NFL: Ranking the Ownership Groups Bidding on the Buffalo Bills

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The Buffalo Bills are for sale. This is cause for great celebration among the people who can afford to purchase NFL teams — because those teams very rarely come up for sale, and they’re essentially private printing presses for gobs of cash. The last team to be sold was the Miami Dolphins, which exchanged ownership for just over $1 billion back in 2009 — a figure that the Bills sale will absolutely equal, and almost certainly top. The team was slated to hit the market back in March, when founder and owner Ralph Wilson, who had started the team with the offshoot AFL in 1959 (the league would merge with the NFL in 1970), passed away.

Bidding for the team formally began earlier this week, on Wednesday, July 30, and of the fifteen interested parties that have signed non disclosure agreements, which is standard operating procedure, there have only been two that submitted formal bids for the team, although they are not the only ownership groups that are being described as ‘seriously interested.’ Further complicating things is the team’s lease with the stadium (also owned by the Wilson trust), which forbids the team from negotiating with anyone that has plans to move the team, so if you’re bidding on the Bills, you’re bidding on the Buffalo Bills, not the Los Angeles by way of Buffalo Bills.

So, in the spirit of ranking things and passing judgement on which ownership groups have the best shot at being the new owners of the Western New York franchise, here’s our best estimate of which ones have the highest likelihood of taking over the franchise.

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5. Donald Trump

No one can figure out if Donald Trump is seriously trying to buy the Buffalo Bills, since conflicting reports seem to come out almost daily that either doom his efforts to complete and utter failure — like this one, from WGRZwhere he says “the chances [of a winning bid] are very, very unlikely because I’m not gonna do something totally stupid,” — come out almost as often as news that he’s still in the race, as ESPN reported just after midnight on Friday. Trump has made a career out of leaping into situations where he was obviously outmatched on one level or another (his dabble with presidential candidacy and the governorship of New York come to mind), and even at the eleventh hour we’re not sure if this isn’t just some elaborate ploy for a totally unrelated reason.

Trump, it must be said, is no stranger to professional football, as he was at one time an owner of the New Jersey Generals, a team that played in the short lived U.S. Football League, which went belly up after an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL wound up backfiring. Bonus points to Trump for trying to get back into the game, but we’re not sold on the idea that he’ll ever own the team.

4. The unknown groups who signed NDA’s but have not bid yet.

Of the fifteen prospective ownership groups that have formally placed bids, only three have actually come through and bid on the record — Trump and two others that we’ll get to later. That doesn’t mean that the twelve other interested parties are shut out of the proceedings, though, since “The deadline Tuesday was regarded as a soft one, meaning other interested parties can still submit bids until a prospective owner is identified,” according to the AP by way of ESPN. “The next step is for groups who have been approved to advance is to meet with both Morgan Stanley and members of the estate to obtain the franchise’s financial information.” Also of note: Morgan Stanley have not set a formal deadline for the sale of the team, but the NFL would certainly like the sale to be completed by October, when the next meeting between the owners is due to take place.

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3. Tom Golisano

While Tom Golisano, the former owner of the Buffalo Sabres, hasn’t formally submitted a bit to Morgan Stanley in the rush to purchase the Bills, the soft-lock nature of the Tuesday deadline means that the billionaire isn’t out of the hunt yet, and “[h]is plan is to call Morgan Stanley and ask: ‘Are you interested in another bid?’” according to a source who spoke with The Buffalo News. Of course, some outlets reported that Golisano had already made an offer (and the timestamp on that second link, proclaiming that he had made a bid, is earlier than the first, which claims that he hasn’t), so the waters are about as muddied as can be, but the persistence of his name and his prior history of owning a Buffalo-based sports team separate him from the host of other groups that may or may not have already bid.

2. Jon Bon Jovi’s Ownership Group

One of the most serious bids in the process comes from Jon Bon Jovi (yes, that Bon Jovi, big snare-ing, Slippery When Wet-ing Bon Jovi) and his business partners, who are based out of Toronto and have offered an initial bid that’s reported to be to be somewhere around $1.2 billion dollars. The group is one of three that have definitely moved on to the second round of bidding, according to Morgan Stanley.

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1. Terry Pegula

Pictured on the left up there, Terry Pegula purchased the Buffalo Sabres from Tom Golisano in 2011. He’s also delivered the highest reported bid so far, at $1.3 billion. With a reputation as an owner who is in it for the right reasons (that is, he seems to have been committed to improving the Sabres since he bought the team), Pegula also seems like one of the most likely to keep the team in Buffalo, and his case would seem to be the strongest. He’s also got over a billion dollars ready, right now, to buy the team. That probably doesn’t hurt. According to Forbes, via The Buffalo News, Pegula is worth around $3.3 billion.