It’s been a tough 13 days for the Buffalo Bills.
It started with the passing of Ralph Wilson, the team’s 95-year-old owner, a week ago Monday.
Then, while that reality was just being processed, the news came that
Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly’s cancer had returned, having moved from his jaw to the sinus area. And while there have been snippets of encouraging reports, the reality that the recurrence is inoperable, at least for now, and that a fever had delayed the beginning of his chemotherapy and subsequent radiation until Monday, seems cause for concern over his long-term prognosis.
And his health issue has peripherally impacted a second concern.
As Wilson eased into his 90s, the reality that he had decreed the team be sold to the highest bidder upon his death became more real and worrisome.
What if the new owner wanted to move the franchise?
Yeah, that new lease was signed last year, supposedly locking the team
into ‚ “The Ralph‚” for 10 seasons. Up through the 2019 campaign, an owner would have to pay a $400 million fee to break the lease. But in 2020, for one year only, that buyout drops to a mere $28 million.
Somebody paying $400 million to take the team to Los Angeles, Toronto, San Antonio or London isn’t likely ... but $28 million is about what the Bills pay Aaron Williams in salary over five years.
If the new Bills owner wants to move ... six years from now is the time to do it.
However, the team will be sold well before that.
On Thursday, Wilson’s 68-year-old widow, Mary, was named the Bills‚ “controlling owner,” an NFL formality to facilitate the eventual sale. And it’s been reported that the team could be sold more quickly than might have been assumed ... possibly as early as the owner’s meeting in October, the labor session in December and almost certainly by their meeting next March.
Whether that sale is to a person willing to keep the team in Western New York is the question that will determine the team’s future.
Anyone purchasing the Bills must be OK’d by 75 percent of the NFL’s owners ... that is to say, at least 24. In addition, any franchise move must also be approved by the league’s owners.
But for Buffalo — a city without a Fortune 500 company — the list of potential local buyers is limited.
There are the usual suspects, billionaire Sabres owner Terry Pegula and that franchise’s former buyer, Tom Golisano.
Let me give you my Ed McMahon laugh on that possibility. Do you really think that a man who never met a microphone or camera he didn’t like, says nothing but is ‚for‚ everything, all while having the credibility of Ryan Braun, really has any real desire to buy the Bills?
And if you’re still not convinced, keep in mind Trump is involved with casino ownership, an absolute NFL no-no.
Then there’s the oft-repeated ‚ “Jim Kelly’s putting together an ownership group‚” mantra. But beyond the obvious, all-consuming cancer battle he’s fighting, there’s another significant issue.
Other than Green Bay, which was grandfathered in, the NFL allows no community-owned teams.
Group ownership is permitted, with the stipulation that a single person must represent the team and own at least 30 percent of the franchise.
With the Bills estimated to be worth at least $870 million, any potential ownership group must have at least one investor willing to front more than $260 million ... $85 million more than Pegula reportedly paid for the Sabres.
And, even if such a group can be organized, it would purchase a team in an economically-challenged region with a 41-year-old stadium in desperate need of a major overhaul ... not just the current $130 million Band-Aid.
Yeah, there’s the obligatory new stadium talk, but if it involves public funds, that’s a tough concept to sell to even the most loyal Bills “fan,” given the area’s financial state with, at best, a static population, and at worst a declining one.
The reality is, the franchise in worth at least half again aelsewhere, as it is now in Western New York.
That’s not to say a new owner won’t buy the Bills and keep them here ... but the challenges to do so are enormous.