With a trio of bids meeting the initial deadline for potential buyers of the Buffalo Bills, it is now up to the trustees overseeing the estate of the late-team owner Ralph Wilson Jr. and its consultants - Morgan Stanley and the Proskauer Rose LLP - to determine if one of the proposals is acceptable, or whether any other offers may be accepted.
Prospective bidders had until July 30 to make initial offers for the National Football League franchise. While more than 15 pre-bid informational packages were distributed, sources said, only three met the July 30 deadline.
High-level sources confirmed that the bids were submitted by Buffalo Sabres' owner Terry Pegula's Pegula Sports & Entertainment Group, developer Donald Trump, and a Toronto-based consortium that includes rocker Jon Bon Jovi. All three bids were for more than $1 billion, sources said, with Pegula's believed to be in the $1.3 billion range.
Air-tight confidentiality clauses prevents any potential bidder from officially commenting on whether they made an offer for the Bills.
The bidding opens the door for the next phase of the sale process where more detailed financial data will be supplied to the three respondents and negotiations can begin. It is possible, a new owner could be determined this fall, but the sale would still be dependent on approval from the NFL's owners, where a majority of two-thirds, or 24, must approve the transaction. That vote may not happen until this fall or later.
The Bills were valued recently by Forbes magazine at $870 million, third lowest in the NFL. If the Pegula bid is accepted, it would set a new benchmark for the sale of the NFL franchise, topping the $1.1 billion that was paid for the Miami Dolphins three years ago.
But, the initial bids are just an early step in what is a very complicated sale process.
It is possible the Wilson estate trustees, led by his widow, Mary, and longtime chief financial officer Jeff Littman, could instruct Morgan Stanley and Proskauer Rose to re-open the bidding. The Bills are a privately-held business venture and bidding procedures can be adjusted, if the trustees so determine.
"This is a private matter," said Lawrence Franco, Hurwitz & Fine P.C. member. "This is not a municipality, so they are not bound by the same laws and mandates as municipalities."
When a public sector entity sets bid deadlines, it is bound by that time framne and to accept the lowest, most responsible offer. That may not be the case with the Bills.
"It depends on their contract with Morgan Stanley and what it is," Franco said.
Does that mean the Wilson estate could seek more bids?
It is possible.
"There is no legal prohibition that would prevent that from happening," Franco said. "It is legally permissible."
Rochester businessman B. Thomas Goliasano, who sold the Sabres to Pegula in 2011, had previously expressed an interest in buying the Bills but did not submit a bid, sources confirmed. Sources said Golisano may attempt to present Morgan Stanley with a bid offer soon.
Franco said business transactions in the private sector have a number of variables.
"There is no 'one size fits all,'" he said.
The Bills' sales route will ultimately be determined by the Wilson estate with input from Morgan Stanley and the Proskauer Rose LLP law firm.
"There's no one way to do it," Franco said.
Still, the fate of the Bills has a tight grip on the region's psyche. Deep fears remain that a new owner could move the team out of the region once the current lease expires in eight years.
A leading advocate for keeping the team in Buffalo, New York Sen. Charles Schumer, said he remains confident the Bills will stay in the 716 area code for many years to come.
"In the coming weeks, I plan to continue to engage with those bidders, as well as the league office and the current ownership to ensure that one of those bidders committed to Western New York is successful in this process." Schumer said in a prepared statement.