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THE LAST CHANCE TIME RUNNING OUT WITH $255,000 LEFT TO RAISE

It all comes down to this:

After a 16-month premium-seat sales campaign, the future of the Buffalo Bills franchise hinges on a day and a half.

Like Sunday's heartbreaking Bills game that was decided after time expired, it all boils down to one last play: selling $255,000 worth of luxury boxes and club seats in one day to reach the still-elusive $11 million goal by noon Tuesday.

Sell them, and the Bills definitely stay here at least through 2003. Don't sell them, and all bets are off concerning the negotiated lease deal that would keep the team here at least five years and trigger a $63 million stadium overhaul.

The Bills have made no threats to move after this season, and observers inside, and outside, the organization expect the team to stay in Buffalo.

Still, business leaders sounded disappointed Sunday night that the $11 million sales goal hadn't been reached.

"We don't have this deal done," said a frustrated Erkie Kailbourne, chairman of the Business Backs the Bills Committee. "We'd love to announce it now, but as I stand here in the Ralph Wilson Fieldhouse, it's not done.

"We don't have any verbal commitments to take us over the top," he added. "I think this will go down to Tuesday morning."

About 70 outdoor club seats were sold before, during and after the Bills last-play loss Sunday, bringing the bottom-line figure to $10,745,000, Bills treasurer Jeffrey C. Littmann said Sunday night.

"I'd like to send everybody home with a smile on their face and a pat on the back tonight, but we can't," said Littmann, while looking at the night's sales figures in the Red Zone enclosed club area.

Today's selling strategy isn't tricky or sophisticated. Littmann, Kailbourne and the other soldiers in this 487-day sales war will be back doing what they do best, hitting the phones, twisting arms and calling in any remaining IOUs in the business world.

"A lot of high-level phone calls will be made Monday," Kailbourne said. "We will be blitzing every corporate entity to close the gap."

A full day of sales pitches will be followed by another round of stadium tours, from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight, for prospective club-seat purchasers.

"By 6 o'clock tomorrow (Monday) morning, we'll be back on the streets making calls," Littmann said, subdued both by that prospect and by the Bills 25-21 loss.

What if the sales figure reaches only $10.9 million by noon Tuesday?

"Then it will be up to Mr. Wilson what we do then," Littmann said. "It will be his call."

If the $11 million figure isn't reached, team owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. could throw out the whole lease deal negotiated with Erie County and New York State, Littmann said.

That would put everything back to Square 1, creating a chaotic situation and threatening the mammoth stadium renovation project that must be finished by next August.

Do the Bills have any plans to move elsewhere if the $11 million isn't reached?

"Not that I know of," replied Littmann, Wilson's right-hand man on the Bills.

The team treasurer also said it would be "virtually impossible" to extend the deadline past Tuesday. Construction contracts have to be awarded almost immediately after the last bids on the stadium project are opened Thursday.

While $255,000 seems like a large amount to sell in one day, Littmann outlined the scenario for reaching the $11 million goal. Strong leads and tentative deals in the works have to be finalized to sell a sufficient combination of luxury boxes, enclosed club seats and outdoor club seats:

Five luxury boxes remain unsold, at about $40,000 apiece, and Littmann believes 1 1/2 of them may be sold by the deadline. That would add $60,000 to the bottom line.

Enclosed club seats sell for $1,050 apiece in non-shared revenue.

"We have leads on $50,000 to $60,000 worth of seats in the Rochester and Toronto (enclosed) clubs that we want to hammer down," Littmann said.

Team officials also have some hope that they can finalize the Niagara (County) Club and/or the Chautauqua Club, regional club areas that would sell for $68,000 apiece, or $136,000 total.

The final set of stadium tours could trigger the sales of another 100 outdoor club seats, for another $40,000.

Add those all up and you get more than the $255,000 needed to close the gap.

But as Littmann said, "It's at the point now that we have to execute almost everything in front of us."

Littmann's comments came after a nail-biting afternoon and early evening. Several-hundred Bills fans flocked to the Wilson Fieldhouse, but most were there to see the game on a large-screen TV and at least seven smaller sets. It had all the trappings of a huge sports bar, although less liquor was flowing and not many sports bars have their own remote-controlled blimp flying above the crowd.

When it was over, the Bills had lost and few disappointed fans stayed around to purchase club seats.

The long Thanksgiving weekend had paralyzed the Bills' efforts to nail down the remaining loose ends in their sales campaign, leaving a ton of work for today and possibly tomorrow morning.

"I'm anxious," Littmann said, of the task at hand. "It's going to be a long day and a half for us, but we'll keep working."

No less than the franchise itself is at stake.

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