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Bills sale process: An FAQ

5/22/2014

This week has seen several developments around the Buffalo Bills' sale process. From investment banks to prospective bidders to comments from current NFL owners, it's been a busy stretch.

If you are having trouble keeping track of it all, you probably aren't alone.

To summarize where things stand, let's answer some "frequently asked questions" about the process:

Where are the Bills in the process? On Wednesday, the Bills announced that they had retained investment bank Morgan Stanley and engaged law firm Proskauer Rose to facilitate the sale process. The Bills need a valuation of their company -- including most of their financials -- and Morgan Stanley will handle that. Proskauer Rose will ensure compliance with the Bills' complicated stadium lease with Erie County and other legal aspects to the sale. Now that the Bills have both of these firms in place, the sale will proceed soon.

When will the Bills be put up for sale? Prospective bidders are expected to be contacted within the next 30 days, which will essentially begin the process of bidding for the team. Reports have varied about when the sale will close. There are several steps before that can happen. Any potential owner must first be vetted by the NFL for financial and legal standing. That owner would then need to make sure his or her financing is in order -- it's almost impossible for this to be an all-cash transaction. Once all those ducks are in a row, NFL owners will have to approve a new member of their club by a three-quarters majority vote. NFL owners meet every few months. Their gathering in October would probably be the earliest chance to approve new Bills ownership.

Who will bid on the Bills? No person or groups have publicly stated that they will bid on the team. However, the Toronto Sun reported Wednesday that former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano will make a bid. The newspaper also reported previously that rock star Jon Bon Jovi will join with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment for a Toronto-based group that is also expected to bid on the team. Businessman Donald Trump has also expressed interest in bidding, but hasn't confirmed that will happen. Another possibility is Jeremy Jacobs' family. Jacobs owns the Boston Bruins and would have to sell that team to purchase the Bills, but the Buffalo native's son, for example, could act as the lead bidder and avoid that NFL rule. This spring, Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said he had heard from almost a dozen potential buyers, so expect there to be lesser-known groups emerge who have flown under the radar to this point.

Can a new owner relocate? For a new owner to relocate before 2020, it would take legal maneuvering worthy of a "Law & Order" episode. The Bills' stadium lease with Erie County includes a non-relocation agreement with several terms that make it nearly impossible for the team to move elsewhere before a one-time buyout period in early 2020. Still, that doesn't prevent a new owner from "sitting" on the team for six seasons and then moving it elsewhere. Doing so would would require delaying efforts for a new stadium, which could cause problems on the local, state, and NFL level. But it's one possible strategy for an owner who wants to relocate.

What about a new stadium? NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made it clear he wants a new stadium in Buffalo. Other owners speaking at their meetings in Atlanta this week expressed similar viewpoints. The NFL just awarded a Super Bowl to Minnesota after a new stadium was built, which sent a message: The NFL is in the business of building new stadiums, not fixing up old ones. It's worth noting, though, that the league could use that stance as a way of getting more public funding from New York State and Erie County, which is what it was able to accomplish in Minnesota.

Who is AECOM and what are they doing? New York State hired AECOM, an architectural and design firm, to study sites for a new stadium around Western New York. CEO Russ Brandon made it clear Wednesday on WGR 550 that New York State's efforts fall "outside the scope" of the "new stadium working group," so it doesn't appear the Bills and Erie County are on board with the state's efforts to find a new stadium site. AECOM is expected to deliver a report to New York State by July. How much it will matter, without the cooperation of the team and county, is in question. Brandon and Mark Poloncarz have been adamant about keeping a retrofit or renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium on the table.

Will the team go to the highest bidder? That is not certain. The Bills haven't disclosed Ralph Wilson's wishes for how the team will be sold. Wilson's widow, Mary Wilson, serves as the controlling owner of the team, but beyond that, no specifics have been announced about who will decide which party will purchase the team. If Wilson's estate must sell the team to the highest bidder, that opens the possibility of the team being sold to a group that might not want to keep it in the region.