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The Longer Term Impact of Ralph Wilson, Jr's Death

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A look at who might own the team and whether they might relocate.

Where will the Bills go from here?
Where will the Bills go from here?
Tom Szczerbowski

Ralph Wilson, Jr. was the original and sole owner of the Bills since their inception in 1959.  He originally tried to bring a team to Miami, and when the league balked at the idea, he brought his franchise to Buffalo.  Once the team landed in Buffalo, Mr. Wilson fought to keep them there.  Despite the die hard fan base, Buffalo is a smaller market and it makes it tougher to keep a team there.  Ralph Wilson was one of the driving forces behind the NFL profit sharing that not only allowed smaller market teams to survive, but allowed them to stay competitive with their larger market rivals.

Control of the Team

Unlike several NFL families that have kept the team "in the family" after the original owner's death, it is certain the Bills will be offered for sale.   It was Ralph's plan that the team be sold upon his death, and his wife and daughters do not have the wherewithal or interest to keep the team.  As of Wilson's passing, the team has been placed in a trust.  The team could stay in the trust for two years or more.  Jeff Littman, the Bills' treasurer and one of the executors of Wilson's estate, is part of the trust in control of the team.  The franchise's current management, including recently added president Russ Brandon, will remain intact for the foreseeable future.  It will be business as usual.

Location of the Team

Will the Bills leave Buffalo?  The Bills signed a 10 year lease agreement last year.  There is a $400 million relocation fee if someone decides to move the team.  With the Bills worth estimated at around $900 million, it's unlikely they will be moving, as it would add a 44% increase to the cost of buying the franchise.  There is a one time $28 million buyout in the seven year of the deal (between the 2019 and 2020 seasons) that could offer a prospective owner a chance to opt out for a reduced price.  That keeps the Bills in Buffalo for 5 to 6 years at least.

Ownership of the Team

Not just anyone can own an NFL team.  There is a requirement that a single majority owner must own at least 30% of the franchise.  That places his investment at around $270 million up front.  The rest can be controlled by investment groups or other minority owners.

In addition, the majority owner is not allowed to own franchises in other sports in other cities that have an NFL market.  One possible owner, Buffalo native Jeremy Jacobs, owns the Boston Bruins, but the Boston market already has an NFL team.  He would have to sell the Bruins to buy the Bills.  I believe he could still be part of a minority ownership though, if he chose to keep the Bruins.

One name to keep in mind is the Buffalo Sabres owner, Terry Pegula.  He is worth around $3.1 billion and has said he would be interested in buying the team to keep them in Buffalo.  All Bills' fans have their fingers crossed over this one.

The Buffalo? Bills

The way things look right now, the Bills are staying in Buffalo for at least the next half decade.  If someone like Pegula or Jacobs buys the franchise, they may never leave Buffalo.  That's just the way Ralph Wilson, Jr. would have wanted it.

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