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Bills sue sponsor of New Era Field clocks, alleging nonpayment of $1M

The clock ran out on the official timepiece of the Buffalo Bills.

The team is suing Benrus, the company that a few years ago was allowed to put its name on two massive clocks atop New Era Field. The lawsuit alleges that the company, known for making watches for members of the military, has failed to pay the Bills nearly $1 million it owed under a sponsorship deal, according to documents filed in State Supreme Court.

A sponsorship agreement signed in October 2014 put Benrus' name on two clocks overlooking seats from the top of each side of the stadium in Orchard Park. The deal also included a number of other promotional activities, including letting the company sponsor a "best-dressed" Bills player of the week, as well as an in-game soldier recognition ceremony.

According to the lawsuit, Benrus paid only one installment of $87,500 over the term of the deal, which ran from February 2015 to Dec. 1, 2017. The company owes the team $987,500, as well as contractual late fees, interest and attorneys' fees, the suit alleges.

"Benrus agreed to pay the Bills a fee for a number of marketing initiatives. Unfortunately, Benrus defaulted in its obligations," the team said Tuesday in a written statement.

The suit was filed in December and names former Benrus CEO Giovanni Feroce; three limited liability companies tied to Feroce; two companies that hold trademarks; and the new owner of the company, Benrus Holdings LLC. The lawsuit alleges breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment.

Feroce – a former CEO of the jewelry company Alex and Ani who abruptly left that company in March 2014, according to the Providence Journal – recently kicked off a campaign to become Rhode Island's governor. He bought a majority stake in Benrus after leaving Alex and Ani but is not involved with the current ownership.

Cindy E. Burke, an attorney for Feroce's gubernatorial campaign, said in an email the former Benrus CEO has not hired an attorney to represent him in this case.

At the time the Bills and Benrus announced the sponsorship deal, Feroce was described in the team's announcement as "an entrepreneur recognized internationally for his visionary business practices." Feroce "is transforming Benrus into a global lifestyle brand of apparel and accessories that at once transcends and pays homage to its core watches and product line," the Bills said on their website in November 2014.

Fast forward a few years, and the Bills aren't the only ones trying to collect money from Feroce. Various creditors are seeking payment through liens and lawsuits, the Providence Journal reported last month.

Benrus, which also was billed as "the official timepiece of the Buffalo Bills," opened a retail store in Rochester in 2015 – a location that has since closed – and had planned to open one in the Buffalo area that year, according to the announcement of the partnership.

Under its deal with the Bills, Benrus also received display advertising on the LED ribbon boards inside the stadium, a page in each edition of the Bills' game programs, a "countdown clock" on the Bills' website, hospitality passes and vendor space at Bills training camp and four season tickets to Bills home games, according to the lawsuit.

Feroce was on the guest list when Terry and Kim Pegula chartered a Boeing 747 to London when the Bills played the Jacksonville Jaguars there in 2015.

Benrus Holdings, LLC is an affiliate of New England Partners Opportunities Fund, which acquired the business in November, according to a news release. A spokesman for Benrus Holdings could not be reached for comment.

An attorney for trademark holders B-Man 1, LLC and M.Z. Berger & Co., did not return a call seeking comment.

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