NFL teams are remarkably similar to diamond engagement rings because both are more likely to remain in the family than they are to be sold. When the original owner of the Buffalo Bills died, however, it opened the door for Kim and Terry Pegula to join one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. All he had to do was fend off Donald Trump and Jon Bon Jovi.
Ralph Wilson founded the Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills franchise that Kim and Terry Pegula bought in 2014 was remarkably different than the team that Ralph Wilson founded ahead of the 1960 season. Wilson was a minority owner in the Detroit Lions when the upstart American Football League launched, and he landed in Buffalo after his attempt to put an AFL team in Miami was turned down.
The Bills won AFL championships in 1964 and ’65, but the merger with the NFL and its well-established teams in mostly larger markets qualified the Bills as a small-market team. With much of his net worth tied up in the team, Wilson went through phases when he was unwilling to spend on players. Still, he was at the helm during the Bills’ magnificent run of four straight Super Bowl appearances beginning with the 1990 season.
There would be four more playoff appearances in the ensuing six years, but the best years for the Bills were distant in their rearview mirror by the time Ralph Wilson died. With no heirs able to step in to run the Bills and the family facing tax implications, the Bills were put up for sale.
The Bills ultimately ended up in the hands of Kim and Terry Pegula, and they spent much more than the $25,000 franchise fee that Ralph Wilson paid.
Kim and Terry Pegula outbid Donald Trump and Jon Bon Jovi
With the city being one of the smallest markets in the NFL, the number of people with local ties who could swing a deal to buy the Buffalo Bills was limited in 2014. That concerned the local fans and community leaders who feared that an outsider would buy the Bills and move them.
That became less of a concern when Kim and Terry Pegula expressed serious interest, but they were up against Donald Trump as well as a group headed by rock singer Jon Bon Jovi. The Pegulas were reported to have bid $1.3 billion, and BusinessInsider.com reported that Bon Jovi and Canadian magnates Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family were at close to $1.2 billion. Trump, still two years away from campaigning for president of the United States, offered $1 billion.
Once the Pegulas’ offer reached $1.4 billion, the Bills had their new owners.
Terry Pegula made his fortune in natural gas drilling
Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula was born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, and earned a degree from Penn State in petroleum and natural gas engineering.
Pegula, 69, founded East Resources, a drilling company that extracted vast amounts of natural gas through fracking. Pegula, who had already purchased the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL in 2011, sold off large portions of his company for more than $6.4 billion last decade. He invested some money in real estate in the Buffalo area and other ventures, but the NFL team was his biggest purchase.
With the NHL team and a minor-league hockey team under their control, Pegula and his wife Kim took ownership of the Buffalo Bills early in the 2014 NFL season. They also own National Lacrosse League teams in Buffalo and Rochester.
Pegula has two children from a previous marriage and three with his second wife, Kim.