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NHL owner, NBA team founder among those who signed Bills nondisclosure agreement; Hyatt hotel heirs have been sniffing around

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The Buffalo News has learned the names of some previously unreported parties involved in the Buffalo Bills sales process.

NHL sources (no, that's not a typo) inform me at least two Canadian-based suitors -- in addition to the group led by rock star Jon Bon Jovi -- have explored a Bills purchase.

Sources reveal the Aquilini family and John Bitove have gone deep enough into the process to at least have signed the Bills' nondisclosure agreement.

The Aquilini Investment Group owns the Vancouver Canucks. Francesco Aquilini is the chairman, with brothers Roberto Aquilini and Paolo Aquilini serving as alternate governors.

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UPDATE: Canucks chairman confirms Bills interest but announces his family's not in the hunt

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Bitove founded the Toronto Raptors and served as president of Toronto's 2008 Olympic bid. He is in the satellite radio and restaurant businesses. He owns hundreds of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell franchises across Canada.

It's unclear whether the Aquilinis or Bitove are scheduled to meet with the Bills' trust for face-to-face presentations that began Wednesday. A spokesperson for Bitove said he was traveling and unavailable to comment.

The Bills' trust was alarmed by the limited interest generated by the July 29 deadline for prospective owners to file non-binding initial bids. The trust and the bank handling the sale, Morgan Stanley, have circled back to coax involvement from more candidates.

NFL sources have told me about 60 nondisclosure agreements were distributed, but only 16 to 20 were signed and returned.

Another possible suitor is the Chicago-based Pritzker family, heirs to the Hyatt Hotel fortune. Forbes reported the Pritzker family features 11 billionaires.

Karen Pritzker and husband Michael Vlock, big investors in Apple Inc., have backed real-estate projects in Buffalo. They have invested in many of local developer Nick Sinatra's downtown properties.

The Bills' trust has discussed a sale with the Pritzker/Vlock group on some level, although it's unknown if the group signed the nondisclosure agreement necessary to move forward with the sales process.

The News also has confirmed that food-and-beverage magnate Dean Metropoulos did sign the trust's nondisclosure agreement.

Metropoulos was runner-up to Shad Khan for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011.

  • repomania

    Cool.

  • Dan R

    Interesting..none of those suitors, however, has the ties, loyalty to WNY and the money of one Terrence Pegula. Unless he pulls himself from the bidding process it would be stunning if TP isn't the new owner.

    • Jester

      Would that be the Terry Pegula who lives in Boca Raton Florida? Oh he lived in Orchard Park for a while, but so did many other people.

      • El Kabong

        It would be the Terry Pegula who has almost $400 million invested in WNY through the Sabres, Bandits, Rochester Americans, and HarborCenter.

  • Alan Baumgardner

    Boy, those non-disclosure agreements are really holding up, aren't they? Why do we know these things? Somebody's blabbing, right?

    • zbubble

      There's always people that aren't part of the signed agreement but work for one of the parties who know things... secretaries, couriers, chauffeurs, etc.

  • tom franey

    This latest news on 8 bidders doesn't even make sense. So, last Tuesday there were only 3 they extend the deadline and now all of the sudden they decide oh ok time to bid. Don't think so, not buying any of this.

    • Jeaniec

      I hope you're right Tom. I really want to see Terry and Kim Pegula own the Bills. They are credible, sincere and have a real interest in Buffalo

    • Buffalo Fan

      The bankers are likely manipulating the media, hard, as part of their business-as-usual process.

    • Phantom17

      You aren't reading carefully enough.

      At the deadline, there were three BIDDERS.

      Now, the trust is making presentations to eight (or thereabouts) GROUPS. Some of them may never submit bids. Some of them are apparently looking to merge with other groups.

      Being hard-asses about the deadline screws the trust ... so why on earth would you expect them to do that? The only people it would benefit are fans too impatient to let the process play out.

      This is about money and a careful decision, not rushing through things or a blind obedience to arbitrary "rules."

  • Harry

    how scary would this be if it wasn't for Mr Pegula. I hope he is as serious as being reported

    • Jeaniec

      I think he is. Above all, he seems to be the most credible amongst the others bidders so far.

    • William Kyriakakos

      I hope Pegula gets the team. If he wan't around, Golisano or the Jacobs family would have stepped up

  • Jan Reimers

    It may be time for Terry P. to sell another 50,000 acres of drilling rights for a cool $ Billion or so, just to scare off these pretenders.

    • Jester

      Yeah, and Ted Rogers can sell some stock and add to the 7.9 Billion he has already. Believe it or not there are people bidding that have more money than Pegula...

      • zbubble

        Ted Rogers can't sell stock, he's been dead since 2008.

        • Torchwood 77

          Bravo! Perfect take down of a troll!

          • Jester

            You do realize that "Ted" Rogers real name was Edward, right, just like his sons is.

          • Torchwood 77

            Ted was the dad! he went by Ted! The son is called Edward! He go's by Edward! Hope you learned something. Now let me watch My Bills Play!

          • WHAT?

            And still no reply to depressing the stock price. Not to mention the possibility of losing control of the company if he were to dump that much stock at once. There's a big difference between paper assets and liquid ones.

        • W.T. Beef

          I don't expect people who are alive to be dumping large blocks of stock either. It depresses the value of the stock so they end up taking a loss, and undermines the confidence of other stockholders. It has to be sold off over a period of months to avoid destabilizing the market.

      • William Kyriakakos

        trust isn't going to sell to Toronto

        • Jester

          If they come in with the highest bid, they get the team.

          • Jeaniec

            Not if there is a clause in the trust that stipulates the team can't be moved. Since Bon Jovi had to re-submit his bid, I can't help but wonder if there is such a clause (in the trust) that states the Bills have to remain in Buffalo. Channel 2 News seems to think there is.

          • William Kyriakakos

            I disagree, besides their bid was noncompetitive

        • timothyD9

          I don't think anyone should worry about John Bitove. He lost his piece of the Raptors when his partner bought him out in one of those "put up your money or get lost" scenarios. His pockets aren't deep enough for the NFL.

  • Mark Fischer

    I thought that you couldn't own 2 teams form different sports unless it was in the same venue?

    • Buffalo Fan

      Me too.

    • Jester

      Who said that he buyer is actually going to be the majority owner?

    • zbubble

      You can't own a NFL team if the other sports team you own is in one of the 31 other NFL cities. ie. Jeremy Jacobs owns the Boston Bruins, and would not be able to buy the the Bills because Boston also has the Patriots. But for any owner of a sports team in a city that doesn't have NFL competition - Vancouver, Toronto... - that's fine.

  • Rick C

    Hey everybody, look I've got a unicorn here...oh, no you can't see it but trust me it's here and I've got it! All these "suitors" and yet the trust is somehow in the "interview" stage and somehow all this private information is being bandied about as if it's common knowledge. Nope, I'm not believing any of it. This is merely to get the price to the 1.5-1.75 billion range and make Pegula and the Bills and the NFL look all that much more important.

    • George Winston III

      Any businessman who would over pay by almost double is not a shrewd businessman in the end. This is not a "gotta" have new toy and a lot of things must be done right to make the team competitive and a winner. An NFL franchise is just no place for poor decision making. Just look at the Dallas cowboys and Jerry Jones. Then look at the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Rooney's. Worlds apart. Jerry Jones is like the doctor who self medicates himself.

      • tctctc

        Why, because he makes more money than any other team?

    • W.T. Beef

      NFL owners have a strong interest in seeing the Bills sold for the maximum possible price. That sets the low bar for the next time a franchise is sold. It increases the market value of all the franchises.

  • tom franey

    I agree with Rick!! All of these new bidders and yet for some reason they keep gong back to the bon jovi group, whose first bid was insulting, to please tell us you will not move the team so we can put you through to the next round.

  • Lloyd M. Jr.

    Sell to Pegula; the Bills need to be owned by one who realizes he has an obligation to put forth a competitive product for the fans... and is willing to make a commitment to that.

    • Jester

      Oh brother

    • George Winston III

      That is exactly why we the Bill's Trust should not sell to Pegula. They need to sell to an egomaniac like the Donald, who will never satisfy his ego without a Super Bowl Championship.

      • Stephen Owen

        absolutely ridiculous. Trump gives up...all the time. atrocious!

      • ExpectResults

        Super Bowl champion under Trump. BOOM!!! The Bills will be sold over night. Trump is all about a good business deal and profit.

      • tctctc

        like Daniel Snyder.

      • El Kabong

        Trump is a disgusting waste of oxygen. Read some of his comments from the past week.

    • Stephen Owen

      AMEN

    • riveral

      Im not 100% sold on TP. Has he done a good job owning the hockey team? Have the Sabres "improved' under his watch? I know he says he has a "plan" in place to first tank that team in order to get better, but I'm skeptical -- I have to be, I'm a Bills' fan

      • ExpectResults

        Yeah well... the Bills haven't completely tanked. But they certainly haven't produced in a VERY long time.

        The Bills are very important to the economic engine in Buffalo. I don't trust anyone bidding on the Bills. Remember Art Modell and the Browns? At least Terry Pegula appears to have a very strong personal interest in the Bills. I'd bank on Terry keeping the Bills in Buffalo. I would not bet on any other bidder wanting the same.

        • Jester

          Do did Art Moddell with the Browns, all the way back to 1961. He was well known as a generous philanthropist in Cleveland.

          • ExpectResults

            This is true. But when he called on Cleveland to do more for his team like they did for the Indians and Cavs, They did not. He was quite unhappy with the building of Jacobs Field. In fact there was a rather complex series of financial issues that eventually forced Modell (who was pissed that Cleveland sued him) to retaliate against the city. I also think he lost some fan support even before the move. Modell's statement to the public after moving the team to Baltimore was something like "Its my team, I can do whatever I want". Bye. Bye. I'll show you. Off to greener pastures where I can make a lot more revenue.

            That was my point.

      • Miketheref

        NFL is a far cry from NHL...just the draft alone.......I still want Pegula

    • tctctc

      Don't say that, he's owned the Sabres for 3 yrs.

  • William Kyriakakos

    Just a thought going out to the trust....maybe just maybe get a new owner named and identified so our team has no off-field distractions? God knows our team needs all the help they can get to break a 14-year playoff drought

  • ExpectResults

    Getting interesting...

  • shanfrina

    ... LOL!?! The Bills Trust "was alarmed by limited interest" in the # of buyers?!? REALLY?!? Are they-CLUELESS- or WHAT about this losing team?!?

    • WHAT?

      There are only 32 in the world. It looks like interest is higher than what was originally reported. I don't think the trust is at all clueless.

  • Jester

    No one seems to have picked up on the most important part of the story so far, and that is that the period to submit a non binding bid has been extended indefinitely! The only reason for that to have happen is that the bank does not feel that they have gotten a bid that was satisfactory. IF Pegula had really bid 1.3 Billion dollars I am pretty certain that they would not have bothered to ask for more bids. The Jaguars sold for 770 Million dollars the second highest sale price for an NFL team, The Dolphins sold for just over 1 BILLION dollars. So Pegula's alleged bid would have been the highest bid ever for an NFL team.

    But the trust must believe that they can get more for the team and right now they are the ONLY ones that really know what the numbers are, and you can bet that they are keeping that close to the vest.

    • tctctc

      Whyever would they do that?

      • Jester

        Because they have a duty to keep any bids private. But if they had gotten the money that everyone thinks that was offered, the process would have moved to the next phase,

        • Datdude

          Jester, they ARE on to the next phase.
          And you keep mentioning "record" bids. That is about as relevant has this years contract offers for players.

        • wesmantooth

          They are in the next phase!!! Interviews started last week! Two more scheduled this week. If the initial bids were not accepted there would be no interview!!!!

  • wesmantooth

    Pegula is in it to win it! He has 1.75 billion in. Suitcase ready to go. And as he stayed more if he needs it.

  • wesmantooth

    Stated darn auto correct.

  • I.R.H.

    I'm here in Vancouver where many, many Canuck fans consider Francesco Aquilini an incorrigible little creature. Do a Wikipedia and Google search on this guy. Known for companies that break labor and environmental laws, locals cheered when his wife took him to the cleaners in divorce court. Not necessarily someone you want owning your Bills.

    • wesmantooth

      Good thing they are not serious bidders then.

      • I.R.H.

        Consider yourselves better off without him.

    • Robby

      His wife did not take him to the cleaners.lol.yes she got ALOT of money including 2 properties, one being one of the vacation home in FLORIDA BUT she got a small fracture of what he has.It sucks when a person establishes themselves and the wife takes half there stuff.where would she be without him??? Prob Nowhere.

  • I’ll Be Mr. Purple

    By agreeing to put in the lease that the team can't negotiate with anyone who even thinks about moving the team, the Bills' ownership has bound the hands of Morgan Stanley and the trust. They cost themselves bidders and, as the end result will be, money. It would have been in the best interest of the trust to let the initial round of bids be a free-for-all. Now instead we have this game, and the trust trying to make everyone believe there's all kinds of interest so they can drive up Pegula's bid.

    • tctctc

      And the basis of your submission is? Is this really in the lease? Is it a public document?

      • Jester

        Yes, it is

  • Datdude

    This is a non-story. No where does it say any of these parties who signed non-disclosure agreements actually put in a bid. Wasn't that done like 60 days ago? It's funny how the parties and the trust play the media. The trust is trying to keep Pegula from dropping his bid. These are phantom "bidders". If Pegula's bid was significantly less than 1.3(btw, 1.2 is "significantly" less than 1.3 million), then how low was BJ's bid that it go rejected? 500 mill? And trump confirmed his bid was north of a billion, and he was second. Tim Graham your a total hack. The only media I'm paying attention to is John Kryk of the Toronto Sun. Adam Benigni appears to have some inside info as well. Other media just getting played like a violin.

    • Jester

      1.2 billion would have set the record.. What makes you think anyone is going to overbid by 400+ million from day one?

      • Datdude

        Oh really, were they privy to what the others were going to bid in advance? This is why the trust is working hard to spread false information. To keep the bidders from dropping. Think Jester. But then again, your name is "Jester."

      • wesmantooth

        When the bidding began it was reported based on historical transactions that some bidders who already know what they can bid may bid high initially to scare off other bidders. Pegula may have done that. The attorney he has working this deal, I can't remember his name but he has brokered many pro team sales.

  • Datdude

    Fear mongering with misinformation. BN and wgr550 are like tabliods in Buffalo now. This is what happens when media has no competition. Pathetic.

  • Lloyd M. Jr.

    The Bills need an owner who, like George Steinbrenner with the Yankees, is passionate about the team and who will do whatever it takes(and THEN some!) to make the Bills a winner.

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About the reporters

Vic Carucci returned to The Buffalo News as a Bills beat reporter in September. Carucci covered the Bills for 17 years before joining NFL.com as a columnist in 1999. Prior to rejoining The News, he spent three years as a senior editor for the Cleveland Browns.

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida.