The Buffalo Bills and Ralph Wilson have been inexorably linked for the last 55 years, but it seems that even in death the team’s only owner has found a way to guarantee the team’s future in Buffalo.
The team’s 95-year-old owner died on Tuesday, leaving fans grieved and placing a cloud of uncertainty over the team. Though Wilson had long said that he would keep the team in Buffalo as long as he was alive — and stuck to his word despite the potential for more money elsewhere — there was no clear succession plan in place once Ralph died.
Wilson’s children have expressed that they do not want to own the team, leaving it likely that the Buffalo Bills will be sold to the highest bidder. While there is a trust in place that will be able to run the team for the next few years, it is likely that the sale process will begin shortly and that the Buffalo Bills will have a new owner within three years.
This has many Bills fans worried that a new owner will not be as loyal to the city as Ralph Wilson had been during his life. There are rumors that the Buffalo Bills could be relocated to Los Angeles or move north of the border to Toronto.
Now it seems that Ralph Wilson worked to prevent that, at least in the near-term. Last year the team and Erie County came to an agreement on a lease for Ralph Wilson Stadium through 2020, one with a reported $400 million penalty for relocating the team in the first seven years or years eight through ten (with a $29 million buyout in the seventh year).
But new reports claim that the buyout clause never existed, and that Ralph Wilson left an “enormous gift” to the people of Western New York by making the lease unbreakable.
The news comes from Marc Ganis, president of Sports Corp. Ltd. via the Canadian website Canoe.
“I’m very familiar with the Bills’ new lease in Buffalo, and Ralph Wilson gave the people of Buffalo and Western New York an enormous gift,” Ganis said at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes. “In this new 10-year lease that he signed, for the first seven years there is no opportunity to buy that lease out, or terminate it. None. That team is required to stay in that stadium for at least for the first seven years, and one year already has passed in that lease, so for the next six years.”
The report has not been corroborated, but if true it seems that Ralph Wilson has been looking out for Buffalo Bills fans all along.