The NFL is the most elite of elite clubs. Only 31 people and one very lucky fan base get to call themselves NFL owners, and these billionaires don't just let anyone become members of their exclusive fraternity. Ownership of the Buffalo Bills is certain to change hands following the death of team founder Ralph Wilson. The rules for that new potential owner are defined pretty clearly.
30 percent rule
The most significant requirement to putting together a bid to buy an NFL team is the single big investor. In the mid-1980s, the NFL voted to change league rules to no longer force a majority (read: 51 percent) ownership stake. Instead, the number was lowered to a 30 percent controlling interest, thanks largely to skyrocketing team values. If the Bills are sold for $900 million, one person will have to put up at least $270 million, and would need an investment group to come up with the rest.
This rule prevents corporate ownership of teams, as is permitted in other sports. For instance, the Toronto Maple Leafs (NBA), Toronto Raptors (NBA), Toronto FC (MLS), and Toronto Marlies (AHL) are all owned by Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment, a sports and property management company. The NFL wants to avoid this kind of corporate ownership. Corporate groups could play a part in an ownership group.
The Green Bay Packers were grandfathered in when the 1960 agreement on NFL ownership was ratified. Since then, public attempts to purchase teams have been rebuffed as recently as 2011 in Minnesota. Bills fans won't let that stop them, and the Buffalo Fan Alliance has formed. This organization isn't interested in buying the team, but in providing interest-free money to finance stadium work and upgrades to help a new owner who has just assumed a large debt.
Team owners are now allowed to own teams in multiple major sporting leagues, but those teams need to be in the same city (unless there is no NFL team in the other city). Buffalo native Jeremy Jacobs owns the Boston Bruins, but would have to sell that team in order to become the majority owner of the Bills. Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen can also own the Portland Trailblazers because Portland doesn't have an NFL market.
Ironically, this rule change was opposed by Ralph Wilson in 1997, when NFL owners lifted restrictions on other sports' owners from purchasing an NFL franchise. To that point, NFL owners collectively wanted their team owners concentrating on football.
If you can get the money and ownership group together, and if you aren't tied to another franchise in another city, you can submit a bid. Any bid accepted by Wilson's estate must go before the owners, where a super-majority vote is required. 24 NFL owners will need to accept the bid.
Who fits the Bill with Buffalo?
On the Forbes list of richest people in America, the highest Western New Yorker is current Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula at a $3.1 billion net worth. He has said he would be interested in purchasing the team to keep them in the city of Buffalo. Jacobs has a net worth of $2.8 billion, but again, he would have to sell the Bruins first. Tom Golisano, former owner of the Sabres, is valued at $1.9 billion and has saved one local franchise already. None of them would likely be able to swing the purchase on their own.