AP SPORTS WRITER
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The sale of the Buffalo Bills entered the next phase with prospective ownership groups, including Donald Trump, meeting with team officials to prepare formal bids.
Two people familiar with the sale process confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that the New York real estate mogul was the first to receive a presentation. Trump’s meeting was held in the Detroit-area on Wednesday. Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula and a Toronto group fronted by rocker Jon Bon Jovi also have scheduled meetings.
The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sale process is private. The Bills are on the market after Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson died in March.
The Buffalo News first reported the development on its website.
During the meetings, prospective buyers receive extensive financial and background information on the franchise. Bids are expected to be submitted within three weeks.
A prospective owner is expected to be identified by the end of next month, and then presented to NFL owners for approval at league meetings in New York in early October.
Bills president Russ Brandon is involved in making the presentations on behalf of Morgan Stanley, the banking firm hired by Wilson’s estate to oversee the sale.
Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and his brother Dan Kelly, who runs the family’s business interests, are also involved in the meetings. Though the Kellys have expressed interest in purchasing the team, it’s unclear if they have submitted a bid.
The Pegulas and Trump are considered the front-runners. Both have the assets to complete what is expected to be a $1 billion-plus purchase, and they also have expressed a commitment to keep the Bills in western New York.
Terry Pegula was last valued by Forbes to have a net worth of $3.3 billion. That was before Pegula closed a $1.75 billion deal on Tuesday to sell about 75,000 acres of drilling rights to American Energy Partners.
Trump was last valued with a net worth of $3.9 billion. That does not include his holdings in numerous properties, including several high-profile golf resorts he recently purchased.
The Bon Jovi-fronted group is made up of Toronto-based partners, Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and the Rogers family, which controls Rogers Communications.
However, it’s unclear whether Bon Jovi has the liquid assets to buy the Bills if the sale price goes above $1.2 billion. Under NFL rules, a principal owner must have enough cash and use no more than $200 million in debt-financing to hold a minimum 30 percent ownership stake.
Forbes most recently valued Bon Jovi’s net worth at $290 million.
Bon Jovi also faces questions about his long-term intentions to keep the team in the Buffalo area, which is a prerequisite in the sale process.
Last weekend, Bon Jovi had a letter published in The Buffalo News stating that his objective was “to carry on the legacy of Ralph Wilson and make the Bills successful in Buffalo.”
He didn’t state in the seven-paragraph letter that he was committed to keeping the franchise in Buffalo. The letter was received with some skepticism in Buffalo and among Bills fans.
The commitment Bon Jovi provided was working with state and local officials to identify a site for a potential new stadium.
Under the current lease, reached in December 2012, the Bills would incur a $400 million penalty for broaching the prospect of moving during the 10-year agreement. There is a one-time exception that would allow the Bills to break the agreement for just under $28.4 million in 2020.