Author Archives: John Kryk

Report says Bon Jovi booted from Toronto bid group, but if he’s out it isn’t for that reason

A report out of New York late Friday night claimed rocker Jon Bon Jovi has been kicked out of the Toronto group trying to buy the Buffalo Bills.

While it might well be true the bid group has splintered, or that some or all of its three principals — Bon Jovi, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Edward Rogers (representing his family) — have packed it in, it is highly unlikely that the latter two booted out Bon Jovi, as the New York Post alleges.

Multiple sources for months have told Sun Media that Bon Jovi has run, navigated and overseen every decision at every step of the process within the Toronto bid group — from the get-go. The Post’s report would be akin to Bon Jovi leaving the rock group he formed, and which bears his name, but someone reporting he got booted out of it. Uh, no.

It would be no surprise if Bon Jovi has quit the group. If true, however, sources close to the Toronto group were unaware of it late Friday night. One source severely doubted the report.

Yet Sun Media reported exclusively last week that Bon Jovi and his deep-pocketed Toronto backers were reassessing whether even to continue in their pursuit of the NFL team.

Their bid has been on the rocks for weeks, and no one within the group is optimistic they’ll wind up buying the NFL team, according to two sources in the position to know.

The group cancelled a scheduled tour of Ralph Wilson Stadium a week ago Wednesday.

“They’re hanging on by the skin of their teeth,” one source said. “The bid’s on life support.”

It has nothing to do with the announced departure of CEO Tim Leiweke from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, whose role in the bid has been overstated (most often by Leiweke himself).

But it has everything to do with (1) the group’s limited bidding power with Bon Jovi in the lead, and (2) lingering doubts about whether the trust would sell the club to a group that continues to refuse to commit to keeping the Bills in Western New York long-term.

The Post suggested Rogers and Tanenbaum would proceed themselves and submit a binding, definitive bid for the Bills.

One Sun Media source reached late Friday strongly doubted that. Another said that Tanenbaum might also pull out if it’s true that Bon Jovi has backed out, but that Rogers might try to remain alive as a similar, large-chunk background investor in another bid for the Bills.

Rogers had about a 35% stake in Bon Jovi’s group.

While Tanenbaum could front a bid for the Bills himself — he too already was into the Bon Jovi/Tanenbaum/Rogers group for about 35%, and the NFL’s principal-ownership threshold is 30% — he likely could not backfill 60% or 70% of a bid fronted by the Rogers family.

And whether Edward Rogers and his family could even front a bid raises questions, because of the complicated nature of how the family’s reported $7-billion fortune is run.

Edward — the deputy chairman of Rogers Communications Inc. — alone does not control that fortune. Nor does even he, his mother and his sisters together. Rather, a trust does — which includes not only those Rogers family members but others.

What’s more, one Sun Media source has insisted since early July that if Bon Jovi ever left the Toronto group, the issue of relocation would become even more acute if only Tanenbaum and Rogers were left. That’s because at least Bon Jovi was not from Toronto. Both Tanenbaum and Rogers, of course, are. And both were actively involved in plans, however preliminary, to relocate the Bills to Toronto at first opportunity — until their bid group changed course in June.

There are three other known finalist bidders for the Bills: multi-billionaires Terry Pegula, Donald Trump and Tom Golisano.

Sun Media reported last Friday that definitive, binding bids are due Sept. 9. And in order to get on the agenda for owners to approve a presumptive new owner at their October meeting, the NFL’s finance committee would have to review and approve the sale at its next meeting, which Sun Media has reported to be on Sept. 17.

Buffalo Bills offensive attack reeks, and it had better improve — fast

BILLS

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bills offence reeks like a late-summer bog, but you can’t say it doesn’t try to be balanced.

Of seven dreadful first-half drives against Tampa Bay on Saturday, four skidded to an early halt by punt, three by turnover.

That’s balance, as odd-numbered splits go.

At halftime the Bills jogged off the field to a chorus of boos at refurbished Ralph Wilson Stadium, trailing the Buccaneers 24-0.

At that point the first-team Buffalo offence still hadn’t scored a preseason touchdown, in 18 drives over three-and-a-half games.

In football you’re either getting better or getting worse, and the offensive attack of second-year Bills head coach Doug Marrone is regressing.

“Obviously that’s not good enough,” Marrone said of his offence’s day. “We cannot not execute well. If we were getting beat out there physically, then I’d say, ‘Hey guys, we’ve got to get some players in here.’

“But we’ve just got to execute. We’re not executing well.”

Yes, it was just a preseason game, which the Bucs won 27-14.

And, yes, the Bills refrained from employing plays they think will work best against a Lovie Smith-style defence. (Smith is the new head coach of these Bucs but his former team, the Bears, still employ his defensive system, and the Bills open the regular season in Chicago on Sept. 7.)

But this is the third full weekend of the NFL preseason, when most teams leave their starters in for the entire first half. It’s as close to a legit litmus test as there is in August.

This one bodes horribly for a team coming off three consecutive 6-10 seasons, and which has not made the playoffs this century.

If the Buffalo offence does not improve — markedly, and fast — even 6-10 might be unattainable in 2014. And you wonder why the natives are restless.

“When you play poorly you should get booed. There’s no doubt about it,” Marrone said. “I don’t have any problem with that. It’s directed to me and it starts with me.”

The most hopeful Bills fan could not watch that travesty of a first half on Saturday and fail to conclude there’s a lot more wrong than right with this offence.

A big chunk of it falls on second-year quarterback EJ Manuel (my photo of him, above), who on this day appeared lost. Behind him, Buffalo scrounged only 82 yards of total offence on eight drives in those opening two quarters (when you throw in the last-minute clock run-out). That’s pathetic.

Manuel accounted for only 57 yards through the air before halftime. In that time he completed only half of his 18 passes, 10 of which were dumpoffs to tight ends or running backs.

Why is he checking down so much? Is he Checkdown Charlie II? Perhaps. But with dynamic rookie wideout Sammy Watkins out with sore ribs, most NFL quarterbacks on Saturday probably also would have concluded their most reliable pass-catching options in this offence, with the exception of former Buccaneers wideout Mike Williams, are at running back (C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson) and tight end (Scott Chandler).

So, of course, in this game Chandler slipped on a curl on the sixth play of the game, resulting in an easy interception for Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson. And Spiller fumbled two drives later to scotch Buffalo’s only first-half foray into Bucs territory.

Even though Manuel and the Bills offence sparkled on consecutive touchdown drives to start the third quarter, understand that that came against Tampa Bay’s second- and third-stringers. Manuel, Marrone and the Bills will wring all the positives they can from that, as they should.

No one else should.

It’s not all on Manuel. He’s as new to the NFL as is his offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett. So this must be asked: Are Hackett and the Bills offensive coaches putting Manuel in the best position to succeed?

Sometimes Hackett’s attack appears much too college-like. Too many read-option based plays, when Manuel isn’t an effective read-option quarterback at all; that’s why Florida State did not use it much when he starred there.

And there was this. On Buffalo’s scoring drive to open the third quarter, Hackett called a rollout, college-style run for Manuel near the Bucs goal line. Tampa Bay’s backup defenders easily tracked him down for a seven-yard loss — a waste of a red-zone play.

Manuel bailed out Hackett with a nice pass in the end zone to Williams on third-and-goal from the 14.

To his credit, Marrone called out Hackett and his staff afterward.

“Our coaches, I told them that we need to do a better job offensively.”

Veteran Bills running back Fred Jackson did not appear too concerned.

“It was a preseason game, and we can’t overreact to that,” said Jackson, who gathered the entire offence in a circle on the sideline late in the second quarter to holler encouragement.

“A lot of stuff outside this locker room is going to be said, and we can’t continue to focus on that. We know we’re a better offensive unit than what we put out there.”

They’d better be. Right away.

 

Alan Branch latest Bills defensive tackle arrested

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Buffalo Bills are cornering the market on defensive tackles in trouble with the law.

With Marcell Dareus still dealing with his two separate road arrests in May, Alan Branch was a no-show at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Bills head coach Doug Marrone said Branch, an eight-year NFL veteran, had been arrested. Marrone did not say why.

“It was reported to me that he was arrested,” Marrone said. “I’m going to meet with him tomorrow. I found out somewhere around noon midday.

“That’s all I know for a fact. I can’t say anything else.”

Tim Graham of the Buffalo News later reported that Branch was arrested for drunk driving.

Branch chose not to participate in any of the Bills’ voluntary training or practice sessions in April, May and June — then showed up out of shape for camp in July.

He signed a new three-year, $9.3-million contract with the Bills earlier this year, with $3.1 million guaranteed.

Branch didn’t play until late in the game a week ago in Pittsburgh, perhaps a signal the he might get cut by next weekend when rosters trim down to 53.

Binding bids not due in Bills sale until Sept. 9, and new owner has to be chosen before Sept. 17 to be approved at fall owners meeting

Binding, definitive bids for the Buffalo Bills are not due until Sept. 9, Sun Media has learned.

Barring shortcuts, that leaves only a week — if the intention is to have Wilson’s successor approved at the next NFL owners meeting — for the trust of founding team owner Ralph Wilson to select a preferred buyer, negotiate a sale price and hammer out a purchase agreement.

That’s because Sept. 9 is only eight days before the NFL’s finance committee is scheduled to meet for the last time in advance of the fall owners meeting, Oct. 7-8 in Manhattan.

If the finance committee cannot review and approve a presumptive new Bills owner at that meeting, believed to be on Sept. 17, then a vote cannot go before owners for final approval at their meeting three weeks later, per usual NFL procedures.

So unless the trust either prematurely ends the auction process to negotiate with one bidder, or fast-tracks it — such as by getting finalists to agree on a purchase agreement before submitting bids, or even by clandestinely negotiating a final sale price with a preferred bidder in advance — then there’s a good chance the NFL won’t approve a new Bills owner until December.

Selecting a preferred bidder, and agreeing on both a sale price and purchase agreement with that bidder, is not normally done within a week’s time in pro sports franchise sales. Three days would be super fast by normal timelines; seven days, expedient.

NFL owners conduct team-sale approval votes in person only. The next owners meeting after October’s is in December — the now annual “special league meeting.” A date for that has not yet been announced.

Three-quarters of NFL owners (at least 24) must approve a new member.

Definitive, binding bids in what the trust’s investment bank, Morgan Stanley, has called the sale’s “final phase” had been expected by Labour Day weekend.

On Monday Adam Benigni of Buffalo’s WGRZ-TV reported that that deadline had been pushed slightly forward, to just after Labour Day. On Tuesday John Wawrow of Associated Press reported likewise.

Sun Media’s source said the specific deadline date is Sept. 9, the Tuesday after Week 1 of the regular season, eight days after Labour Day. Dan Kaplan of SportsBusinessDaily.com reported Friday afternoon the deadline is Sept. 8.

The Bills open their 2014 season in Chicago on Sunday, Sept. 7.

Benigni and Wawrow attributed the push-forward to the fact that Morgan Stanley had reopened bidding after only three first-round, non-binding offers were received by the original July 29 deadline. Former Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano is believed to have submitted a fourth bid a week-and-a-half later.

Three of the four bidders are multi-billionaires: Terry Pegula, Donald Trump and Golisano. The other bidder is the “Toronto group” comprising rocker Jon Bon Jovi and his Toronto-based investors, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family.

Morgan Stanley’s searches so far have elicited no bids beyond the above four, who had been expected since spring to place offers.

Pegula is the cash-flush current owner of the NHL’s Sabres, who is helping to spearhead a downtown Buffalo renaissance. He is widely seen as the likely winning bidder.

It is believed the trust has been hoping to have a presumptive new owner in place for approval by NFL owners at their fall meeting.

If that proves unattainable, the trust and its advisers can continue down the careful, deliberate path they’ve followed since May.

Upon perusing the binding, definitive bids submitted by finalists, the trust in that event would choose a course of action on the recommendation of Morgan Stanley and the trust’s other adviser, law firm Proskauer Rose.

The trust’s choice probably would come down to either proceeding directly to negotiations with a preferred bidder, or pitting two bidders against one another, so as to squeeze the most cash out of the ultimate buyer.

Or, the trust might choose to do something else entirely; it can alter the sale process at any time, as it sees fit, and bidders know it.

The beleaguered Toronto group likely is on its last legs.

As structured, with the least-wealthy party of the three (Bon Jovi) in the lead, the group cannot stay with Pegula for long in a bidding war. The group also has yet to assuage the trust’s and its legal team’s concerns that it might relocate the Bills to Toronto at first opportunity.

Sun Media reported exclusively on Thursday that downcast Toronto-group principals are taking the next week to decide whether even to continue in the process.

A strict non-relocation agreement with Erie County and the state of New York prevents the Bills from being sold to a new owner “who, to the Bills’ knowledge, has an intention to relocate, transfer or otherwise move the team” before 2023. The state and county can haul the Bills or even the NFL into court to block the sale of the club to such an owner.

Until June, the Toronto group not so quietly had planned to relocate the Bills to Canada’s largest city.

The NFL’s fall owners meeting originally had been slated for Detroit, but a switch to New York City was announced July 25.

Toronto group bid $1- to $1.1-billion, which calls into question Forbes report claiming all Bills-sale bids were under $900 million

At least one of the bid numbers in Forbes’ report Thursday on the Buffalo Bills sale — that for the Bon Jovi/Toronto group — is wrong.

Flat. Out. Wrong.

Substantially too low, to be more specific. Not that first bids ultimately will matter anyway.

Mike Ozanian of Forbes claimed the first-round, non-binding, indicative bids of Terry Pegula, Donald Trump and the Bon Jovi/Toronto group all are below $900 million.

Ozanian quoted two sources in reporting that Pegula’s offer was $890 million, the Toronto group’s $820 million and Trump’s $809 million.

Forbes last August valued the Bills franchise at $870 million, and just this week Forbes released its annual NFL-club valuations and pegged the Bills at $935 million.

The team is on sale following the death of founding owner Ralph Wilson in March. Binding, definitive bids are due early next month.

Regarding first-round bids, here’s what I know.

When the Toronto group comprising rocker Jon Bon Jovi, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family resubmitted their first-round bid on Aug. 5 (after their initial offer of July 29 was rejected, in part for being uncompetitively low) I reported even before the group sent it in that the new amount was “probably between $1 billion and $1.1 billion.”

I now know for a fact that that amount is exactly correct. In their preliminary valuations, Bills bidders were allowed to provide either a specific number or a narrow range, and the trio revised its valuation up to a range of precisely $1 billion to $1.1 billion, I can report with certainty.

So what does that mean?

First, regarding the Toronto group’s bid, it’s possible the Forbes scribe unknowingly reported the group’s first, rejected amount. I reported weeks ago, citing sources, that that number likely was below $900 million, with one source later saying the number might even have been below $800 million.

Regardless, no matter how Forbes came to report its $820-million figure for the Toronto group, it is in fact at least 20% too low.

So then what of Forbes’ assertions that Pegula offered only $890 million, and Trump $809 million?

I believe for several reasons that the initial reports claiming Pegula bid $1.3 billion, or somewhat lower, are much more likely to be true than the Forbes number.

Within a week of the lofty figures being reported for Pegula, two sources told me that the $1.3 billion amount was correct. Since then, I’ve had sources tell me the number might have been a bit lower — $1.2 billion, or even as low as $1.1 billion.

Perhaps all of these numbers are correct in a way: maybe Pegula submitted a loose valuation range of $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion, or thereabouts.

I don’t know for sure.

I do know for sure that if Pegula bid any less than a range of $1 billion to $1.1 billion, then he bid less than the Toronto group.

Still disbelieve? Then consider the following.

If the numbers Forbes is reporting are true, then why did the trust’s investment bank, Morgan Stanley, inform the Toronto group in the hours after the first-bid deadline that it was toast unless it rebid with a higher amount? Even though it was only $70 million behind front-runner Pegula, and $18 million ahead of Trump?

And then why are Toronto group principals mulling right now whether to pull the plug on their bid effort? Who pulls out when they’re that close?

Even if Forbes’ Pegula bid amount is the only one correct, then so much of what has been reported over the past month regarding the sale would be undermined. Think about what that would mean.

Indeed, then why has everyone been reporting Pegula is the front-runner, when he’s not?

Then why did Toronto-group principals become immediately depressed, as multiple sources told me, upon learning in the hours after the July 29 first-bids deadline just how far short of Pegula’s bid theirs was? One of those plugged-in sources told me Toronto’s first bid was some $400 million less than Pegula’s? Four-hundred mil! That’s cause for depression. By contrast, being more than $100 million ahead of the perceived front-runner, or only $70 million behind, is not.

Makes. No. Sense.

As for Trump, in the days following the July 29 deadline, I read reports claiming he bid anywhere from $700 million to $1.1 billion. The New York Post then reported that the correct number was just over $1 billion. Forbes later claimed Trump bid in the mid $800-millions; now Forbes is saying $809 million.

Why all these conflicting, disparate numbers for everybody? First, it’s a private sale, and all bidders are prevented by a strict non-disclosure agreement from leaking such information to the press. Still, numbers are getting out; just not all are correct.

It’s up to us, it’s up to you, to choose whose to believe. And why wrong numbers might be getting out.

It might help to ask, Who does it benefit for universally low bid numbers to get out there right now?

The trust? No way — they want finalists to think they have to bid the moon next month.

Morgan Stanley? Only if it scares up new bidders, so their fee goes up.

Trump? Nope.

Bon Jovi’s group? Only if it keeps them in the game.

Tom Golisano, the fourth bidder ignored by Forbes? Can’t see how.

Pegula? Well, if it compels his bid rivals to submit lower binding bids because they think they don’t need to bid as high, then yes.

But that’s pure speculation. Might even be totally wrong. Like reports of some bid numbers.

 

After introducing Bon Jovi to Tanenbaum, Leiweke had little to do with Toronto group bidding on Bills, sources say

Tim Leiweke might be good friends with Jon Bon Jovi.

And he arranged the partnership between that rocker and Larry Tanenbaum, long before founding Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson died on March 25.

Otherwise, multiple sources insist the outgoing CEO and president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment had a minimal role in Bon Jovi’s group bidding on the NFL team.

One source in the position to know even said Leiweke had “absolutely nothing” to do with the Toronto bid.

“Nobody who mattered listened to him,” the source said.

Another source, however, said that both Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum — the MLSE chairman and one of Leiweke’s bosses — probably consulted with the 57-year-old executive at various times. But Leiweke did not have an impactful role within the group, that source said.

What’s more, Leiweke’s boastful claims of possessing close, helpful friendships with influential NFL power-brokers did not materialize, sources said.

Word buzzing around the city since the day he arrived in Toronto in April 2013 is that Leiweke was not shy to boast that his foremost legacy at MLSE would be in bringing the NFL to Toronto.