ATLANTA – Jerry Jones’ previous comments notwithstanding, many NFL owners want to see the Buffalo Bills stay in Western New York.
Jones, the Dallas Cowboys’ influential owner, roiled Bills fans Monday at the NFL’s annual spring meeting. He suggested Toronto might be a better alternative because the larger market can help grow league revenues.
A day later, other prominent NFL bosses struck a supportive tone for Western New York. Their comments underscored what two sources informed The Buffalo News: Any group that wants to move the Bills probably won’t get enough votes to approve relocation.
“We’re obviously hoping for the best possible ownership, and most of us are hoping for a situation that allows them to remain in Buffalo,” New York Giants President and CEO John Mara said during a break in Tuesday’s meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead.
“The team means so much to that area. It’s been a great franchise for the league. I think most of the people in that room would like to see it remain in Buffalo.”
New York Jets owner Woody Johnson said the Buffalo area remains NFL-worthy.
“That’s a good market,” Johnson said. “Buffalo can be a very good market. It’s got a very loyal fan base.”
NFL Media reporter Judy Battista tweeted Tuesday “someone with very good knowledge” of the Bills sale told her, “Whoever buys it has to be prepared to stay there.”
Suitors will be able to make formal bids for the Bills rather soon.
Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon said the team is close to naming the investment bank and legal firm that will handle the sale.
Those firms will make a recommendation to the trust that has been overseeing the club since Ralph Wilson’s death in March.
“By the end of the month,” Brandon said of selecting the bank. “We are closing in on it.”
Bills CFO Jeffrey Littman made a presentation to update the other teams and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about the process.
An NFL source informed The News that the law firm has been selected and that there are three bank finalists.
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who first went through the sale process with a failed bid to purchase the St. Louis Rams, also commented on Western New York’s long-term viability.
“I know Buffalo from all the forging mills and all the stamping presses that were produced there,” said Khan, who made his fortune in auto-parts manufacturing. “There’s great history there.
“It definitely has a place in the NFL’s history and a place in its future.”
NFL decision-makers seem to agree with Goodell, who has stated a new stadium is imperative to retaining the Bills.
“I think it’s probably necessary for them to stay there,” Mara said. “Hopefully, that can be worked out.”
When it comes time for the NFL to vote on the next owner – or whether the team will move – Bills fans would need nine owners to block anything undesirable.
Fans will be pleased to know they already have one of those nine votes lined up.
Mark Murphy, the Green Bay Packers’ president and CEO, is admittedly biased. He’s from Clarence and believes the Bills must stay in Western New York.
“I will do everything I can to keep the team in Buffalo,” Murphy said. “I think it means so much to that community, very similar in some ways to what the Packers mean to Green Bay.”
He was athletic director at Northwestern and Colgate, his alma mater, before joining the Packers.
“I am a Bills fan, although I can’t really be,” Murphy said with a laugh. “I think they are in very good hands. All of the moves they’ve made are the right ones with regionalization. The only thing that has been lacking for them has been consistent success on the field.
“But the fan base speaks for itself. It’s pretty passionate.
“I think they’ll find an owner with Western New York roots and keep the team in the area. I think the Bills are going to thrive in the future.”
Asked about the idea of Toronto, Murphy paused for a few seconds before he answered.
“Uh, no,” Murphy said. “I wouldn’t be supportive of that.”
Khan is familiar with Toronto. He has business interests there and, in fact, said he’ll probably be in Toronto later this week.
Asked about the possibility of the Bills moving to Toronto, Khan smiled through his thick handle-bar mustache.
“I think the Bills are very important to Buffalo,” Khan said.