Bills sale to Pegulas unanimously approved
Buffalo Biils owner Terry Pegula. (REUTERS)
“How’s everybody doing? I’m doing pretty well.”
Those were Terry Pegula’s first words in public on Wednesday morning, two hours after 32 NFL owners unanimously approved his -- and wife Kim’s -- purchase of the Buffalo Bills.
The Pegulas are paying the estate of Ralph Wilson $1.4 billion for the Bills, a record sale price for an NFL team by some $300 million.
Terry Pegula sure didn’t sound like someone who felt he overpaid when he briefly met reporters at the Conrad hotel in Lower Manhattan during a break in the one-day fall owners’ meeting.
“I gotta helluva deal. I own the team,” he said.
The meeting began at 8:30 a.m. EDT without the Pegulas present. Within minutes the Pegulas were summoned. The vote was that fast. Once behind closed doors, hearty applause could be overheard.
Forbes estimates the Pegulas’ wealth to be $4.6 billion, which would rank them as the fourth wealthiest NFL owners.
Terry Pegula made his fortune mostly in natural gas drilling. Kim was born in South Korea and raised in Rochester, N.Y., by Canadian-born adoptive parents. Their primary residence is in Boca Raton, Fla.
Together, the couple already owns the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
Each will own a 50% stake in the Bills, QMI Agency reported Tuesday. For official NFL purposes, Terry will be principal owner.
“Kim and I are honoured that the NFL owners have approved us as the new owners of the Buffalo Bills, and we’d like to thank the owners for their support,” Terry said.
“This is a significant step in us owning the team, but we still don’t own it yet. There’s a small matter of having to pay some money. And wires have to be sent from banks, paperwork has to be signed and whatnot. But we’ll get that done.”
On Sept. 9, Terry and Kim agreed in principle to buy the NFL club from the estate of Wilson, the club’s founding owner from 1960 until his death in March.
“We’re going to head back to Buffalo tonight or tomorrow morning,” Terry said. “We’ll be at our Sabres home opener (Thursday) evening, and we’re guessing that Friday is probably when we’ll be able to speak to you as the owners of the Bills, OK?”
The Pegulas far outbid the two other known interested buyers. QMI Agency has reported that the Toronto group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi submitted a binding bid on Sept. 8 of $1.05 billion, and that celebrity real-estate tycoon Donald Trump bid $800 million.
According to a source, there was at least one other mystery buyer who placed a binding bid substantially higher than Toronto’s.
Bills president and CEO Russ Brandon appeared relieved and a bit emotional when he spoke with reporters late Friday afternoon. He had been a close friend of Wilson’s and assumed stewardship of the team over the final 15 months of Wilson’s life.
“I’ve said many times, to many of you, that this has not been a six-month process -- which is very quick in this business to make a transaction of that level,” Brandon said. “This has been an 18-year process for the people on my staff, to put the business in a position, regionally, for this franchise to be successfully (sold) as it was.
“So it’s probably the most gratifying moment of my career to know that the Buffalo Bills are in their rightful place, in Buffalo, and obviously it cements Mr. Wilson’s legacy. And now we can create a family’s new legacy, and it’s an honour to be a part of it.”
The Bills are expected to formally introduce the Pegulas to Bills fans first at a Friday afternoon news conference, then at Sunday’s big home game against arch-rival New England Patriots. The Bills and Pats are tied atop the AFC East with 3-2 records.
Expect Sabres fans at First Niagara Center to give the Pegulas a rousing ovation Thursday night, if the opportunity arises, when their hockey team plays the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I was going to own the Sabres and the Bills, I would have called you a liar,” Terry said.
When asked how long ago he decided he wanted to own the Bills, Pegula said, “It goes back further than you may imagine.”
At least 75% of NFL owners – that’s 24 of 32 teams -- must approve any ownership transfer. All 32 approved this sale, an NFL spokesman said.
The league’s finance committee last month had unanimously approved the Pegulas. It was no surprise owners followed suit.
EXEC ALREADY STEPPING DOWN
The changing of the guard has already begun within the Buffalo Bills.
Not on the field -- although the team sure could use better guards on offence -- but off it instead.
Mary Owen, Ralph Wilson’s niece and the team’s executive vice-president for strategic planning, is stepping down from the NFL club.
Owen had been the Bills’ point person in negotiations with Rogers Communications Inc. on the ill-fated Bills-in-Toronto series, which is officially on hold for a year but is not expected to continue.
The fate of other Bills senior executives as a result of the ownership transfer was not immediately known.
It is believed the team’s CEO and president Russ Brandon will remain with the club. Many speculate that long-time Bills chief financial officer Jeffrey Littmann, a faithful Wilson lieutenant, will not.
Littmann and Owen left the owners’ meeting Wednesday morning immediately after Kim and Terry Pegula were approved as the club’s new owners. That move officially signalled the transfer of franchise ownership from the Wilsons to the Pegulas.
The Pegulas attended the rest of the day’s meeting, representing the Bills along with team president and CEO Russ Brandon.
Littmann made a brief statement to reporters shortly after leaving the meeting -- on behalf of the Wilson trust (of which he was a pivotal member), not the Bills.
“The first mission was to identify successor owners for the Buffalo Bills franchise, which we’ve done here today, with Kim and Terry Pegula, so we’ve checked that box,” Littmann said.
“The second step in that process, which of course happened today, was to secure ownership approval of their entry into the league, and you can check that box.”
The third step, Littmann said, was to proceed with the closing of the purchase, which he confirmed should happen quickly and without issue -- on Thursday or Friday.
“(The Pegulas) have been absolutely wonderful to work with and everything has been first class in the process,” Littmann said.
The focus for the Wilson trust thereafter, Littmann said, will be to do “whatever we can do” to ensure a smooth ownership transition.
“Once that’s done, we will be turning our attention … to the future and the mission of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.”
Owen will remain executive director of that foundation.
In a joint statement released Wednesday morning, the foundation’s trustees released the following statement, via the Bills, which read in part: “Ralph Wilson’s commitment to Buffalo and Western New York will indeed continue through his foundation. It is far too early, however, to offer any particulars.”
The Buffalo News reported that the majority of the $1.4 billion paid by the Pegulas to the Wilson trust will go into the foundation, to fund charities in Buffalo and Detroit. Wilson lived his whole life in the posh Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe Shores.