Buffalo Bills fans have gone 20 years without seeing their team play in a Super Bowl. Another big game appearance may be decades away still, but a group of Bills supporters has taken steps to make sure the franchise remains in Western New York until that day comes and beyond.
The Buffalo Fan Alliance has launched a plan to have fans contribute to a fund that would help a potential future owner finance the purchase of the team once owner Ralph Wilson Jr. dies. The fund would be accessible to the potential owner as essentially an interest-free loan in exchange for the owner making a tangible guarantee the team won't be relocated. Repayments would be reinvested by the BFA into other initiatives aimed at preventing relocation.
Organizers want to raise $100 million for the fund. That's an estimated 10 percent of the franchise's eventual purchase price; Forbes estimated the team's value at $870 million last year. That would save the new owner at least $5 million in interest costs, the BFA estimates, due to a having a lower principle amount upon which interest would accrue.
Fans would not get any direct payback, but BFA leaders say the team's meaning to the region and economic impact would be impossible to replace, so its absence would be far greater than any sort of dividend that could be paid.
"This issue has obviously been hung over the fans heads for a long time. This initiative gives the fans an opportunity to protect the viability of the team here for years to come," said Brian Cinelli, co-director of the BFA.
The plan has been in the works. Questions remain – among them where the money'd go if it's not used, what would happen to the money in the interim (invested in a mutual fund, etc.) and the legality of such a venture within the confines of NFL rules. The Green Bay Packers are community-owned, but the NFL grandfathered that franchise in when it made rules restricting ownership of teams to groups of 25 or fewer people.
"We are not aware of the plan and do not know anything about its potential viability," said Russ Brandon, the Bills' president. "I will offer that it's the tremendous passion of fans like these that fires us up every day and spotlights the 'greater purpose' that coach (Doug) Marrone speaks of and everyone in our organization believes in."
Wilson, who's 95, has maintained he will not sell the team. The Bills entered a 10-year lease last year with Erie County, in which the stadium rests.
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