SBJ/June 30-July 6, 2014/Finance

Talk in Buffalo centers on keeping team home

Read the press in Buffalo, and one theme comes across clearly in the coverage of the sales process for the city’s NFL franchise: Can a local owner emerge to buy the Bills?

The team, which is being sold from the estate of Ralph Wilson following the death of the Bills’ founding owner in March, has had numerous suitors named as potential buyers. In each case, questions have followed about how likely it would be for that particular individual to keep the team in its small, western New York market.

As the Bills go to market, the trend lately has leaned toward non-local owners.
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It’s chatter that draws not only from the years-long talk about the NFL getting a franchise back to Los Angeles, but also finds fuel in seeing how the market for team purchases has changed in recent years. Consider the numbers:

From 2010 through this year, eight of the 25 franchise sales across the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — or, less than one-third of the deals — involved an in-market buyer, according to SportsBusiness Journal research. That compares to a

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little more than half the buyers being local for sales between 2005 and 2009, and about 60 percent of the team buyers between 2000 and 2004 having ties to the market of the franchise they were buying.

Only one of those teams bought by an out-of-market buyer has been relocated — the Seattle SuperSonics moving to Oklahoma City — but the number of outside buyers acquiring teams unquestionably has increased.

“Having observed sports franchise ownership trends over the past 20 years, you start to see patterns, and the increase in non-local ownership is one of the obvious patterns,” said sports finance adviser Mitchell Ziets.

Several trends are converging to bring outsiders into markets to buy beloved local sports teams, Ziets said. Those reasons include the continued growth in franchise values, which limits the pool of local buyers; the proliferation of wealth created in the financial industry in the last 15 years, with these buyers generally concentrated in financial centers; and the fact that, for the most part, new venues have been completed in the last 25 years, allowing new, out-of-town owners to avoid fighting the “all politics is local” battle, Ziets said.

Whether the Bills will follow that trend or get a buyer with ties to the home market will play out in the months ahead.

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