The future of the Buffalo Bills in Western New York has been a hot-button topic since legendary owner Ralph Wilson passed away in March. One group mentioned as a possible contender in the upcoming bidding is headlined by Jon Bon Jovi and has been linked with a potential move to Toronto.
Those concerns among fans in Buffalo were raised even further on Thursday following an extensive article on the subject from John Wawrow of the Associated Press. He reported a source states feasibility studies have been conducted for stadium sites in Toronto and Southern Ontario.
The study identified at least three potential stadium sites, two in Toronto, including one on the waterfront, and another in the suburb of Mississauga, the person told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The Bon Jovi group is one of several linked to the Bills in recent months but is the only one that's also been viewed as a threat to uproot the franchise. It's unclear if there are more potential bidders who haven't been mentioned publicly with Toronto or another city in mind.
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After the AP report was published, which predictably created a firestorm of coverage from local media, an engineer working with the group tried to put out the flames.
Andrew Bergmann told Tom Precious of the Buffalo News: "It's the Buffalo Bills, and they will do everything they can to make that work there."
He went on to explain they have only checked into preliminary designs for a new stadium, not potential locations. He also insisted the current plan would be to build a new stadium in the Buffalo area or do a renovation of the current Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Buffalo News report also included the other bidders who've had their interest widely noted, including businessman Donald Trump, former Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano and current Sabres owner Terry Pegula.
Although Bergmann said all the right things, Buffalo fans will probably remain unconvinced.
One reason for that skepticism being the lack of details surrounding a possible new stadium in Western New York and the overall vagueness of his responses.
More importantly, the Bills' current lease prevents him from saying anything to the contrary. John Kryk of the Toronto Sun reports the deal restricts access to the bidding process to those who plan on keeping the team in its current home.
An overlooked clause in the Bills' restrictive non-relocation agreement with Erie County and the state of New York expressly prohibits the sale of the NFL franchise to anyone who intends to relocate the team—at least before that agreement expires in July 2023.
In other words, the Bon Jovi group that also features Toronto Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum must remain committed to Buffalo, at least publicly, to even remain a part of the bidding process.
Beyond the fanbase, there's also further outside pressure on the group to avoid a relocation should it eventually win the bid.
New York lieutenant governor Robert Duffy is among those making it clear there would be a fight should any group attempt to move the team:
The Buffalo Bills are the only true NYS team. It would be a public relations disaster for any new owner to consider a move- and the 400m hit— Robert Duffy (@LtGovDuffyNY) July 25, 2014
Furthermore, it appears the NFL is committed to the market as well. Mike Rodak of ESPN passed along comments the outlet's Sal Paolantonio made on WGR 550 in Buffalo about the situation:
I don't think the team's moving. I would stake my professional reputation on it. I think people in ownership want to see the team stay here. I think they want to continue the legacy of Ralph Wilson. I think Roger Goodell is convinced.
He also noted the sale price is expected to reach $1.1 billion when it's finalized with the winning bidder, which is likely to occur later this year.
Ultimately, the bottom line remains the same. More clarity about the future of the Bills won't truly become available until after a new owner is named. And if it's the Bon Jovi or a mystery bidder with connections to another city, it could take a few more years to see if they are truly dedicated to Buffalo.
The best thing that could happen for fans is Western New York is for Golisano or Pegula to win. Their efforts with the Sabres show they are devoted to Buffalo. That's exactly what the team needs for some stability beyond the current lease.
In the short term, the organization is focused on ending a 14-year playoff drought, which is three seasons longer than any other team in the league. The development of second-year quarterback EJ Manuel is the biggest key to success.
If he can take a step forward after a mundane rookie season, the Bills have enough talent elsewhere on the roster to make a playoff push. The addition of Sammy Watkins gives them a true top target on offense, and the team's defensive front four has the potential to be among the best in football.
Should Manuel not make those positive strides, the drought will in all likelihood continue. It's no coincidence the team's playoff-less streak pretty much matches up with its struggles under center.
Between the season and the ownership situation, there figures to be an emotional stretch ahead for the diehard Buffalo fanbase.