Ralph Wilson, the founder and owner of the Bills, was never going to let his team leave Buffalo while he was alive, even though there are clear disadvantages with its market size and an old stadium.
But there was the concern about the future of the team after Wilson died. Amid the outpouring of emotion for Wilson's death on Tuesday at age 95 was the obvious question: What happens to the Bills now?
The good news, according to one consultant with knowledge of the team's stadium lease, is the Bills' lease is practically unbreakable through the 2019 season.
Marc Ganis, president of the sports business consulting firm SportsCorp, said the language in the stadium lease means that the team can't be moved before 2020, according to the Toronto Sun. Ganis told the Sun that a previously reported $400 million buyout is actually a "backup liquidated-damages matter," meaning that a new owner who wants to move team to a bigger market would have to win a court decision to break the lease, and then still have a $400 million fee to pay.
“With that lease, Ralph gave away hundreds of millions of dollars as, in essence, a parting gift to Buffalo,” Ganis said, according to the Associated Press.
Assuming the lease is as unbreakable as Ganis interprets it to be, that means the Bills will be in Buffalo for a while, but it's also not permanent. After the 2019 season there is a window for a $28.4 million buyout, according to the Sun, which would be no problem in the NFL world. But the lease gives Buffalo time.
"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, according to the Associated Press.
What makes this case a bit unusual is the team isn't being passed on to Wilson's family, although he is survived by a wife and two daughters. The Buffalo News said Wilson very rarely talked about how his estate would be handled but told the newspaper in 2007 the team would be sold. The team will be placed in a trust while a new owner is found. The Buffalo News said the team will probably be controlled and managed by the trust for "at least a couple years" while a sale is arranged. The current management will operate as it had while the team is controlled by the trust.
Eventually the team will be sold, the stadium issue will have to be addressed and Buffalo fans will hope that it's all worked out long before 2020 when that window for the lease buyout opens. But for at least the next six seasons, thanks to the longtime owner, it appears the Bills aren't going anywhere.
- - - - - - -