Though they won’t be leaving any time soon following the 95-year-old Pro Football Hall of Fame owner’s death, their long-term future is in question.
The Bills are essentially locked in to playing at Ralph Wilson Stadium through the next six years. That’s because of a non-relocation provision included in the team’s lease agreement that would require the Bills to pay a $400 million penalty if they leave before the 2019 season.
“Anyone expecting to see the Los Angeles Bills is sorely mistaken,” SportsCorp President Marc Ganis told The Associated Press. “They can’t move even if they wanted to. It would go against the ironclad agreement done with Ralph’s blessing.”
While it looks highly unlikely any potential owner would try to break the lease, nothing is impossible. And as for what happens beyond 2019 is uncertain and largely dependent on the next owner. In 2020, the Bills have a one-time opportunity to opt out of the lease for $28.4 million.
“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 in Elmira on Wednesday. “We don’t want to lose them.”
But that is certainly a possibility.
The team’s founder and sole owner died at his home in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich., on Tuesday and survived by wife Mary and two daughters. Wilson, however, expressed no interest of leaving the team to his family.
As a result, the original American Football League franchise is expected to be placed into a trust overseen by the executors of Wilson’s estate before being put up for sale. That opens the potential of the team being sold and relocated.
Los Angeles could be a landing spot. So would Toronto, where the Bills played annual regular-season games since 2008 before postponing their series last month.
“Well, I haven’t focused on that,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said when asked about the franchise’s future at league meetings in Orlando, Fla. “We know the terms of that lease. And we also know we have to find a long-term solution to keep the Bills there, and that’s what we’ll continue to work to do.”
Nonetheless, a list of ownership candidates has emerged to purchase a franchise valued at around $870 million. It’s not every day an NFL team goes on sale.
The list includes: