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Buffalo Bills: Sale of Team Progressing

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(November 14, 2012 - Source: Rick Stewart/Getty Images North America)
(November 14, 2012 – Source: Rick Stewart/Getty Images North America)

With the start of training camp around the corner, the sale of the Buffalo Bills is eagerly anticipated by its loyal fan base.

The goal of Ralph Wilson’s estate is to have a deal in place for the purchase of the team before the start of the regular season. That condensed time table has seen the pace of the sale process speed up a bit to accommodate that goal.

Earlier this month, the Bills’ financial adviser, Morgan Stanley, released the team’s sales book – permitting access to the team’s detailed financial information – to all potential bidders. A recent report suggested that the pool of prospective buyers could potentially include as many as 60 bidders, supporting the belief that owning a professional sports team, particularly in the NFL, has now become a feverishly sought after commodity even among otherwise previously uninterested billionaires.

All of those in possession of the financial documents, which includes all revenues and liabilities incurred by the team, have until July 29th to submit an ‘indication-of-interest’ document to the team declaring their intention to follow through with their original goal of bidding on the team.

The names of those possible bidders have varied over the last few months with several remaining as constants throughout the process. Real estate mogul Donald Trump, mentioned in the first weeks following Wilson’s death, has been the most vocal and visible in his declarations to buy the team and see that it remains in western New York.

Trump is said to be able to afford the team on his own but it’s currently unclear whether he will look to instead form a joint bid as many of the prospective buyers have done. Used to being in the spotlight and known for his publicity stunts many will write Trump off as using this platform as one more way to drum up interest for his other business ventures but his bid should be taken seriously until the moment he actually pulls out.

Trump has never wavered from his wish to acquire the team and his previous ownership of the New Jersey Generals of the now defunct USFL league would suggest that his fascination with owning a professional football team goes back many years.

The issue for Trump might be if he does submit the highest bid and is awarded the team – will he be approved by the league and the rest of the owners?

The league only has room for so many outlandish and outspoken owners and Jerry Jones has more than fulfilled that role for the NFL.

Somehow, Trump doesn’t seem to fit the image of the dignified Rooney or Mara families.

Former Sabres’ owner and local businessman Tom Golisano has also long been known to be in the mix as well. Originally believed to be working on a joint bid with Syracuse developer Scott Congel, those conversations have recently cooled, but Golisano is still likely to continue in his pursuit to buy the team individually.

Current Sabres’ owner Terry Pegula has similarly researched his own options for procuring the team, even going so far as hiring Steve Greenberg, director of an investment bank that has been prominently involved in the sales of several professional teams in the past including the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA and San Diego Padres of MLB. Pegula took the step of freeing up nearly $1.75 billion in cash last month by selling some of his energy assets.

NFL rules mandate that only $200 million of the entire sale price of a team can be financed – the rest of the purchase must be paid in cash. The Bills were recently valued by Forbes at $870 million but many expect the last sale to top $1 billion. For the team’s loyal fan base the legitimate quest of both Pegula and Golisano of the team has to be encouraging as they are the two least likely to move the team from the region.

Golisano has hinted that there is a limit to as how high he is willing to bid and he has also said, quite bluntly, that he will not engage in a bidding war for the team despite how much he wishes for them to stay in Buffalo.

Bills’ fans are most unnerved by ongoing indications that Jon Bon Jovi is seeking to buy the team as his bid has been linked to Larry Tanenbaum of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. The belief is that if Tanenbaum and Bon Jovi are awarded the team they will seek to move it to Toronto. This rumor was refuted by close Bon Jovi friend—and ESPN analyst—Ron Jaworski in a recent radio interview, but Buffalo fans have been conditioned to fear the worst.

Bon Jovi has long had interest in owning an NFL team and was a part owner of the Philadelphia Soul of the AFL. The other name that has cropped up only lately is C. Dean Metropoulos, owner of Pabst Brewing Company, who previously tried to bid on the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2008.

It sounds like Metropoulos is on the periphery of the bidding process, however.

With close to $130 million in renovations scheduled to take place and a stadium lease that can’t be broken until 2020 at the earliest, the team is not in danger of being moved any time soon.

But until the new owner is announced the fear of losing to the team to Toronto or Los Angeles will remain.

In other related news, the state of New York commissioned a report headed up by AECOM, a California-based architectural firm, tasked with identifying three to four potential sites across the region for a new stadium was delayed to the end of the month after originally being scheduled to be completed last Friday.

New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, has been upfront about his belief that he is not convinced that a new stadium is necessary or warranted, has reassured Buffaloians that the state would step up and do what is required to make sure one is built if it is determined one is mandated by the new owner and the league.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has already stated that he thinks a new stadium is an essential condition of keeping the team in the region and indeed the league’s past action of designating teams that have built new stadiums as Super Bowl hosts, regardless of the city’s location, has suggested that seeking the construction of as many new stadiums as possible is a top priority of the NFL.

While there is a lot of anticipation in Buffalo now, the team’s fans are in a hurry up-and-wait mode until at least the end of the month.

The distraction of the team’s training camp can’t get here soon enough.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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