Antsy Bon Jovi indeed reaches out to Jim Kelly on Bills bid, shedding more uncertainty on fate of beleaguered Toronto group

Already there had been plenty of buzz this summer that Jon Bon Jovi, at various times, had looked into abandoning his Toronto partners — to instead bid on the Buffalo Bills with American investors.

The latest whopper to hit the rumour mill turns out to be true. That the front man of the Toronto bid group held discussions this past week with Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly about joining forces.

What that might mean for his Toronto investors remained unclear Sunday night.

Tipped about it by two sources on Saturday morning, Sun Media can confirm via multiple sources the news that Tim Graham of the Buffalo News was first to confirm late Saturday afternoon, that arguably the most admired man in Western New York, Kelly, has at minimum entertained the notion of teaming on a Bills bid with the most hated man in the region, Bon Jovi.

Many in the Buffalo area still refuse to believe it.

Kelly’s wife Jill tweeted this out soon after Graham’s report hit the web: “To think that anyone would think for a minute that Jim would ever link up with ownership that would move our BELOVED BILLS is ludicrous.”

That statement, coupled with the fact that Kelly by early Sunday night still had not publicly denied talking to Bon Jovi, opens a few compelling lanes of conjecture as to what’s really going on here.

Maybe Kelly already has decided against the partnership.

Maybe Kelly is convinced the rocker and his Toronto investors are sincere in wanting now to keep the Bills in Buffalo, although he’d be the first in the region to believe it.

Or maybe Kelly was told by Bon Jovi he’s on his own now. Indeed for his part, maybe Bon Jovi was investigating whether Kelly’s newly secured partner — in joining forces with another bidder or investing in a new bid group entirely, bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach — is rich enough to provide the remaining 70%, after Bon Jovi’s 30% controlling-partner share. In other words, maybe Bon Jovi wanted to know whether he could replace his current financial back-fillers, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family, with Gundlach. In that scenario Kelly would not be allying himself with any Toronto partners, see.

As Graham observed, however, the fact Kelly and Bon Jovi have considered the unlikely liaison at all speaks to how desperate each has become to grab a share of NFL ownership, and with this team — the rocker as controlling partner, the ex-NFLer as a gifted small-slice partner.

A number of other vital points remained unclear on Sunday evening:

1. Whether Bon Jovi had received permission from the transaction team conducting the sale of the Bills — investment bank Morgan Stanley and law firm Proskauer Rose — to talk with Kelly in the first place. The strict non-disclosure agreement signed by all potential bidders prohibits such discourse.

2. Whether Bon Jovi had informed Tanenbaum and Edward Rogers (point person for the Rogers family) before reaching out to Kelly.

3. Whether Tanenbaum and Rogers would even be willing to surrender portions of their roughly 35% investment stakes in the bid to accommodate Gundlach/Kelly.

It’s telling that Bon Jovi reached out to Kelly within days, or even hours, of his group’s unpromising, desultory official meeting on Tuesday in Manhattan with the sellers: the late Ralph Wilson’s trust, Morgan Stanley and Proskauer Rose.

That Bon Jovi did this lends enough credibility to finally report the many rumours and insider tips QMI Agency had heard (and not reported) since June: that Bon Jovi at various times had been looking to latch on with other bid partners — either to replace his Toronto investors or to augment them.

In early July, two credible, reliable sources independent of each other told me they’d heard that Bon Jovi, alone, had recently approached one or more American-side bidders about perhaps abandoning Tanenbaum (this was before Rogers joined) to join up with one of them instead. Reliable other sources in the position to know, however, flatly denied those rumours. Perhaps because those sources were unaware. The outreaches would have happened at about the time when it dawned on Bon Jovi and Tanenbaum that, in order to get the team, they’d have to do a 180 and tell everyone henceforth their plan is to keep the Bills in Buffalo.

In late July I was told by a Canadian source that Bon Jovi had talked with Western New York developer Scott Congel about adding him and his West Seneca stadium plan to the Toronto group. Didn’t happen. Probably it was that someone put 2 and 2 together and came up with 10, after learning the Toronto group in late July had met with Congel about his stadium plan.

Just this past Wednesday I was told that Bon Jovi was for sure going to dump his Toronto partners to team with Tom Golisano, the former Buffalo Sabres owner and payroll-systems billionaire who finally submitted a bid on the Bills just over a week ago. But someone in the position to know told me that that tip was “complete nonsense. Bon Jovi is tied to (Tanenbaum and the Rogers family). He might prefer other partners at this stage who are not Toronto based, but he is stuck with these guys.”

Stuck indeed, as long as the group exists.

Regardless of any non-disclosure agreement, syndicate bidders in any billion-dollar purchase cannot just up and leave current partners whenever the mood strikes them. Such partners legally attach themselves to one another — weeks, even months, before submitting a first, non-binding bid. That’s one reason they have all those lawyers.

So the Toronto trio are legally bound to one another. The only way Bon Jovi could join with someone else would be with both of his partners’ permission — in other words, if both agreed to dissolve their bid group. Perhaps that’s about to happen.

It became clear in late April that the Bon Jovi/Toronto group would have little chance of winning this auction — mainly because of all those issues surrounding the Bills’ restrictive lease and non-relocation agreement with the county and state at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Bon Jovi appears to have finally accepted that fate, and is acting on it.

Sense of ‘let’s just get through it’ permeated room when Toronto group finally met with principals selling Bills: sources

No harsh words. No icy stares. No table-pounding. No provocations.

That said, don’t get the idea that when the Bon Jovi/Toronto bid group finally met face-to-face Tuesday in Manhattan with principals selling the Buffalo Bills, it was anything like the ending of The Party, with hippies and suits alike joy-dancing till dawn in a silly sea of bubbles.

Two sources with knowledge of what transpired at Morgan Stanley’s offices on Broadway have told Sun Media the management presentation was drama-free. Purely perfunctory. Matter-of-fact. No emotion.

And permeating the room was an unspoken, shared sense that, yeah, we all have to go through with this, so let’s just get through it.

So they did.

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Rogers family rep Edward Rogers elaborated on their ownership plan. Members of the Wilson trust, Bills CEO and president Russ Brandon and key reps from investment bank Morgan Stanley and law firm Proskauer Rose did not excessively question the trio about their non-relocation promise.

In turn, the trust and co. talked up their property, the primary purpose of such formal get-togethers in a pro sports franchise sale.

Not much else. Questions asked and answered. Then thanks for coming, we’ll be in touch, handshakes, out.

The sense of pessimism that had saturated the Toronto bid group two weeks ago — when sources say the trio were informed their initial, non-binding bid fell hundreds of millions of dollars short of the one submitted by Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula — has not dissipated, Sun Media has learned.

Defeat seems more inevitable than ever.

Morgan Stanley allowed the group to rebid last week only if it also provided more convincing assurances it had abandoned its original intention to relocate the franchise to Canada’s largest city. Morgan Stanley requested yet further assurances before advising the group over the weekend it had finally made what the bank calls the “final phase” of the sale.

The ever-growing sense, even within the Toronto group, is that their bid was kept alive merely to create the illusion for Pegula that he’s in a horse race, and to provide the perceived relocation threat needed to convince Pegula and other bidders that the Bills — Buffalo’s Bills — still need saving.

Because of the limited personal wealth of prospective controlling owner Bon Jovi in this billionaires’ game, the Toronto group as constituted can bid only so high — somewhere between $1 billion and $1.2 billion, sources have told Sun Media.

By contrast Pegula, the oil-and-gas multi-billionaire who owns the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, is presumably able to bid as high as he wants. In cash.

Pegula and celebrity multi-billionaire real-estate mogul Donald Trump are the only other known, confirmed finalist bidders.

Former Sabres owner Tom Golisano, a payroll-systems multi-billionaire, finally submitted his first-round, non-binding bid last week. He is believed to be a finalist as well. Sun Media was told last month that Golisano intended to bid aggressively.

Despite re-opening the first-round bidding process shortly after the July 29 deadline, Morgan Stanley has recruited no other individuals or groups known to have submitted a bid. Golisano had publicly confirmed his intention to bid in June.

Trump’s management presentation occurred last Wednesday in Detroit. Pegula’s is scheduled for this week in New York City, Tim Graham of the Buffalo News reported last week.

It was believed Pegula arrived in the New York area on Wednesday.

Morgan Stanley originally had set aside only last week and this for management presentations, but Graham reported there might be meetings next week as well. Golisano’s management presentation would take place within this time frame.

After a full exchange of detailed financial information with the seller, the above four finalists — and any others Morgan Stanley might yet recruit — are expected to submit binding bids by Labour Day weekend.

 

Exclusive: Bon Jovi/Toronto group advances to final phase of Buffalo Bills sale, to meet with seller Tuesday in Manhattan

After almost two weeks either on the outs or in limbo, the Bon Jovi/Toronto bid group has been advised it is a finalist in the Buffalo Bills sale, Sun Media learned Monday morning.

The group is scheduled to meet with the seller and its transaction team on Tuesday in Manhattan.

Over the weekend the Toronto group finally was informed its rebid had been accepted, sources say.

Comprising rocker Jon Bon Jovi, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family, the group last Tuesday had resubmitted its first-round, non-binding bid for the NFL club. The Bills are for sale following the death in March of founding owner Ralph Wilson.

Morgan Stanley, the investment bank conducting the sale for Wilson’s trust, previously had rejected the Toronto trio’s initial non-binding bid — for two reasons.

First, because the bid was uncompetitively low, sources said — less than $900 million (and one source said likely lower than $800 million). Secondly, because too much doubt existed within the trust, Morgan Stanley and the sale’s law firm, Proskauer Rose, regarding the Toronto trio’s newly adopted intention to keep the NFL team in Western New York.

In inviting the Toronto group to resubmit, the trust and its transaction team asked the trio to provide greater assurances it plans to keep the Bills long-term in the Buffalo area, a source said.

Whatever assurances the group resubmitted in last Tuesday’s do-over did not immediately prove satisfactory. The group was asked to “clarify statements,” a source said. By the end of business on Thursday the bid group’s status had remained uncertain.

Bidders are muzzled by a strict non-disclosure agreement.

The Toronto trio joins multi-billionaire solitary bidders Terry Pegula and Donald Trump as known finalists. Tom Golisano, a payroll-systems multi-billionaire who sold the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres to Pegula in 2011, is presumed to already be, or soon become, a fourth finalist.

Trump had his formal meeting with the seller last Wednesday in Detroit. Tim Graham of the Buffalo News reported last week that Pegula’s finalist meeting — formally titled a “management presentation” — was scheduled for this week in New York.

Morgan Stanley re-opened the bidding process after only the Toronto group, Pegula and Trump had submitted non-binding bids by the ostensible July 29 deadline.

The Buffalo News late last week reported the seller was scheduled to hold as many as eight meetings by the end of next week, either with finalists or potential purchasers. It appears the latter include merely minority-stake investors for potential, unformed-as-yet bid groups.

No known new bidder has emerged. Golisano had been expected to bid since May but did not submit his until late last week.

It was widely believed the trust would advance the Toronto group to the final phase of the sale, if only to keep panic in the sales process.

Early last month, Morgan Stanley had set aside last week and this for management presentations with finalists. At this point, the seller is revealing to each finalist much more detailed financial information about the Bills operation, while each finalist is opening wide its own books to Morgan Stanley.

Finalists soon will be asked to submit binding bids, probably before month’s end. The trust and transaction team then will select a preferred buyer and begin purchase negotiations, if this sale follows the usual trajectory. The seller can amend the sale process at any time.

Toronto group asked yet again to clarify non-relocation intentions on wild day in Bills-sale developments

On a day of game-changing, “weirdo world” developments in the Buffalo Bills sale, the Toronto group was asked yet again to clarify its non-relocation intentions, Sun Media has learned.

By the end of business on Thursday, the bidder still had not been invited to the final phase of the sale, a source said.

Comprising rocker Jon Bon Jovi, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family, the group on Tuesday had resubmitted its first-round, non-binding bid for the NFL club.

Morgan Stanley, the investment bank conducting the sale of the Bills for the trust of the late Ralph Wilson, last week had rejected the trio’s initial non-binding bid, because it was uncompetitively low, sources said — perhaps less than $900 million.

As well, too much doubt existed within the trust, Morgan Stanley and the sale’s law firm, Proskauer Rose, regarding the Toronto trio’s newly adopted intention to keep the NFL team in Western New York.

In inviting the Toronto group to resubmit, the trust and its transaction team asked the trio to provide greater assurances that it plans to keep the Bills long-term in the Buffalo area, a source said.

Whatever the group submitted in Tuesday’s do-over did not prove satisfactory. The group was asked to “clarify statements,” a source said. The trust and its transaction team have not yet decided the group’s fate.

Earlier in the day, Tim Graham of the Buffalo News and John Wawrow of Associated Press both reported that the Toronto group has a meeting scheduled next week with the seller. That might well wind up being the case.

Early last month, Morgan Stanley had set aside this week and next for such management presentations with finalist bidders.

In a bombshell report on Thursday morning, Graham said such meetings might extend to a third week, because as many as eight finalists are now in the mix.

That suggests up to five new potential purchasers not only have submitted first-round bids but already are, or quickly will be, approved as finalists.

In addition to the three who submitted bids by the ostensible July 29 deadline — namely, the Toronto group and multi-billionaires Terry Pegula and Donald Trump — only one other new bidder’s name was confirmed Thursday.

That’s Tom Golisano, a payroll-systems multi-billionaire originally from Rochester, N.Y.

Like Pegula, Golisano for years has stated emphatically the Bills must remain in Buffalo. Sun Media was first to report in May that Golisano would bid, and reported last month that he intended not only to still bid, but bid alone and aggressively.

Golisano declined to submit by the July 29 deadline.

Graham was first to report Thursday that Golisano is in and, additionally, that Trump had his management meeting on Wednesday in Detroit. Sun Media sources confirm both reports.

Graham and Wawrow also both wrote that the family of Hall of Fame Bills quarterback Jim Kelly is in league with one of the new, mystery bidders (perhaps noted bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach, a former Western New Yorker now based in Los Angeles who loves the Bills), that Pegula is scheduled to have his meeting with the seller next week in Manhattan, and that Bills president and CEO Russ Brandon will be among the presenters at all meetings with finalists.

The fact that Morgan Stanley has had to actively recruit new bidders to the process — after extending its July 29 bid deadline — has alarmed and disappointed many in that realm of the financial world, sources indicate.

News that up to five new, finalist bidders might suddenly be in the mix was met with no small amount of skepticism.

“I don’t know if it’s real. We’re in weirdo world at this point,” said one informed source close to the Bills sale process.

“It’s all crap,” another charged flatly.

Adding to the skepticism, by late Thursday rumblings began to circulate that no management meeting took place on Thursday, because an unnamed “L.A. guy” never showed up.

So, thanks largely to those informative reports out of Buffalo, your Bills-sale scorecard looked like this by late Thursday night:

Two known finalist bidders, one new bidder, one bidder in limbo (Bon Jovi/Toronto) and perhaps up to four additional, unknown bidders.

Got that?

 

 

As expected, Toronto group resubmits first-round bid for the Bills

The rebid is in.

As expected, the Toronto group seeking to buy the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday night resubmitted its first-round bid, Sun Media has learned.

It was not known by late Wednesday afternoon whether the trust running the sale and its transaction team deemed the bid to be satisfactory, in order to advance the group to the sale’s final phase.

This is seen as the last chance for the group comprising rocker Jon Bon Jovi, MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family to remain in the chase for the NFL club.

Morgan Stanley, the investment bank conducting the sale of the Bills for the trust of the late Ralph Wilson, rejected the trio’s first, non-binding bid last week. Sources said the bid was surprisingly and uncompetitively low — perhaps less than $900 million.

The trio was furthermore asked to provide greater assurances it plans to keep the Bills long-term in the Buffalo area, a source said. Too much doubt existed within the trust, Morgan Stanley and that duo’s law firm, Proskauer Rose, regarding the group’s newly adopted intention to keep the NFL team in Western New York.

The only other known finalists are multi-billionaires Terry Pegula and Donald Trump. Each received approval notice last Thursday.

Forbes reported Wednesday that Trump did not bid approximately $1 billion, as widely reported, but rather in the mid $800-million range. If true, Toronto’s first bid likely was even less.

Pegula bid as high as $1.3 billion.

The current owner of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres made his fortune in oil and gas. Just on Tuesday he closed a $1.75-billion deal struck in June to sell the drilling rights on 75,000 acres of land in Ohio and West Virginia, according to both John Wawrow of the Associated Press and Tim Graham of the Buffalo News.

Graham imparted this rare statement of braggadocio from Pegula:

“Our team truly is a leader in the domestic oil and gas industry. Our affiliate companies still retain significant oil and gas assets in Colorado, Wyoming, New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“We are not going away.”

A decision regarding whether the Toronto group is going away from the Bills sale could come at any time. No announcement by any party is expected either way.

The trust and Morgan Stanley had set aside this week and next to meet in person with finalist bidders.

Probably by late August, finalists will be asked to submit binding, definitive bids.