ALBANY – Another day, another tidbit of speculation about potential suitors seeking entry to the elite club of wealthy who can lay claim to owning a professional football franchise.
But on Friday, as yet another name surfaced – or, more accurately, resurfaced – in the form of rocker Jon Bon Jovi, it was becoming increasingly clear that the path to owning the Buffalo Bills could rival the complexities of an airline merger.
The complications include the team’s new stadium lease arrangements, its poison pill clauses imposed on anyone moving the team in the next seven years and the question of just when and where a new stadium might go for the team.
In fact, an adviser to one rumored interested owner said the process of selling the team is essentially at square one.
“We don’t even know the value of the asset. Donald Trump, like all others, is waiting for the (Wilson) estate to retain the service of an investment bank to put together an analysis of the asset for the sale,” said Michael Cohen, an executive vice president and senior adviser to the Manhattan tycoon and television personality.
Cohen said he understands that the family of late Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. and Bills executives are interviewing five investment banking firms that will put together a portfolio on the team’s assets, which then would be studied by prospective owners.
Theories about who could end up as the long-term owners of the team have begun exploding – with pretty much the same set of possibilities as floated over the past couple of years when Wilson’s health began deteriorating.
The latest, again, is New Jersey rocker Bon Jovi. Toronto media outlets reported Friday that he is still part of a Toronto-based group with an interest in the Bills. The Toronto Sun, quoting QMI Agency, said unnamed sources said Bon Jovi is part of a potential ownership team along with Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.
The presumed theory, the story suggested, is that the team would move to Toronto if the group did proceed and was successful in purchasing the Bills.
Such a deal would come with a $400 million penalty if done anytime in the next seven years, according to a deal signed last year by the team and the state and county that is binding on current and future owners.
Ken Sunshine, a spokesman for Bon Jovi, told The Buffalo News on Friday pretty much the same thing that was being said about the rocker last year when his name first got into the mix as a potential Bills’ owner. “Jon is passionate about owning an NFL franchise,” said Sunshine, a Manhattan publicist. He said Bon Jovi would not be available to answer questions about his interest in the team.
Earlier this week, The News reported that Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of Delaware North Cos. and owner of the Boston Bruins, was a leading contender to purchase the team.
But WBZ Radio in Boston reported Thursday that Bruins President Cam Neely said on a sports radio show that Jacobs will not be seeking to purchase the Bills since the NFL doesn’t allow owners to have pro sports teams in other cities.
“He has no interest in getting out of hockey. He’s been extremely happy with his ownership here in Boston and he’s enjoying how the team is playing. He told me that he has no interest right now, or doesn’t have any interest at all to give up the Bruins,” Neely said, according to WBZ.
Delaware North on Friday released a statement basically repeating what Neely told Bruins’ fans on Boston radio.
The Buffalo-based company said Jacobs has “no intention” of selling the Bruins to buy the Bills, saying his “focus” is on ensuring the Bruins’ success “for the City of Boston and New England.”
The company said he would be a “strong supporter of any effort to keep the Bills in Western New York.”
So could that mean another member of the Jacobs family might be interested in the Bills? A Delaware North spokeswoman would not answer that question Friday.
Then there is Trump. His previous foray into pro football– the New Jersey Generals of the short-lived United States Football League – did not pan out. Trump was the team’s original owner before he sold it and then bought it back again a year later in 1984.
Cohen, the Trump executive, would not directly say if Trump wants the Bills.
He said there are still too many unanswered questions before such a financial decision could be made. Trump has said if he did end up with the team, his goal would be to keep it in Buffalo.
The newest round of rumors follow old ones from a year ago that a group of wealthy business executives from outside the region but with some sort of personal or family ties to Buffalo was working to get together and make a run for the team.
Then there was talk that local business executives are trying to put together an ownership team.
Then there is speculation about B. Thomas Golisano, former Buffalo Sabres owner and three-time loser in his run for New York governor, might want to buy the Bills. He now lives in Florida.
After only one meeting of a stadium study committee composed of representatives of the team, state and county, there are mounting theories over where a new stadium might be built.
Possible locations have been tossed out in Buffalo and Niagara County.
Still, despite the lack of clarity, the news headlines were definitive Friday about at least Bon Jovi’s intentions. “Jon Bon Jovi wants to pursue purchase of Buffalo Bills,” said USA Today. “Report: Bon Jovi part of Toronto group trying to buy Buffalo Bills,” said CBS Sports.
One source who is close to the issue said speculation instead of reality is driving the story. There are a host of complications, from the age and condition of Ralph Wilson Stadium, the value of the team, NFL ownership rules and what Mary Wilson, the widow of Ralph Wilson who is now controlling the team, wants to do and when she wants to do it.
A major issue: How does a new owner or owners deal with the agreement with the county and state that requires the team – no matter who owns it – to pay a $400 million penalty to the state if the Bills are moved from Western New York in the next seven years.
In Albany, there has been much speculation that Cuomo, who is facing re-election this year, may seek to get involved in some way in helping a new ownership team emerge that will agree to keep the team in Buffalo and possibly help finance construction of a new stadium.
The Cuomo administration had no comment Friday.