ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula took a highly aggressive approach by bidding an NFL-record $1.4 billion to get the Buffalo Bills and keep them in western New York.
A person with direct knowledge of the sale process confirmed the winning bid to The Associated Press on Tuesday, hours after late owner Ralph Wilson's estate announced reaching a "definitive agreement" to sell the team to the Pegulas. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sale was conducted privately.
Sports Business Journal first reported the Pegulas' bid earlier in the day.
The price eclipses the previous high of $1.1 billion set in 2009, when Stephen Ross completed his purchase of the Miami Dolphins in a deal that also included the team's stadium.
The person said the Pegulas went well above the Bills' estimated value of $935 million to show Wilson's estate how serious they were in their desire to buy the team. And they also wanted to submit a bid the Pegulas believed would be significantly higher than other prospective ownership groups were willing — or capable — of matching.
That included a Toronto-based group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi, which had raised concerns regarding the possibility eventually relocating the Bills north of the border. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump also submitted a formal bid Monday.
The value of the Toronto group's and Trump's bids were not revealed.
The Pegulas were motivated to keep the Bills in Buffalo and preserve Wilson's legacy.
"It is gratifying to reassure these great fans that the two franchises, so important to our region are here to stay," Terry Pegula said in a statement released by the Sabres. "Ralph Wilson left an indelible mark on our community and we will strive every day to honor his legacy."
The sale is subject approval by a three-quarters majority of the NFL's other 31 owners, which is expected to come at league meetings Oct. 8.
"Ralph would have been pleased with the sale of the team to the Terry Pegula family, who have been so committed to Buffalo and the western New York region," Wilson's widow and Bills controlling owner Mary Wilson said. "He loved his team and he cherished the fans, and his legacy will remain for all time."
Wilson, who died in March, was the team's founder and sole owner. He often spoke out and voted against franchise relocation.
One fan was so emotional about the sale that he began crying while discussing what the Pegula's purchase meant to him on Buffalo's WGR Radio.
Others expressed relief.
"One of the saddest thing for me to consider was that someday we may have had children and I would never had a chance to share what (the Bills) are like with them," said Dale Paradowski, a Bills season ticketholder, who is getting married next week. "This purchase isn't just a transaction. It's a symbol of a city and those who love it."
The agreement comes days before the Bills (1-0) play their home opener against Miami on Sunday.
The Bills are also holding an invitation-only tribute for their former owner at a downtown Buffalo theater Friday night. Former players are gathering in Niagara Falls, New York, for a reunion the following day.
The Pegulas, who live in Florida, have established roots in adopting Buffalo as their hometown since purchasing the Sabres in February 2011. Terry Pegula is from Pennsylvania and became a fan of the Sabres in the mid-1970s. Kim is from the nearby Rochester area.
Their commitment to Buffalo is becoming more evident with the construction of a privately funded $172 million downtown hockey/entertainment complex called HarborCenter that is nearing completion.
Under NFL ownership rules, the Pegulas are allowed to own both the Bills and the Sabres because they are located in the same market.
The Pegulas have a net worth of more than $3.5 billion, and made their fortune in the natural gas industry. They had the backing of local business leaders and public officials, and were regarded as the front runner to buy the Bills once they first expressed interest in late May.
"Today's announcement is great news for western New York, the Bills, and their passionate fans, who will now be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said. "The Pegulas are the perfect choice to carry on Ralph Wilson's indelible legacy."
Trump maintained his interest and had the deep pockets to buy the Bills, but lost out once the sale price rose beyond what he considered reasonable.
As for Bon Jovi, his group faltered because it failed to address numerous concerns about its plans to potentially relocate north of the border. The Toronto group was rounded out by Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and the Rogers family, which controls Rogers Communications.
The Bills' lease agreement, signed off by Wilson and approved by NFL owners last year, became a serious obstacle because of a strict non-relocation clause that essentially prevented the team from moving before the 2020 season.
The AP first reported in July that Rogers conducted a feasibility study that identified at least three potential stadium sites in the Toronto area that could potentially serve as the Bills' new home.
AP freelance writer Nick Mendola contributed to this report.
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