SBD/March 26, 2014/Franchises

Bills To Be Placed In Trust Following Wilson's Death, No Quick Sale Expected

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Leaving Buffalo before '23 could cost the Bills as much as $400M
The Bills following the death of Owner Ralph Wilson Jr. yesterday "will be placed in a trust," and "no quick sale of the team is expected," according to Mark Gaughan of the BUFFALO NEWS. Team and NFL sources said that the trust is "likely to control and manage the team for at least a couple of years before any sale of the team is arranged." But Wilson's death "means the team eventually will be put up for sale" by his estate. That was the plan Wilson "laid out decades ago and one he vehemently stuck to in recent years as local worries about the future of the franchise increased." Having a trust in control "essentially keeps Wilson’s management team in place for the near future." The Bills are "not in immediate danger of leaving Western New York, due to the long-term lease that exists among the team, Erie County and New York State." That lease runs through '23, and the team would have to pay a $400M "penalty to get out of it, with one exception." There is an "out clause in the lease that would allow the team a one-time option, in 2020, to buy out the final three years of the deal for a payment" of only $28.4M. It is "presumed the team will be sold" before '20. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was born in Jamestown, N.Y., has said that he "thinks the Bills can remain viable in Western New York as long as the team has a suitable stadium." He has said that he would "like to see the Bills remain" in Buffalo (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/26). CBSSPORTS.com's Jason La Canfora noted Bills President & CEO Russ Brandon will "now be a key figure in orchestrating the next chapter for the team, which is virtually certain to include the sale of the team" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/25).

FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT: YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Adelson noted Wilson "successfully fought for years to keep the team in Western New York, and there has been speculation about what happens after the passing of the man whose name is on the stadium." The Bills have "played games in Toronto, and there was even a report about rocker Jon Bon Jovi having interest in owning an NFL franchise." That report was "hotly disputed by the Bon Jovi camp, but the future of the Bills will be discussed greatly in the coming months" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/25). In Buffalo, James Fink noted it is possible Wilson’s widow, Mary, "may keep the team." She has been "very active in team activities, especially in the Buffalo Niagara region." However, in years past, Wilson "declined to address whether his wife would be interested in keeping the family’s ownership stake." Meanwhile, local billionaire and Rich Entertainment Group Owner Robert Rich at 73 years old is "on the short-list of regionally-connected people who could help keep the Bills in Buffalo" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 3/25).

WEST BOUND & DOWN? In Buffalo, Jay Skurski writes the "impending threat of a team relocating" to L.A. has "consistently hung over the heads of fans in several NFL markets," including Buffalo. That threat will "only intensify" following Wilson's death (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/26). ESPN.com's John Clayton wrote L.A. is "looking for an NFL team, and it's easier to move a team that's being sold." While the "six-year wait might scare off" potential L.A. investors, Wilson's death "probably will get some things moving" on the L.A. front (ESPN.com, 3/25). But Erie County Exec Mark Poloncarz said that he "hopes enough checks and balances are in place to keep the Bills in Buffalo for 'many generations to come'” (BIZJOURNALS.com, 3/25).
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