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Volume 23 No. 28
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Choice of new owner for Bills said to be near

With final bids due this week for the Buffalo Bills, a potential new owner of the franchise is expected by insiders to be chosen in time for a scheduled NFL finance committee vote on Sept. 17.

According to those near to the process, several things were clear about the pursuit: There remain bidders not yet publicly identified as of late last week; the final price is very likely to top $1 billion; and singer Jon Bon Jovi had not become estranged from a group that includes principals from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, as has been suggested.

The sources declined to go on the record because of confidentiality restrictions, but they were emphatic that the price, while not approaching the $2 billion Steve Ballmer put out earlier this summer for the NBA Los Angeles Clippers, would please the NFL. As with any process like this, they also underscored that unknowns can always emerge to cause delays.

Unlike recent NFL sales that were handled quietly by the league, this Bills transaction has played out in the press, with seemingly every rumored iteration reported. After the March death of Bills founding owner Ralph Wilson, the team was put up for sale by his estate. That required the estate to get the most value in a deal, meaning a full auction had to be conducted.

By comparison, the sale of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cleveland Browns, the two most recently sold NFL teams, were handled by the league office, which hand-picked the buyers. That kept those processes quiet, unlike the sometimes messy publicity surrounding the Bills sale.

One report, for example, pegged initial bids from three groups all being below $900 million. However, first-round bids only had ranges, not specific numbers, the inside sources said, adding that anyone who did bid in that range would have been kicked out of the process.

Other reports have been highly critical of Bon Jovi, including talk that he had been ditched by the MLSE principals. Buffalo media in particular has been negative toward the singer because he is seen as wanting to move the team to Toronto.

Other publicly identified bidders are local businessman Terry Pegula, who also owns the Buffalo Sabres, and Donald Trump. Former Sabres owner Tom Golisano has been named as a possible bidder, as well. However, the sources said there are at least two other serious bidders who may well get the team. The sources would not name those bidders.

Presuming a winner is selected this week and approved by the finance committee, full NFL ownership would vote on the owner at a scheduled league meeting Oct. 7.