bills and Sabres.
CAA ICON is studying the potential for either major renovations at New Era Field or constructing a new football stadium, which could be located downtown.
Pegula said the new addition will not have an impact on that study.
“We don't know yet where our study will end up at the end of the day,” she said. “I do believe, though, with our offices there, with the practice facility there, and then the training facility, that structure will remain used.
“We still have five years left on the lease, and so five years is a long time in football life. We didn't want to keep saying, 'Hey, let's just hold off.' There are things we want to do now. Our team needs to play this season. Our players are here. We just thought it would be a disservice to keep pushing that off into the future, an unknown future, when we had the need right now. ...
"However the stadium ends up at the end of the day, I think there will be tremendous value starting right now to our players and our organization, so that really wasn't a factor.”
Pegula watched the addition take shape from her corner office inside the team’s fieldhouse.
“I've seen every different stages of it,” she said. “When it was finished and completed, with all the equipment in there, I was so impressed. It did not look like something we 'added on' – as some add-ons look. … There were conversations and meetings with not only contractors and architects, but with the scouting staff, the coaching staff, the strength and conditioning staff, the performance staff. A lot of thought and strategy went into it, and when it all came together you could see that.”
A team effort
To say the project was a collaboration is an understatement. More than 100,000 hours were poured into the project by about 500 designers or construction workers from more than 50 companies, according to information provided by the Bills. Some of the highlights include:
• A new, 26,000-square-foot weight room – more than triple its previous size – that features more than 100 pieces of equipment, including 16 complete Sorinex racks.
• A renovated and expanded training room/sport science area that is more than 14,000 square feet – double what was previously in place. Included in that training room is a 1,600-square-foot player recovery space and 700-square-foot player recovery lounge.
• Want to cool down? A newly installed Cryotherapy unit provides temperatures as low as minus-197.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Need to warm up? The new hot yoga studio can reach up to 100 degrees, while the new sauna can send the mercury soaring to 190 degrees.
• The state-of-the-art AV system includes 2,300-square-feet of high-definition projection – the equivalent of 150 70-inch televisions tiled together.
• The sound system in the weight room can reach 130 decibels – the same as a military jet taking off from an aircraft carrier with afterburners at 50 feet. The system is powered by 18,000 watts – 50 percent more than an IMAX theater speaker system.
So, yes, it has all the bells and whistles, but as Beane said, “It’s not just a showpiece. It’s practical.”
“I think we wanted to create, at least from the strength and conditioning part of it, a room that's clean, but still tough,” said Eric Ciano, the team’s head of strength and conditioning. “It doesn't have a warehouse feel. It’s still an intimate atmosphere where guys work together and aren't so spread out. That was one of the big goals – is that guys really get to know each other in that room. We build the team in that area. We wanted them in there close and together.”
“It really ties into the culture that we're trying to build here,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “People think, culture, what is that? For me, it’s better relationships. The more that you're in this building, working together and getting to know people, when the stuff hits the fan -- as we always know it does throughout any NFL team during the season – you're more willing to stay together versus pointing fingers. It really embodies what the Pegulas envision this organization to be, and then really what Sean McDermott has talked about since he's gotten here.”
'Best in the world'
As mentioned, several people had a hand in the plan for the facility, but it’s fair to say that Ciano; head athletic trainer Nate Breske; and Joe Collins, Pegula Sports’ director of performance science, took leadership roles. The center closely links those three departments.
“That's the whole purpose of what we've done,” Breske said. “It's not just a weight room. It's a training room. It's a performance sports science center. We're all together in this. That part of it, I think, is the most important part – that it all works together.”
“What we wanted to do was ensure the whole building had continuity,” Collins added. “The investment that had been made in the locker room and cafeteria, was then made in designing and integrating a performance center that would be the best in the world.”
To do that, the Bills had to understand what the best in the world looked like. They sent Ciano and Collins, among others, out on fact-finding missions, visiting other professional and major college sports teams across the globe to find out what ideas they wanted to integrate into the new center.
“Taking all the learning from those different environments and different cultures, and putting it all out on the table, once we'd done that, a consensus group was formed ... and we (went over) every possible scenario and every possible requirement that we need, and then we forged it into a workable solution,” Collins said.
One of those ideas involved the importance of natural light. The new structure includes 7,500-square-feet of glass, both on the interior and exterior, pushing sunlight throughout the space.
“It’s made a huge difference,” Breske said. “When the sun's out, we want to see it and enjoy it. It helps with energy level, mood, all those things. We've already seen the benefits of those things.”
Other features of the new facility designed to help players recover faster include specialized rooms for:
• Hyperbaric therapy
• Light therapy
• Float therapy
• Steam therapy
• Massage therapy
• Sleep therapy
• Chiropractic treatments
• Hot and cold hydro therapy pools, including one that includes an underwater treadmill
Having all those resources under one roof serves two big benefits for players: It saves them time and money. They no longer have to travel to and pay out of their own pocket for the above services.
“It’s more efficient,” Alexander said. “You're not driving all over the city to get everything done. You can come here and then go home and relax a little bit. That allows you to come into work and focus, too.”
Alexander and Hauschka were just two of the players who were consulted on what they would want in the new center.
“They're bringing everything we need right to our facility here,” Hauschka said. “It's such a great resource for us. As a kicker, you can imagine my routine is a little different from some of the position players. We have a room for yoga and Pilates. That's something that keeps me flexible. I do a lot of lifting too, but I kind of have to balance those things, so I don't get too tight. Having tools like that, having a place to work on my craft is huge.”
A selling point
The timing of the facility opening was planned, too. Players started the offseason conditioning program Monday, but ahead of that, Beane used the new facility as a recruiting tool. He sent pictures and renderings of the facility to agents of free-agent players the team was interested in signing.
“I advertised it to as many agents as I could,” he said. "If they showed them to them, great, if they didn't that was on them. I said, ‘I want you to at least be able to tell them what this new thing looks like.’
"Obviously, money and fit for the players matters probably more than that, but if we can win some ties because of that, that's huge. Word of mouth is going to be big on what we've got going here. Our goal is to help players extend their career. That's how you ultimately make more money, is the longevity.”
That’s what Beasley was referring to when contrasting the Bills to the Cowboys – one of the NFL’s elite franchises.
“They want to go to a place that they feel they can extend their career,” Kim Pegula said of free agents. “They know the importance of taking care of their bodies. They're looking for a place that cares about them and has the facilities to keep them on the field, extend their career, and in the long run they'll make more money as a player. Performance will improve. They'll get to spend another year or more in the league. I believe that will be a huge factor for free agents coming in.”
Another benefit of the center opening now is that it gives players time to familiarize themselves with the new equipment and recovery options available to them. It’s one thing to have it available, but it’s another to know how to best utilize it.
“You want to head into the season with a routine you trust and you know works,” Hauschka said. “It's a lot like being a chef. You've got to figure out how much of each ingredient to put in there. You can't just have one ingredient, and if you have 50 ingredients, it's probably too many, so you've got to find the right number of things, and that's what this spring is about for a lot of us.”
Throughout the facility, there are signs on the wall outside of each room that spells out the benefits of what’s inside. For example, outside the hot yoga studio, a sign breaks down the benefits of the treatment (when used as a relaxation technique, it provides a mental break and reduces soreness in the body), when and when not to use it and similar training options.
“A lot of it is about education,” Ciano said. “Our three departments, educating the guys on why we do it, how we do it. Those signs are just a piece of the puzzle. … We walk them through those things so that throughout their career, they can do it on their own. When guys build that routine, it's in their daily plan. We want to build those habits that are going to make them successful.”
Alexander was talking with running back Frank Gore after one of the team’s voluntary workouts. The two 35-year-olds joked that if they had the resources available to them now when they were younger, they could have played until they were 40.
“It’s just creating that mindset of taking care of your body earlier and making that an emphasis,” Alexander said. “Most guys don't make it in this league not because they're not talented enough. Most of the time it's because they're not available. They get hurt in training camp, maybe it's a young guy, and you miss a couple practices. Coaches don't have the patience to wait on you. You may get released and they bring in another guy, and you miss your opportunity.”
“Coach always talks about having the guys remain available, that's the key to success,” Breske added. “We're a small part of trying to help with that. Making us the healthiest, happiest team in the league – we really strive for that. That's what our intention is for this year.”
With a sports performance center that can safely be called one of the best in the world, the organization feels that’s closer to becoming a reality.
“It's overwhelming. It's amazing,” Ciano said. “I'm still trying to get used to it. Every person that's come through here since it's been built cannot believe how nice this place is.
"It was designed for player care – to help those guys. As a player, I'd want to know the Pegulas care about me as a person and have my best interests in mind. I'd want to play for somebody like that.”