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Newly-discovered term in Bills lease doesn’t really change anything


It’s as if no one with access to the new Bills lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium decided to read it during Ralph Wilson’s lifetime.

In the wake of Wilson’s passing last month, it became clear that the agreement absolutely prevents relocation through the 2019 season, unless the owner of the team is prepared to trade his mansion for a cell and his wardrobe for a jumpsuit. Now, John Kryk of the Toronto Sun reports that the Wilson estate can’t sell the team to an ownership group that intends to move the franchise.

Section 3(b) of the lease states that the Bills may not “sell, assign or otherwise transfer the team to any person who, to the Bills’ knowledge, has an intention to relocate, transfer or otherwise move the team . . . .”

Without access to a full copy of the full lease, it’s impossible to know whether the team can be sold to someone who intends to relocate in compliance with the terms of the agreement. For example, the lease includes a one-time out clause in 2020, for the mere payment of $28.4 million. That clause would be meaningless if the next owner didn’t have the ability to, you know, use it.

Regardless, it’s a provision that changes nothing about the dynamics of the inevitable sale of the team. Will the buyer make known his or her intention to move the team? Or will the buyer profess to the universe prior to and upon consummation of the deal that the buyer intends to keep the team in Buffalo?

The smart money is on the latter, because plenty of money will be lost if the Bills end up spending multiple lame-duck seasons in Buffalo. So a buyer that intends to eventually move the team, either in 2020 or in 2023 after the lease expires, will say nothing about a desire to move until the time comes to move. And then the excuse will be, “Well, I wanted to stay in Buffalo but the long-term economics made it clear that I have to move to a bigger market.”

Making the clause even more meaningless is the phrase “to the Bills’ knowledge,” which allows the current owners to steer clear of any problem by deliberately avoiding information that could lead a reasonable person to conclude that the buyer may move the team. (Possibly by jamming an index finger into each ear and repeatedly proclaiming, “I’m not listening.”)

As a result, the latest newly-discovered clause changes nothing. The Bills won’t be leaving until 2020 at the very earliest. More likely, it will happen at some point after the current lease expires. Unless in the interim there’s a new lease or a new stadium.