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Report: Terry and Kim Pegula strike tentative deal to buy Buffalo Bills

John Kryk

By John Kryk, Toronto Sun

Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula gestures as he speaks during a news conference announcing the new ownership of the NHL hockey team in Buffalo, New York February 22, 2011. (REUTERS)

Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula gestures as he speaks during a news conference announcing the new ownership of the NHL hockey team in Buffalo, New York February 22, 2011. (REUTERS)

The trust of Ralph Wilson reached a tentative agreement this morning to sells the Buffalo Bills to Terry and Kim Pegula, the Buffalo News reported.

Pegula is the oil and gas multi-billionaire who owns the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. All summer he has been seen as the bidder to beat in the NFL team’s sale.

Pegula and his wife have led downtown Buffalo revitalization efforts and, crucially, have let it be known they would keep the Bills in Western New York and ensure the team remains there for decades to come.

Tim Graham of the Buffalo News was first of many to report late Monday that a sale to the Pegulas appeared close, and that an agreement could be reached as early as today.

Graham tweeted today at 9:38 a.m. EDT that a tentative agreement had been reached, and that an official announcement likely was to come today.

Binding, definitive offers in the sale were due Monday at 5 p.m. EDT. At least two other bids were submitted -- by real-estate mogul Donald Trump and the Toronto group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi, both as expected.

That the Pegulas reportedly won this estate auction within 17 hours of the bids deadline suggests the couple bid aggressively, as so many Bills fans had hoped.

None of the reports since Monday night indicated how much the Pegulas might have bid.

QMI Agency sources said the Toronto group was expected to bid somewhere within the range of its resubmitted, non-binding first bid -- specifically $1.0 billion to $1.1 billion.

If so, it’s possible the Pegulas in the end did bid more than $1.1 billion -- the current record price in an NFL franchise sale, set in 2009 when Stephen Ross bought the Miami Dolphins.

On the other hand, on Monday night QMI Agency reported that the highest bidder was not necessarily going to get the team, and that this was another huge plus for the Pegulas.

Two critical factors beyond money -- both long speculated as playing a role -- indeed were among the Wilson trust’s expressed selection criteria. QMI Agency confirmed Monday that “certainty of NFL approval” was one, and the ability to close the deal immediately was the other.

According to a source in the position to know, Morgan Stanley -- the Wilson trust’s investment bank conducting the sale -- in early July informed prospective bidders who’d signed a non-disclosure agreement that, in selecting finalists, the Wilson trust would place “great weight” on the above two factors.

Those factors yet remained critical in the selection of a winning bidder, according to two informed sources.

Neither factor was believed to be an issue for Pegula, whereas both were derailing the Toronto bid, and Trump was seen as having little chance to gain NFL approval because of his outspoken political beliefs and because of his leadership role as a USFL owner, when that arch-rival league sued the NFL in the 1980s.

The NFL must yet sign off on the reported sale before it becomes official. It’s a two-step process.

First, the league’s finance committee must review and approve both the buyers and their purchase agreement with the trust. Only then can the other 31 owners vote on final approval.

The finance committee next meets Sept. 17, QMI Agency has reported. Owners next meet Oct. 8 in Manhattan.

The trust will rush completed sale documents to finance committee members, in advance of the Sept. 17 meeting so the vetting process goes smoothly and timely.

At least three-quarters of NFL owners (24) must approve any team sale. Team-sale approval votes are conducted in person only.

Pegula’s pending win in this estate auction comes as no surprise. Nor does the Toronto group’s loss.

QMI Agency reported Aug. 21 that Bon Jovi and his Toronto backers would take a step back and reassess whether even to continue in their pursuit of the NFL franchise.

The so-called Toronto group also comprised Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Rogers Communications Inc. deputy chairman Edward Rogers, representing his family’s financial interests.

A New York Post report on Aug. 29 claiming Bon Jovi had been kicked out of the group was false. After Labour Day weekend the trio decided to proceed with a bid, although one source described the continuing effort as “half-hearted.”

The group’s bid had been on the rocks for weeks before that, and none of the principals from late July right up to Monday’s bidding deadline possessed any optimism they’d wind up buying the NFL team, according to multiple sources in the position to know.

The group even cancelled a scheduled tour of Ralph Wilson Stadium on Aug. 20, something expected of all bidders.

“They’re hanging on by the skin of their teeth,” one source said the next day. “The bid’s on life support.”

Now it’s apparently dead.​

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Does this end all chances of the Bills coming to Toronto?


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