FAQ: Potential Bills suitors must have portfolios that meet NFL specs - The Buffalo News
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FAQ: Potential Bills suitors must have portfolios that meet NFL specs

Buffalo sports fans are familiar with ownership changes.

The Sabres have switched hands four times in the past 15 years. Many of us were around when the Braves dribbled off to San Diego.

But policies for NFL ownership are different than in other leagues, and we haven't seen them applied in Buffalo. The Bills have known only one owner. Ralph Wilson, who died two weeks ago, founded the team in 1959.

Now the Bills are for sale.

As we progress through the first ownership transfer in the Bills' long history, we will encounter all sorts of wrinkles in how the NFL process works.

Lately, "potential owners who own other things the NFL doesn't allow" has been a topic.

Let's look at a few issues that pertain to potential Bills owners who already own other things.

What are some enterprises the NFL doesn't want its owners involved in?

NFL owners come from varied backgrounds. Wilson got his start in the insurance business. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson ran Hardee's and Denny's restaurants. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen were oil executives. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross developed large parts of Manhattan real estate.

But there are restrictions to what NFL owners can have in their portfolios. For instance, they cannot own another sports team in another NFL market and cannot be involved in a business that include gambling operations. They also cannot be a non-profit or not-for-profit entity.

Why would the NFL stop somebody from buying a team just because he or she owns a sports team in another town?

The NFL's constitution and bylaws have specific rules about what it calls "cross-ownership." The league wants its owners to concentrate on maximizing the territories they're in. Plus, the NFL has determined it's counterproductive for owners to compete against each other on the same turf for entertainment dollars.

Does that mean Sabres owner Terry Pegula could buy the Bills?

Yes, because the Sabres and the Bills are in the same market.

But the NFL would not allow East Aurora native Jeremy Jacobs to purchase the Bills without selling the Boston Bruins, a team he has owned since 1975, because it would put him in business competition with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

Jacobs' Buffalo-based company, Delaware North, released a statement Friday that he "has no intention of selling the Bruins in order to purchase the Buffalo Bills."

But hasn't the NFL approved multi-market cross-ownership arrangements within a family before?

That's true. The NFL set that precedent in 2010, when it approved Stan Kroenke's purchase of the St. Louis Rams although he owned the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. Kroenke had been a limited partner of the Rams and bought the remainder of the team.

At first, he planned to put the Rams in his wife's name. Ann Walton Kroenke has a couple bucks. She's the daughter of Wal-Mart founder Bud Walton. But the NFL denied that attempt.

To facilitate the Rams purchase, Kroenke turned over control of the Nuggets and Avalanche to his son, Josh Kroenke, and agreed to sell off majority stakes in both those clubs by the end of this year.

The Jacobs family could do something similar. Jacobs has six children, and only one of them is a Bruins executive. The other five could own the Bills without changing the Bruins' executive structure.

But Jacobs' family could encounter additional obstacles because it has gambling businesses. We'll get to that later.

Why is Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen allowed to own the Portland Trail Blazers?

Portland doesn't have an NFL franchise. The league's constitution and bylaws permit owners to possess out-of-market sports teams only if they are in a "neutral area."

For the record, Los Angeles is considered an NFL territory unto itself despite not having a team.

So what about reports that Jon Bon Jovi would be the face of a group backed by Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment? MLSE also owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors.

The NFL considers a team's home territory to be not only the city where it's located, but also the 75-mile radius from "the exterior corporate limits" of that city.

Toronto is about 60 miles away as the crow flies. Given that, the reported Bon Jovi/MLSE group would meet the NFL's cross-ownership criteria if it put forth a bid.

Could a publicly held corporation like the one that owns the Green Bay Packers buy the Bills?

No. Such ownership arrangements no longer are allowed in the NFL aside from the Packers, who were grandfathered.

Why does the NFL have such an aversion to owners having gambling interests? Other leagues don't.

The Maloof family owned several casinos when the NBA let it purchase the Sacramento Kings. Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert operates casinos in Ohio in Michigan.

When the ITT conglomerate owned half of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers in the 1990s, it also owned Caesars Palace.

But the NFL maintains a higher standard than other sports leagues. So much so that the NFL refused to let Las Vegas launch its "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas" ad campaign during the 2003 Super Bowl.

The NFL has been vigilant in distancing itself from gambling associations. It even has policies against businesses that deal with such non-football wagers as lotteries or horse races.

The league considers gambling a sinister force that can corrupt the game's integrity. The NFL was a fierce opponent when New Jersey voted on legalized sports betting in 2011.

"Our fans, players, coaches, business partners all want to know that what is being presented on the field is real," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said at the time. "They don't want to have to wonder whether a player missed a field goal or pretended he was hurt because he was throwing the game."

How could the NFL's gambling restriction impact the Bills?

Two of the most prominent names mentioned as Bills suitors thus far partake in gambling businesses.

Donald Trump owns a piece of two Atlantic City casinos, the Trump Taj Mahal and Trump Plaza.

Jacobs' company, Delaware North, has a gambling division that bills itself as "one of the most innovative gaming and racing operators in the country, specializing in racing venues with added amenities, including video gaming machines, slot machines, table games, poker rooms, full-service restaurants, retail shops and lodging."

Delaware North's website says it operates in six states and oversees more than 6,000 video gambling machines.

What about the Rooney family owning the Pittsburgh Steelers, a horse track and a dog track at the same time?

The NFL begrudgingly allowed the Rooneys to maintain both businesses because patriarch Art Rooney Sr. and Chicago Cardinals founder Charles Bidwill Sr. had been involved with them since the 1930s.

Wilson owned and bred racehorses while he owned the Bills, entering one into the Kentucky Derby.

There was an unofficial, grandfathered quality to these arrangements.

The NFL's exceptions, however, came to an end in 2008. The Rooneys were forced to separate their football and gambling businesses, which relaxed laws had allowed them to add slot machines and casino betting.

Dan Rooney and one of his sons held onto 30 percent of the Steelers, while two of Rooney's brothers sold their shares in the team and took control of the gambling interests in New York and Florida.

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