Thursday, July 24, 2014 | 9:01 p.m.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — A Buffalo Bills prospective ownership group that includes rocker Jon Bon Jovi has conducted a feasibility study into buying the NFL franchise and building a stadium in Toronto, a person close to the situation said.
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 person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Bon Jovi and his partners, Larry Tanenbaum and the Rogers family, have not publicly revealed details of their plans to purchase the team.
Andy Bergmann, responsible for overseeing the Bon Jovi group's stadium plans, confirmed Thursday in an email to the AP that his company has conducted stadium studies, "but nothing related to any specific site."
"We have undertaken engineering and design studies," wrote Bergmann, co-founder of Toronto-based Wessex Capital Partners, a growth equity investment firm that specializes in architecture, design and engineering services. "All of our work has been about a generic site and whether it was more rural or urban. We are aware of potential sites in the western NY and southern Ontario region, and are in fact meeting with two Buffalo area developers next week.
"No feasibility studies have been undertaken on any site to date."
Tanenbaum is chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which controls the NBA's Raptors and NHL's Maple Leafs. The Rogers family includes Edward Rogers, deputy chairman of Rogers Communications, the Toronto-based communications giant.
The Bills are being sold following the death of Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson in March.
Under terms of the team's lease with the state and county, the Bills — including Wilson's estate — are not allowed to negotiate with anyone, who to their knowledge, has an intention of relocating the team before the end of the 2022 season, when the lease ends.
The feasibility study was commissioned about 18 months ago and overseen by an investment bank, the person said, adding that one of the stadium construction costs was between $800 million and $900 million.
The Bon Jovi group has not said they would relocate the team, but Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told the AP on Wednesday that he has no doubt the group's intentions are to move the Bills to Toronto.
"It is my personal opinion that any bid associated with the Toronto group has a long-term interest in moving the team to Toronto," Poloncarz said, while attending Bills training camp in suburban Rochester, New York.
Thursday night, New York Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy posted several notes on his Twitter account and specifically mentioned Bon Jovi in sending a warning to any prospective ownership groups that might have plans of relocating the Bills.
"Note to JBJ: You will lose fans/all of WNY- forever. Not worth it," Duffy said, referring to Bon Jovi and western New York. "Note to prospective owners: BUFFALO Bills. Don't pick this fight."
Duffy then referred to a clause in the Bills' lease that provides the state and county an opportunity to seek court action to block negotiations between the team and any party that has expressed an intention of relocating the team during the lease. If the legal action failed and the Bills relocated during the lease, the state and county would be open to seeking a $400 million penalty as compensation.
"It would be a public relations disaster for any new owner to consider a move- and the 400m hit," Duffy wrote in a post that included a link to the AP story.
The Bills most recently were valued by Forbes at $870 million. They are projected to be sold for at least $1 billion, partly because NFL teams rarely go on the market.
John Vrooman, a Vanderbilt professor who specializes in sports economics, said feasibility studies are standard practice among prospective ownership groups and there should be no immediate cause for alarm. He said such studies evaluate expected cash flows and best- and worst-case risk factors based on location.
Vrooman projected the Bills to be valued at between $950 million and $1 billion in western New York, and about $1.5 billion if they moved to Toronto and even more in Los Angeles.
The Toronto group is represented by Goldman Sachs, and is one of at least 10 groups to have submitted a nondisclosure agreement form to Morgan Stanley, the banking firm overseeing the Bills sale on behalf of Wilson's estate.
Among those also listed as returning their forms are Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula and New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump.
The next step comes Tuesday.
That's when prospective bidders must submit to Morgan Stanley what's called "a first letter of indication," which includes their initial and non-binding bid to purchase the team, said a person familiar with the sale process. The person spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the sale process is private.
The person said the firm will review the bids and determine which prospective groups will be eligible to proceed to the next stage of bidding.
The list of remaining groups allowed to move forward is anticipated to be identified by the end of next week, the person said. Those groups will then be granted further access to the Bills financial date to better determine their bid.
It's possible that a prospective owner could be identified by as early as late August, and be presented to NFL owners for approval during league meetings in early October.