After the death of original Buffalo Bills owner and legendary AFL co-founder Ralph Wilson, speculation has percolated about the status of the team and its location. Finding an owner committed to staying in northern New York might be difficult when options like Los Angeles or even neighboring Toronto tantalizingly dangle to potential owners. However, a white-knight offer may come from an unlikely hero:
New York City businessman and billionaire Donald Trump says he is committed to buying the Bills and keeping them in western New York, according to The Buffalo News.
“I’m going to give it a heavy shot,” Trump told the News on Monday from his office in Manhattan. “I would love to do it, and if I can do it, I’m keeping it in Buffalo.”
Multiple sources confirmed to the News that Trump has had two conversations with Bills president and CEO Russ Brandon.
Trump, who earlier this month confirmed that he was contacted by a group looking to purchase the Bills following the death of longtime owner Ralph Wilson, also wanted to ease concerns that he would move the team to Los Angeles or Toronto.
He has previously said it would be “catastrophic” if Buffalo lost the Bills.
“I live in New York, and it’s easier for me to go to Buffalo than any other place,” Trump said. “Where am I going to move it, some place on the other side of the country where I have to travel for five hours?”
There are two obvious issues that might come into play with a Trump bid. First, Trump once had heavy investment in gaming interests, which would be a non-negotiable issue with the NFL, for obvious reasons. Trump told the Buffalo News that his company has only a residual interest in gaming and could dump it at any time:
The NFL prohibits all personnel – from owners all the way down to the assistant equipment manager – to have any involvement with gambling operations. Trump’s name is on two Atlantic City casinos, the Trump Taj Mahal and the Trump Plaza, but he said he owns only a small stake in those properties anymore.
“It’s a public company, and I could sell instantaneously,” Trump said. “So that wouldn’t be a conflict at all.
“I did very well with Atlantic City. It was a great experience. When we sold the casinos, they didn’t change the name. But I’m not involved, not on the board.”
The other issue might be more personal. Trump took on the NFL in the 1980s as one of the owners in the long-defunct USFL, one of the cadre of failed NFL competitors over the post-merger period. He was the driving force in pushing the USFL to directly compete with the NFL as a fall league, rather than the spring league first launched, although the league disbanded before they played a fall season. More to the point, Trump also pushed the 1984 anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL that ended up netting $3 in damages to the USFL … years after they folded.
Trump’s probably correct, though, in stating that the current ownership won’t hold that much of a grudge, especially if he can settle the ownership situation decisively. They want owners with deep pockets and stability in the region, and whatever else one thinks about Trump, he can at least offer that much. The Buffalo News notes that Forbes estimates Trump’s wealth at nearly $4 billion — although Trump estimates that it’s three times that amount. If so, he could buy the team outright, although like most bidders he would likely find other investors to share the risk and reward.
This sounds like a good fit — certainly a better fit for Trump than national politics. He has excelled in the business and entertainment worlds, and could give the NFL a few lessons in showmanship and promotion. Perhaps Trump critics can root for this outcome on the basis that it would likely reduce his profile in electoral politics … or so we can hope.