The Buffalo Bills returned from their bye week Monday to a rather unusual line of questioning.
Like, for instance, if they were Bon Jovi fans.
The New Jersey rocker was a hot topic of conversation in the locker room after Sunday’s report from CBS Sports that Jon Bon Jovi “is among the parties positioning to purchase the Buffalo Bills when the team comes up for sale.”
That, of course, has not happened. The team on Sunday issued a sternly worded statement indicating it would not comment on speculation surrounding its future.
“Pro Football Hall of Fame member Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. is the founder and owner of the Buffalo Bills franchise. The organization does not respond to reports of the interest other parties may have in ownership of the franchise or of speculation concerning various groups that may have such interest.”
A representative of the singer told the Associated Press on Monday that Bon Jovi would one day like to be an NFL owner, but that “it’s preposterous to say he’s had any discussions with the Bills and Erie County.”
“The Bills are not for sale, and he has too much respect for Mr. Wilson to engage in any discussions of buying the team,” Los Angeles-based public relations consultant Ken Sunshine told the AP.
When contacted via email by The News early Monday afternoon, Sunshine declined further comment: “Sorry – not doing anything further on this story.”
In its 2009 “Ones to Watch” list, Forbes estimated Bon Jovi to have a net worth of $290 million. The same magazine estimates the Bills’ worth at $870 million, although the team could go for more on the open market.
Either way, it’s clear the singer would need plenty of rich friends to make any sort of purchase work. He seems to have those.
Bon Jovi was photographed at the Toronto Raptors’ home opener Oct. 30 sitting courtside with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke and chairman Larry Tanenbaum. He was also a guest at the wedding of Leiweke’s daughter, Francesca, in August.
“Jon and I are very good friends,” Leiweke said in an interview with the Toronto Star on Sunday. “We talk weekly about his NFL ambitions. And so we’re actively engaged, but I think it’s still a work in progress.”
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is a conglomerate that owns the NHL’s Maple Leafs and NBA’s Raptors — as well as the Air Canada Centre where they play — and has other sports, real estate, broadcasting outlets and restaurants in its portfolio.
The NFL prohibits corporations from owning even parts of teams, but should one land in Toronto, a new stadium would need to be constructed, and that’s where Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment would come in.
The cost of a new stadium is likely to approach $1 billion. The Globe and Mail, a nationally distributed Canadian newspaper based in Toronto, reported Monday that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has put Bob Hunter — the company’s chief facilities and live entertainment officer — in charge of two special projects. Those are redesigning BMO Field — which houses Major League Soccer’s FC Toronto — so that it can also accommodate the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, along with designing an NFL stadium that could one day attract whoever buys the Bills.
The Bills’ lease with Erie County and New York State extends through the 2022 season. If the team were to break it by relocating, it would have to pay $400 million — although there is a one-time option to terminate the lease after the 2019 season, at a cost of $28,363,500.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said via Twitter on Sunday that he had not spoken with Bon Jovi, “nor am I interested in speaking to any prospective owner who intends to move the team.”
On Monday, Poloncarz used more than 140 characters to explain his position to reporters.
“I certainly encourage Mr. Bon Jovi’s interest if he’s looking to keep the team in town,” he said. “If he’s interested in partnering with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment group to move a team to Toronto, my response to him is: Go find another team. It’s not going to be the Buffalo Bills.”
The timing of Bon Jovi’s reported interest in the franchise coming to light this week is coincidental. The team visits the Rogers Centre on Sunday to face the Atlanta Falcons as part of its “Bills in Toronto” series.
For the last five years, the team has played one regular-season game in the former SkyDome as part of an agreement with Rogers Communications. The two sides agreed to a five-year extension of that arrangement in January.
“It’s very important to our organization moving forward in today’s NFL that we regionalize our brand,” Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon said in January, announcing the extension. “We’re like many other businesses in Buffalo, especially in the entertainment industry, in the tourism industry, that southern Ontario and Toronto are very important to their business. We are no different.”
At that news conference in the Rogers Centre, Brandon praised the Rogers family for its commitment to the “Bills in Toronto” series.
In the Globe and Mail report Sunday, 44-year-old Edward Rogers, the deputy chairman of the company founded by his grandfather, is mentioned as the potential majority owner of a bid fronted by Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum. The Rogers family has an estimated worth of $6.41 billion.
Those are the type of deep pockets that it would take to make any potential sale and relocation of the Bills to Toronto a reality. The purchase cost, new stadium construction, lease termination, and a relocation fee assessed by the NFL that would likely be in the hundreds of millions, gives the move a potential price tag that could approach $3 billion.
There are other potential roadblocks, too, including the need for NFL approval of any such move.
Bon Joviwill have plenty of competition when the “for sale” sign goes up — which, it bears repeating, hasn’t happened yet.
“Yeah, I like Bon Jovi,” Bills coach Doug Marrone said, before indicating that the report of the singer’s interest in the franchise wasn’t on his radar.
“My core is being with the team, winning football games, getting this team better. We have a long way to go. We’re challenged. We have a big game coming up with Atlanta,” Marrone said. “When I start thinking about things outside that core, then I’m really not doing my job, but I’ve heard about that.”
So had most of the team’s players.
“I had a few people tweet me about it,” veteran punter Brian Moorman said. “I might be the only guy on the team that had a Jon Bon Jovi cassette tape. It’s whatever. That stuff doesn’t really affect us as players.
“It’s Mr. Wilson’s team. We don’t know what the future holds, but he’s one of the best owners in the business. I’m honored to play for him. He and Mrs. Wilson both do a lot for this community.
“When people start speculating about that stuff, as far as new owners, I don’t even give it any credence.”