The investors backing Buffalo's bid for an expansion baseball team are mostly friends or business associates of Bob or Mindy Rich.
Only a couple of the Riches' 14 co-investors who have been publicly identified started out as strangers to the Riches. Three have ties to Mrs. Rich's family in her hometown of Cincinnati. Others are part of the Riches' business and social circles in Buffalo.
They are lawyers, bankers, grocers, developers and broadcasters. Some are modestly wealthy, others much more so.
"They're people Mindy and I feel comfortable with," said Rich, president of the team. "We wanted people who would be good for Bison baseball and people we're going to be comfortable working with."
As a group, they are not strangers to the world of professional sports. Two own hockey teams, another ran a successful baseball franchise in the Caribbean, and two others have tried to buy baseball and basketball teams.
While they had broached the idea to some prospective investors, the Riches didn't begin a concerted effort to attract partners until the National League revealed the details of its expansion plans last summer.
Rather than leave the task to intermediaries, the Riches have done the pitching themselves, and investors said the couple did a good job selling both themselves and their baseball proposition.
"They truly know what they are doing, and I was impressed," said Luis A. Gomez Jr., an insurance executive and former owner of a professional baseball team in Puerto Rico.
"They've done a very good job pitching the potential investors," said David Kantor, part of a family investment group from the Cincinnati-Dayton area that is part of the prospective ownership group. "They have a good investor team together."
If the Riches are comfortable with them, it is safe to say they are impressed with the couple.
"Most of the investors feel the same way -- they want to rally behind their leadership," said Richard W. Rupp, chairman of Armor-Box Corp. in Buffalo.
None of the partners has committed to a precise investment, nor were they expected to until after the expansion committee selected the short list.
The business would be set up as a limited partnership and financed through the sale of $10 million partnership units and possibly the borrowing of capital. Rich has said his family will be the managing partner and largest single investor, putting up at least $10 million cash plus the three minor-league franchises the Riches own.
Other investors would buy portions of the $10 million units and elect a board of directors that would advise the Riches on how to operate the team. The power to make all but a handful of major decisions would rest solely with the Riches, however.
Investors said they are comfortable with such an arrangement, noting the success the Riches have had operating minor league teams.
"You're sort of betting on them," said Cincinnati broadcast executive Frank E. Wood. "Lord knows they have the resources and energy to do it."
Jeremy Jacobs is Bob Rich's ace in the hole.
While Rich can count on the credibility and contacts he has established with baseball owners, Jacobs brings to the Bison ownership group his own important contacts in baseball board rooms.
Jacobs, 50, heads Delaware North Cos., which operates dog and horse tracks and stadium and arena concessions. Jacobs also owns the Boston Bruins and the Boston Garden.
Additionally, his family loaned money to financially strapped baseball teams in the 1930s, '40s and '50s.
Despite his family's association with baseball and his personal friendship with Rich, Jacobs makes no bones about his motivation.
He expects to land the concessions at Pilot Field.
"I would have no interest if I didn't have a concession arrangement," he said.
Seymour and Northrup Knox
The Knox family ties to the Riches go back a long way. Not only are the two families among Buffalo's wealthiest, but they have been business partners in the Buffalo Sabres for years since the beginning of the franchise.
The Knoxes made their fortune in retailing and banking. They mark their presence in the community in a number of civic undertakings and are best known for their love of the arts and sports. The family is the principal patron of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and credited with transforming it into a world-class gallery.
Brothers Seymour and Northrup headed the investor group that acquired the hockey team when the National Hockey League expanded in 1970.
The family is the team's single biggest shareholder, owning 25 percent of the franchise. Seymour, an investment banker, is the team's primary general partner.
Northrup, a banking executive, was involved in the team's management for years and remains an owner. He was involved with a group that tried to secure a baseball expansion team in 1968.
How much the brothers and other family members have to put up for a big league team this time around is uncertain.
The Sabres have sustained heavy losses over the years, especially in recent times, and the team is expected to invest a substantial amount to help build a new arena proposed for downtown Buffalo. That could divert money otherwise available for the baseball venture.
Nevertheless, Seymour said family members will invest, although they have not decided which ones of them or in what amounts.
Luis A. Gomez Jr.
Luis A. Gomez Jr. is the only member of the ownership group besides the Riches with any experience running a baseball team. And Gomez has plenty.
He was the owner and chief executive officer of the Mayaguez Indians in the Puerto Rican League for 15 years until he sold most of his stock in July 1989. The league is one of four in the Caribbean that play "winter ball," and Gomez's players over the years have included such big league stars as Wally Joyner, Lance Parrish, Jack Morris, Bobby Bonilla, and Von Hayes, as well as John Cangelosi, who played for the Bisons the last two years.
Gomez, 49, is a San Juan insurance executive who has homes in New York City and Vermont. He heads two insurance companies in Puerto Rico.
Robert G. Wilmers
Banker Robert G. Wilmers says he's a small-time investor in Bisons baseball -- and happy to have the chance.
"I'm a baseball fan and a Bobby Rich fan," Wilmers said. "I'd like to see major league baseball in Buffalo and want to play my part."
Wilmers, 56, is regarded as one of Buffalo's most influential businessmen. He is head of First Empire State Corp. and chairman and chief executive officer of its principal subsidiary, M&T Bank.
Wilmers is active in a number of local business and cultural organizations.
Despite his stature, Wilmers said he is happy to take a back seat to Rich.
"This is Bobby's show. I'm just a small investor," he said. "I just hope he lets me throw out the last ball of the season."
The Kantor Group is comprised of a father, his two sons and a son-in-law who make their money in the food business.
Milton Kantor, 63, describes his clan as "sports buffs." They are major boosters of the University of Dayton and they tried last year to buy the Indiana Pacers of the NBA.
"We had no thought of going to Buffalo with a baseball team," Kantor said. "But we were very impressed with the Riches when we met them, and we're very impressed with the way they've run the franchise."
The families are not strangers. Kantor is a former business partner of Richard Roth, Mindy Rich's father, and Mrs. Rich has worked for the Kantors. The Kantors' main business is wholesale groceries.
The Meyers Family
David and Beverly Meyers became involved with the Bisons through their friendship with Mrs. Rich.
Meyers, 52, is agency manager for Equitable Life of New York in Cincinnati and owns several companies. His wife is an artist.
He termed Rich and Mrs. Rich "close personal friends."
"When it came time to put a group together, we wanted to play," he said.
Frank E. Wood
Frank E. Wood is a well-known Cincinnati broadcast executive who got involved with the Bisons through the Meyers family. Educated as a lawyer, Wood, 48, practiced law for three weeks, took a year's leave to run a radio station and never returned to law. He owned stations in Cincinnati and Louisville before selling them to become head of Jacor Communications Inc. in 1986.
During his tenure, Jacor operated 13 radio stations in Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee as well as a cable company in Kentucky. Jacor's stations carried a lot of sports programming.
"Who wouldn't want to own a piece of a major league sports franchise? Generally they're a little boy's toy," he said. "Sports is a cross between reality and adult comics."
Robert O. Swados
Robert O. Swados is a veteran of the baseball expansion wars.
He was part of investor groups that tried to get Buffalo a team in 1960 and again in 1968, and along the way he picked up experience and contacts that he hopes to help the Riches parlay into a successful franchise bid.
"I am experience," he said in describing his role in the investor group. "I am not a major investor and won't be a major investor.
Swados, a Buffalo attorney, and Seymour Knox are general partners of the Buffalo Sabres.
Swados is upbeat about Buffalo's chances of getting a baseball team the third time around. But he acknowledges the challenge.
"This," he said, "is a tough job."
Richard W. Rupp
Richard W. Rupp views his participation in the ownership group as both a good deed and a good investment.
"I'd like to make an investment in this community," he said. "This would be great for the community and a good investment for me."
Rupp is founder and chairman of Armor-Box Corp., a Buffalo firm that manufactures corrugated packaging and shipping containers.
He and his family also own 4.8 percent of the Sabres.
Rupp, 72, said he has known Rich since he was a child.
"We have been friends forever," Rupp said.
Larry King adds a dash of showbiz to the ownership group.
Although he is based in a Washington suburb, King has achieved celebrity status through his nationally syndicated radio talk show, his books and his column in USA Today.
King, 56, said he "dreamed I'd be a manager" while growing up in Brooklyn. Being, in his words, a "mini-owner" is the next best thing, he said.
King first met the Riches as their guest at a Bisons game in 1988. He subsequently agreed to narrate the video the Bisons played for the National League expansion committee.
King said the Riches approached him about joining their ownership group this summer.
"For my part, you're probably talking an increment of a quarter-million dollars," he said.
Robert W. Jones
Robert W. Jones is hoping the second time is a charm. Jones, 60, was part of a group that tried to buy the Baltimore Orioles in 1987. Jones said he decided to get involved with the Bisons because of the Riches.
"I think it has the strongest chance of succeeding," he said. "I think Bob and Mindy Rich have done their homework."
He is owner of a Manhattan real estate development, appraisal and consulting firm. Although most of his work involves projects in New York State, his business has taken him throughout North America, Europe and the Caribbean. With a full-time staff of 11 plus an extensive network of associates, Jones said his is the largest, perhaps the only, minority-owned firm of its type in New York City.
Patrick Hodgson is a native Buffalonian who hopscotches between here, Toronto and his adopted hometown of London, Ont., tending to a half-dozen businesses.
Hodgson's local holdings include T-W Truck Equippers Inc. and the Kissing Bridge ski resort in Colden. He also serves on the board of directors of M&T Bank.
Hodgson, 50, moved to London 25 years ago to run a machinery company he sold last year. His mother was a member of the Schoellkopfs, a wealthy Buffalo family.
A friend of Rich, Hodgson said he sees the baseball venture as profitable and pleasurable. "Anytime you can combine a successful investment and have fun, too, it's the best of both worlds," he said.
Richard Garman is a quietly effective businessman and fund-raiser.
A self-made millionaire, Garman, 60, owns a number of operating and development companies in the Buffalo area. His enterprises include Buffalo Crushed Stone/ABC Paving and the Gateway Industrial Center. He also owns Woodlawn Beach, a site regarded as the most suitable location for a beach near Buffalo.
He was honored this spring by Medaille College as Entrepreneur of the Year.
Garman is involved in a number of political and civic endeavors. He recently resigned from the Sheffer Committee, which recommended ways to finance and manage professional sports facilities. He raised money to improve the Buffalo Museum of Science.
Randolph A. Marks
Randolph A. Marks is a retired businessman, active in civic and business groups.
Marks co-founded Computer Task Group in 1966 and served as chairman and chief executive officer for 18 years. He later joined American Brass Co. as chairman until his recent retirement.