PITTSFORD — The sale of the Buffalo Bills is entering its final stage with prospective buyers asked to submit their formal bids in about two weeks, a person familiar with the sale process told the Associated Press Tuesday.
“It’s coming down the backstretch,” the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the sale is being conducted privately.
The timetable was pushed back about a week because Morgan Stanley, the banking firm overseeing the sale on behalf of late owner Ralph Wilson’s estate, extended a deadline last month in an attempt to increase the number of prospective bidders.
A new owner is still expected to be identified by October, but it is not certain whether it will be in time to be approved by NFL owners at league meetings in early October. That approval would come only after the prospective candidate’s background and finances are vetted and approved by the league’s finance committee.
The Bills are for sale after Wilson died in March.
The last week has been filled with news on the Bills ownership front:
* The Buffalo News learned at least two suitors from Los Angeles signed a nondisclosure agreement but abandoned pursuit of the Bills upon discovering how much opposition there would be to moving the team.
* The News reported Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly recently met with Jon Bon Jovi to discuss partnering up in pursuit of the franchise, but Kelly declined over lingering concerns the team could move. A source close to Kelly and bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach told The News on Sunday night that Kelly met with Bon Jovi face to face in Buffalo last week, but they did not merge.
* The News reported sources close to the sales process within the past week have called the Bon Jovi/Toronto group “unfocused and disorganized” and said there was “major tension” within.
Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula are considered the front-runners among a small group of candidates who have already met with members of Wilson’s estate over the past two weeks.
Pegula was last valued by Forbes to have a net worth of $3.3 billion, and that was before he sold 75,000 acres worth of drilling rights for $1.75 billion two weeks ago. He also has the backing of a majority of Buffalo public and business leaders because he is committed to keeping the Bills in western New York.
New York City real estate developer Donald Trump is also a contender, and met with Wilson’s estate two weeks ago.
Questions remain regarding the status of several other prospective ownership groups.
Former Sabres owner Tom Golisano submitted a non-binding bid after Morgan Stanley extended its deadline.
But Golisano has not yet met with Wilson’s estate, two people familiar with the process told the AP.
The meeting is regarded as important for prospective buyers to begin formulating their bids. The daylong meeting includes a lengthy presentation and access to hundreds of pages of documents outlining the Bills’ financial information.
Under their lease that runs through the 2022 season, the Bills are essentially locked into playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium through the 2019 season. There is a one-time exception that would allow them to break the agreement for just under $28.4 million in 2020.