Bills fan fund attracting widespread attention - The Buffalo News
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Bills fan fund attracting widespread attention

One Western New York native, now an executive with a North Carolina company, offered to write a $10,000 check for the planned new Buffalo Bills fan fund.

A former National Football League player from Buffalo wants to serve on the fund’s advisory board.

And a managing partner with a local law firm expressed an interest in serving on the advisory board and helping reach out to high-level donors.

Buffalo Fan Alliance officials say they’ve gotten a great reaction so far from Western New Yorkers and expatriates interested in doing their share to help the Buffalo Franchise Preservation Fund – and thus help keep the team here for the long term.

“It’s been tremendously positive,” said Matt Sabuda, president of the alliance. “We ended up getting a ton of emails from people all across the country. People really want an opportunity to be empowered and get involved.”

Sabuda made his comments Monday morning, barely 24 hours after news broke about the new fund.

The Buffalo Fan Alliance, a crew of rabid Bills fans who want to turn their fears of team relocation into action, has proposed raising between $100 million and $170 million from fans, who could pay anywhere from $100 to $10,000 apiece. That fund then would be offered interest-free to someone buying the team and pledging to keep it here, creating an incentive worth around $10 million per year for a new owner.

People donating to the fund wouldn’t own anything, other than a paper certificate, but they would be investing in the effort to keep the Bills here for the long term.

While the concept has no direct connection to the team, some have dubbed the fund the Bills Bank.

The concept, two years in the making, needs months more of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, before it becomes operational. Brian L. Cinelli, CEO of the alliance, said it hopes to have the fund operating within a year.

The fund isn’t designed just for a new owner after Ralph C. Wilson Jr. It could be used before the Bills are sold, for stadium improvements or even a new stadium.

So what can fans do if they’re interested?

They can sign onto the alliance’s website, at, and take a quick survey. That questionnaire asks how important the Bills are to Western New York and whether the respondent would join a local effort to keep the team here. If so, the person is asked to check the appropriate level of support, anywhere from 0 to $25 on the low end to more than $10,000.

The fund concept is based partly on the recent selling of “stock shares” to fans in Green Bay, where fans pay $250 per “share.” The Buffalo fund probably would allow smaller donations.

“We think going as low as $100 still makes sense to us,” Sabuda said.

But that’s just one issue that the fan alliance has to work out before starting the fund.

Here are some others:

• Safeguarding the fund.

“We just want to get the point across that we will get all the appropriate checks and balances in place,” Cinelli emphasized, noting that the fund will enlist the help of legal counsel and accountants.

The fund needs to be structured properly, audited properly and well protected, Sabuda added.

• Minimizing administrative costs.

While none of the fund directors will be paid, raising money can be expensive for any nonprofit group. The alliance is hoping, with a little help, to pare those administrative costs down to about 5 percent.

“We’re hoping to get people involved with ties to Buffalo who could help defray those administrative costs,” Sabuda said.

• Creating an advisory board of some 20 to 25 people, including prominent members of the local business community, everyday fans and expatriates.

• Spelling out how the fund would work.

Fans would get their money back only if the owner didn’t use the funds. Once the funds are used, if the team left, the new owner would repay the money along with a steep penalty that has to be negotiated earlier, presumably with the Bills and the NFL.

The Bills’ current lease includes a $400 million relocation penalty.

If the new owner skipped town and paid the penalty, that money would go to local charities and foundations. That’s one of many things needed to be spelled out before the fund becomes operational.

Cinelli and Sabuda sounded thrilled Monday at the initial response.

At least two people who run Bills Backers chapters across the country want to know how they can enlist the help of the fans who frequent their bars and restaurants during Bills games.

And even before going public with their plan, Buffalo Fan Alliance directors talked with two potential, qualified ownership groups that they wouldn’t identify.

“Both have indicated that in the event this was approved by the NFL, they would be interested in exploring it,” Sabuda said.


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