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.

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