Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula are closing in on their purchase of the Buffalo Bills.
The bid has been tentatively approved by members of late owner Ralph Wilson’s estate, two people familiar with discussions told The Associated Press on Tuesday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sale is being conducted privately.
The next step, the people said, is for the estate to get initial approval from the NFL. That could come by the end of the week and as early as later in the day in a process that could be completed by next month.
The development comes a day after the Pegulas were among at least three prospective ownership groups to submit binding bids to purchase the team.
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The other two groups to submit bids were New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump and a Toronto group fronted by rocker Jon Bon Jovi.
The Pegulas have been regarded as front-runners to buy the Bills since first expressing interest in May. They have made Buffalo their adopted their home after buying the Sabres in 2011. They have a net worth of more than $3.5 billion and the support of local business leaders and public officials because of their commitment to keep the Bills in western New York.
Once identified as the prospective ownership candidates, the Pegulas would require approval from members of the NFL Finance Committee, which is to meet next week. They would also have to go through an extensive background check by an NFL-contracted security firm.
The final step would be approval from three-quarters of the league’s 31 other owners, which could come at league meetings next month. After that, NFL owners are next scheduled to meet in December.
Under NFL ownership rules, the Pegulas are allowed to own both the Bills and the Sabres because they are located in the same market.
The Bills are up for sale after Wilson, a Hall of Famer who founded the franchise, died in March. The franchise was last valued by Forbes at $935 million. But the sale price is expected to exceed $1 billion because NFL franchises rarely go on the block.
The Cleveland Browns were sold for close to $1.05 billion two years ago. The Miami Dolphins sold for an NFL-record $1.1 billion in 2009, but their deal also included their stadium.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer has been involved with the sale process to ensure the Bills stay in New York. Last week, Schumer expressed support of the Pegulas to at least 10 NFL owners.
During a stop in Buffalo on Monday, Schumer said he had conversations that day with both Terry Pegula and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“We talked about the lay of the land. I’m not going to get into details,” Schumer said. “But I believe that (Pegula) is enthusiastic about owning and keeping the Bills in Buffalo for generations.”
Under the lease agreement reached in December 2012 with New York State and Erie County, the Bills are essentially bound to Ralph Wilson Stadium through the end of the 2019 season. There is a one-time out clause that would allow the team to break the agreement for just under $28.4 million in 2020.
The Pegulas have built a privately financed $172 million downtown hockey-entertainment complex called HarborCenter. Two people familiar with discussions have told the AP the Pegulas have had discussions regarding the building of a downtown football stadium.
Trump maintained his interest and had the deep pockets to buy the Bills, but lost out once the price rose beyond what he considered reasonable.
Bon Jovi’s group failed to address wide concern about plans to potentially relocate the franchise to Canada. The Toronto group was rounded out by Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and the Rogers family, which controls Rogers Communications.
In a letter to The Buffalo News last month, Bon Jovi outlined his objective “to carry on the legacy of Ralph Wilson and make the Bills successful in Buffalo.” At no point, however, did he mention his Toronto partners or state a long-term commitment to keeping the team in Buffalo. The backlash grew so large that numerous Buffalo radio stations and bars stopped playing Bon Jovi’s songs.