Even before word emerged that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer intends to buy the L.A. Clippers for $2 billion, interest had been expressed by potential buyers of the Bills who would acquire the asset with the intent of relocating.
“Truthfully, there are parties that are interested in buying the team and moving it,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told WGR 550 on Thursday, via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. “We are trying to do what we can on our part to show that this community is moving forward to at least explore everything and all the options that are necessary, in the case the situation comes that we have a new owner that says, ‘I own the Bills. I’m fine with Ralph Wilson Stadium for the next five or six years, but I want out and I want to be somewhere different then.’”
That could be the clearest acknowledgement yet that the current lease for the Bills to play at the stadium named for the team’s late owner buys only time. Specifically, the lease provides a minimum of six seasons (when a limited window opens to bolt) and a maximum of nine seasons (when the lease expires).
Ballmer’s bid for the Clippers could be the clearest reminder that, if the family of Ralph Wilson chooses to sell to the highest bidder, the highest bid may have gotten a lot higher. And if the Wilson family opts to maximize the return without regard for whether the Bills may leave and never return, a bid that reflects the team’s value not in Buffalo but in Los Angeles could be the easy winner.
“I’ve spoken to [Bills CEO Russ] Brandon, I’ve spoken to [Bills CFO Jeffrey Littmann],” Poloncarz separately told WBEN in Buffalo. “They know my request, which is to pick the owner that’s going to keep the team in Buffalo. But I don’t know if that’s going to be the decision that the trustees will end up doing. If they end up getting a bid that’s so much higher than anybody else, I don’t know if they can turn it down. They may have the fiduciary duty to accept it.”
And there it is. The specific recognition that has long been suspected to be true. If the mandate for the “trustees” (a vague group of no-names who give plausible deniability to current owner Mary Wilson) is to find the highest bidder, it won’t matter if that bidder wants to move the team.
So is that the standard?
“That’s a good question,” Russ Brandon recently told WGR 550, via Rodak. “I’m not at liberty to talk about those things. I can’t talk about that.”
Which brings us back to Ballmer’s $2 billion. If the NBA’s B-team in the L.A. market has that value, how much value would an NFL team in Los Angeles instantly acquire?
“We were expecting the Bills would sell somewhere in the vicinity of $800 million to potentially a billion dollars. Maybe it will go higher now,” Poloncarz told WBEN on Friday, via Rodak. “I don’t think it will go for $2 billion because this is not the Los Angeles media market, but it certainly could go above a billion dollars if this precedent in regards to recent NBA sales is any indication. We’ll just have to keep an eye on it.”
It may not go for $2 billion in Buffalo, but it could go for $2 billion or more if the buyer is intent on dog-paddling through six seasons in Buffalo before moving to the Los Angeles media market.
While the other 31 owners would want a hefty relocation fee if they approve the purchase and eventual move (there’s a chance that, for political reasons, they won’t), an owner who believes that the Bills would be worth $3 billion or $4 billion in L.A. could be willing to outbid the other potential buyers and then further line the pockets of the 31 partners for the privilege of ultimately buying low, if the Clippers are indeed worth $2 billion.
Then again, any asset ultimately is worth what someone will pay for it. And it would be a surprise if someone with an eye on the L.A. market isn’t willing to pay at least as much as Ballmer is paying for the Clippers in order to buy the Bills.