Billion dollars for Bills? It’s ‘like buying a yacht’ - The Buffalo News
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Billion dollars for Bills? It’s ‘like buying a yacht’

A Forbes magazine analysis recently pegged the worth of the Buffalo Bills at $870 million, but the bids reportedly received Tuesday seem to relegate that previous estimate to mere chump change.

The New York Post reported that Sabres owner Terry Pegula has offered more than $1 billion for the team, while Business First pegs his offer at $1.3 billion.

City News of Toronto, meanwhile, said the Canadian group headed by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment executive Larry Tannenbaum and fronted by rock star Jon Bon Jovi could be as high as $1.2 billion.

Manhattan real estate mogul Donald Trump told The Buffalo News through a spokesman that he also bid on the team, offering a “respectable number.”

So if these reports are accurate, why do the bids seem so much higher than the Forbes estimate?

It may be because the price tag of a professional sports team sometimes just doesn’t matter to billionaire bidders.

“Buying a football team is like buying a yacht; you do it to have fun,” said Andrew Zimbalist, the noted sports economist at Smith College in Northhampton, Mass. “That’s an element here.”

Then again, maybe the answer can be attributed to Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO. He recently paid $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association. The previous high price for an NBA team came in at $550 million.

And the last NFL team to be sold – the Miami Dolphins in 2009 – went for $1.1 billion.

It all leads to an increasing recognition that an NFL franchise is unlike just about any other investment available to the world’s elite group of billionaires.

“It’s so personal, so individualistic, and so idiosyncratic, that you can’t say you’re crazy for doing it,” Zimbalist said.

Zimbalist said he thinks the Forbes estimate is a good one, and that a less-glamorous business under normal circumstances would fetch somewhere in the $870 million range.

But the league’s stable of only 32 franchises rarely post a “for sale” sign, and Ballmer has shown that virtually unlimited resources can result in offers usually considered crazy.

“It’s not a normal business so you can get wildly fluctuating numbers,” he said.

He added that bidders often enter the NFL marketplace for their own psychological reasons, to bolster other aspects of their business empires, or with the expectation of selling the team a few years down the road for even more money.

Other factors enter the process, according to Larry Grimes, president of the Sports Advisory Group in Gaithersburg, Md., whose firm often advises on minor league purchases and who is familiar with the dynamics of sports transactions. He said prospective owners will always eye moving to Toronto and taking advantage of its possibilities.

But the prospect of even more dollars flowing to NFL owners with a new television contract slated for 2017 proves most attractive (tempered by lawsuits related to head injuries still hanging over the league).

Buffalo, meanwhile, this fall will open a renovated stadium offering more amenities and more sales potential in addition to tickets, he said, not to mention the possibility of a totally new stadium within the next decade.

More possibilities also lie down the road, he said, such as negotiating rights for various digital systems beyond broadcast.

The NFL, he said, presents all kinds of potential that even the soothsayers have yet to grasp.

“So they are not crazy bids at all,” he said.

Still not heard from in the bidding process is B. Thomas Golisano, the former Buffalo Sabres owner.

Sources familiar with the situation say he is biding his time before deciding on his own offer. One source said he could bid as early as today despite the lapsed Tuesday deadline.

“His plan is to call Morgan Stanley and ask: ‘Are you interested in another bid?’ ” the source said. “He’s not out of it yet.”


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