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Ron Stifter

What Now? Bills Stay Put For Now

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN/AP) -- Ralph Wilson fulfilled his vow in keeping the Bills in Buffalo during his lifetime.

Though they won't be leaving any time soon following the 95-year-old Pro Football Hall of Fame owner's death, their long-term future is in question.

The Bills are essentially locked in to playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium through the next six years. That's because of a non-relocation provision included in the team's lease agreement that would require the Bills to pay a $400 million penalty if they leave before the 2019 season.

"Anyone expecting to see the Los Angeles Bills is sorely mistaken," SportsCorp President Marc Ganis told The Associated Press and WBEN. "They can't move even if they wanted to. It would go against the ironclad agreement done with Ralph's blessing."

Ganis, a close observer of the NFL, heads a Chicago-based consulting firm and is very familiar with the 10-year lease the Bills negotiated with state and county governments in December 2012.

"With that lease, Ralph gave away hundreds of millions of dollars as, in essence, a parting gift to Buffalo," Ganis said.

While it looks highly unlikely any potential owner would try to break the lease, nothing is impossible. And as for what happens beyond 2019 is uncertain and largely dependent on the next owner. In 2020, the Bills have a one-time opportunity to opt out of the lease for $28.4 million.

"It buys us seven years, which is a substantial amount of time to make sure the next ownership team that comes in sees the benefit of keeping that team in Buffalo," Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy said in Elmira on Wednesday. "We don't want to lose them."

But that is certainly a possibility.

  The comments from Ganis reinforce something that County Exec. Mark Poloncarz has said for a while now. So much so that his office issued this statement to draw attention to the remarks.

Yesterday, John Kryk of the Toronto Sun put any speculation to rest regarding the ability of the Buffalo Bills to relocate in the near future after the passing of owner Ralph C. Wilson.  Kryk discusses with prominent sports-franchise consultant Marc Ganis (president of Sports Corp. Ltd.) the  binding Non-Relocation Agreement entered into by the Buffalo Bills, Erie County and New York State, which agreement is related to but a separate agreement from the 10-year Stadium Lease signed in 2013.
Kryk correctly reports that previous reports regarding a $400 million relocation buyout option exists are erroneous.  Under the Non-Relocation Agreement, if the owner of the Buffalo Bills attempted to move the team during the 10-year period, Erie County and New York State may enforce the non-relocation terms in a court of law (based in Erie County) through the doctrine of “specific performance.” In the highly unlikely event a court allowed such move, then the team would be required to pay a $400 million penalty to the county and state. Only during one short window during the seventh year of the agreement does the team have an option to pay $28.3 million as a “buyout” penalty, said window being in direct relation to a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL and NFL Players’ Association.
Kryk further reported how unlikely Ganis believed it would be for a new owner to win such a lawsuit.  According to Ganis, “they [a new owner] cannot win the threshold issue (in court).  We have something in the U.S. that we call a specific performance clause. Teams cannot terminate under a specific performance clause — cannot.”
Ganis goes on to tell Kryk, “At least for the first seven years there is no opportunity — no chance — that the Bills will leave Buffalo.  Period, end of story.  So any speculation to the alternative is flat-out wrong.”
 Click here to read the entire story by Kryk in the Toronto Sun.
 Click here to read the Non-Relocation Agreement.
The team's founder and sole owner died at his home in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich., on Tuesday and survived by wife Mary and two daughters. Wilson, however, expressed no interest of leaving the team to his family.

As a result, the original American Football League franchise is expected to be placed into a trust overseen by the executors of Wilson's estate before being put up for sale. That opens the potential of the team being sold and relocated.

Los Angeles could be a landing spot. So would Toronto, where the Bills played annual regular-season games since 2008 before postponing their series last month.

"Well, I haven't focused on that," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when asked about the franchise's future at league meetings in Orlando, Fla. "We know the terms of that lease. And we also know we have to find a long-term solution to keep the Bills there, and that's what we'll continue to work to do."

Nonetheless, a list of ownership candidates has emerged to purchase a franchise valued at around $870 million. It's not every day an NFL team goes on sale.

The list includes:

- Bills' Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly has made no secret that he has put together a group of investors to buy the team. Kelly's health, however, has become an issue. The 54-year-old is preparing to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatment following a recurrence of cancer.

- California-based bond fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach expressed interest in buying the Bills three years ago. Gundlach, who founded DoubleLine Capital, is a Bills fan and has ties to Buffalo.

- Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula.

- Two Toronto-based groups - Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment and Rogers Communications - have been mentioned as groups interested in buying the Bills with the intention of relocating them north of the border.

- New Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi has expressed interest in becoming an NFL owner, and is close with MLSE President Tim Leiweke.

- Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs or his immediate family can't be counted out. Jacobs is from Buffalo, and his Delaware North food service company is headquartered in the city.

Jacobs' NFL interests date to the late 1990s, when he failed in a bid to purchase the Browns in their return to Cleveland. NFL rules bar owners from running sports teams in separate markets, meaning Jacobs would either have to give up his holdings in the Bruins or, perhaps, have members of his family run the Bills.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz refused to speculate on what could happen after 2019. He is certain the Bills will continue playing in Orchard Park for the near future and believes it was always Wilson's intention to keep the team in Buffalo.

"If we had ownership that wasn't interested in it, (the lease) never would have happened," Poloncarz said. "He put in place a provision that locks this team in for many years to come, even after his death. And that says a lot about his commitment to western New York and the fans of the Buffalo Bills."

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