Pegulas reach definitive agreement to buy Bills

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Pegula Reaches Agreement To Buy Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) -- Ralph Wilson's legacy to keep the Bills in Buffalo will be preserved after NHL Sabres owner Terry and Kim Pegula reached what was called "a definitive agreement" to purchase the NFL franchise on Tuesday.

The deal was announced in a statement issued by the trust overseeing the late Hall of Fame owner's estate.

"Ralph would have been pleased with the sale of the team to the Terry Pegula family, who have been so committed to Buffalo and the western New York region," Wilson's widow and Bills controlling owner Mary Wilson said. "He loved his team and he cherished the fans, and his legacy will remain for all-time."

Wilson was the team's founder and sole owner, who often spoke out and voted against franchise relocation. And the selection of the Pegulas, who have maintained a commitment to keep the Bills in the region, comes as a huge relief to team fans who have expressed concern about their beloved franchise moving following Wilson's death in March.

"It is gratifying to reassure these great fans that the two franchises, so important to our region, are here to stay," Terry Pegula said in a statement released by the Sabres. "Ralph Wilson left an indelible mark on our community and we will strive every day to honor his legacy."

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Pegulas reach definitive agreement to buy Bills
FILE - In this April 13, 2013, file photo, Buffalo Sabres' owner Terry Pegula and his wife, Kim Pegula, pose for cameras during groundbreaking ceremonies at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y. The next step in the sale of the Buffalo Bills happens on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, when prospective ownership groups face a deadline to submit their formal bids. Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula are among at least three candidates still in the running to buy the franchise, which is for sale after Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson died in March.(AP Photo/Gary Wiepert, File)
Buffalo Sabres' owner Terry Pegula and his wife, Kim Pegula, pose for cameras during groundbreaking ceremonies at First Niagara Center before an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Buffalo, N.Y., Saturday, April 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
BUFFALO, NY - APRIL 13: Officials gather after the groundbreaking for the $172 million HARBORcenter before the game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Philadelphia Flyers on April 13, 2013 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. The mixed-use entertainment facility will feature two ice rinks and a hotel. Standing (L-R) are Sabres chief development officer Cliff Benson, Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and Sabres president Theodore Black. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Buffalo Sabres NHL hockey owner Terry Pegula, second from right, with wife Kim, right, and daughter, Jessie, center, make a personalized delivery to season ticket holders Barbara Hummell, left, and Lori Hummell, in West Seneca, N.Y, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011. Under new owner Pegula, the Sabres took a page out the Penguins' marketing game plan by having their team drive around town as glorified ticket couriers. (AP Photo/Doug Benz)
BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 20: Kim Pegula, wife of Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula, greets fans before a game against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 20, 2013 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Founder and owner of the Buffalo Bills, Ralph Wilson Jr., stands with his bronze bust during the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009, in Canton, Ohio. Wilson is part of the Class of 2009. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Buffalo Bills first round draft pick Sammy Watkins poses for photos at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., Friday, May 9, 2014. The RCW patch honors the team's late owner, Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
FILE - In this Nov. 1, 2009, file photo, Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr. celebrates his Hall of Fame induction at a half-time ceremony during the NFL football game against the Houston Texans in Orchard Park, N.Y. Bills owner Wilson Jr. has died at the age of 95. says team president Russ Brandon announced his death at the league's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, March 25, 2014. He was one of the original founders of the American Football League and owned the Bills for the last 54 years. (AP Photo/Don Heupel, File)
Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr., right, introduces running back C.J. Spiller, the Bills first round pick in the NFL football draft, during a news conference at Bills headquarters in Orchard Park, N.Y. on Friday, April 23, 2010. (AP Photo/ Don Heupel)
Singer Jon Bon Jovi talks during a news conference following New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's signing of a good Samaritan bill intended to assure that a fear of prosecution doesn't get in the way of medical help for overdose victims, Thursday, May 2, 2013, in Paterson, N.J. The New Jersey law will shield from prosecution both overdose victims and those seeking medical help for them if they act in good faith. Bon Jovi's daughter suffered an apparent drug overdose on heroin in a dorm at Hamilton College in upstate New York last year. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
In this Aug. 2, 2014, photo Buffalo Bills fan Jacob Gauda shows off his No Bon Jovi shirt during the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Bon Jovi is hoping he's written a hit with Buffalo Bills fans in a bid to stem concerns of whether his prospective ownership group plans to buy and potentially relocate the franchise to Toronto. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

The deal was reached a day after the Pegulas were among at least three prospective groups to submit binding bids to purchase the team. And it comes days before the Bills (1-0) play their home-opener against Miami on Sunday.

Though the Bills were valued at $935 million, the sale price was expected to exceed $1 billion.

The sale is subject to being approved by a three-quarters majority of the NFL's 31 owners, which is expected to come at league meetings on Oct. 8.

The Pegulas, who live in Florida, have established roots in adopting Buffalo as their hometown since purchasing the Sabres in February 2011. Terry Pegula is from Pennsylvania and became a fan of the Sabres in the mid-1970s. Kim is from the nearby Rochester area.

Their commitment to Buffalo is becoming more evident with the construction of a privately funded $172 million downtown hockey/entertainment complex called HarborCenter that is nearing completion.

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 Pegulas have a net worth of more than $3.5 billion, and made their fortune in the natural gas industry,

They had the backing of local business leaders and public officials, and were regarded as the front-runner to buy the Bills once they first expressed interest in the team in late May.

"Today's announcement is great news for western New York, the Bills, and their passionate fans, who will now be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief," U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said. "The Pegulas are the perfect choice to carry on Ralph Wilson's indelible legacy."

In closing in on buying the Bills, the Pegulas beat out much higher-profile candidates such as New Jersey rocker Jon Bon Jovi, who led a group of Toronto-based businessmen, and New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Trump maintained his interest and had the deep pockets to buy the Bills, but lost out once the sale price rose beyond what he considered to be a reasonable acquisition.

As for Bon Jovi, his group faltered because it failed to address numerous concerns about its plans to potentially relocate the franchise north of the border. The Toronto group was rounded out by Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and the Rogers family, which controls Rogers Communications.

The Bills' lease agreement, which was signed off by Wilson and approved by NFL owners last year, became a serious obstacle because of a strict non-relocation clause that essentially prevented the team from moving before the 2020 season.

The AP first reported in July that Rogers conducted a feasibility study that identified at least three potential stadium sites in the Toronto area that could potentially serve as the Bills new home.

News of the Pegulas' pending purchase was celebrated across the city. One fan was so emotional that he began crying while discussing what the Pegulas purchase meant to him on Buffalo's WGR-Radio.

Other fans expressed relief.

"One of the saddest thing for me to consider was that someday we may have had children and I would never had a chance to share what (the Bills) are like with them," said Dale Paradowski, a Bills season ticketholder, who is getting married next week. "This purchase isn't just a transaction. It's a symbol of a city and those who love it."
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