Clarifying language in the Buffalo Bills relocation agreement

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

There's a story out there that the Bills can't be sold to an owner that wants to move the team. Before your party bus reaches top speed, pump the brakes.

Last night, John Kryk of the Toronto Sun put the headline you see below out into the world, and Buffalo Bills beat reporters and fans spent a weirdly contentious Monday evening trying to decide if the story below it really meant what it was purported to mean.

Clause forbids Bills' sale to anyone intent on relocation

That's a doozy, right? The lede is only slightly less ironclad: "The odds of the Buffalo Bills being sold to a Toronto group - or any group intent on relocating the NFL franchise - appear remote."

In short, Kryk is focusing on a clause in the Bills' non-relocation agreement that had not been discussed before, and appears to contain fairly strong language. You can read the full text of the clause here - it's Section 3(b); Kryk's article focuses predominantly on 3(b)(iii) - and while it's more involved than this, here is the most pertinent text. The Bills shall 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 during the Non-Relocation Term to a location other than the Stadium;"

Kryk's interpretation, backed by "a prominent sports-franchise consultant on the Atlantic seaboard," is that the controlling trust of the Bills can't sell the team to a party intending to move it until the agreement is no longer in place (and it expires in 2022, with a one-year buyout option still technically possible after the 2019 season). There is a different way to interpret it: the Bills can't be sold to a party intending to move the team before the non-relocation agreement expires.

The "TL;DR" version of the discrepancy, within the effective window of the agreement: Kryk's interpretation focuses on the sale of the team, while the other interpretation focuses on when the team would move.

The most thought-provoking section of Kryk's article is that because the sale of the Bills is, by all accounts, moving quickly, owners that want to move the team will need to be extremely coy about that intention in order to actually purchase the Bills. They'd need to hide that intention in order to appear to meet the terms of that non-relocation agreement clause. He cites the lame-duck games the soon-to-be-relocated 1995 Cleveland Browns played, and uses that logic as reasoning that the NFL would not allow a sale of the Bills to a party intent on moving the team to happen.

If the alternate interpretation is correct, an owner wanting to move the team could announce his intention to move the team after the lease expires and still be a viable candidate for the team's sellers. But here's the thing: an owner wouldn't do that anyway, for the exact reason Kryk cites in his article. No owner is going to willingly rid themselves of five years of income from ticket and merchandise sales by pissing off Bills fans. Jon Bon Jovi could buy the Bills, and he won't be saying anything about moving the team to Toronto until another six or seven years down the line, bare minimum, simply for financial reasons.

Any owner is going to be coy about his intentions to move the team for that reason alone. It's an irrelevant point within the context of Kryk's interpretation. The controlling interest of the Bills would need to do some sleuthing themselves to sell to a party intent on moving the team, because that information won't be simply handed to them. And if the alternate interpretation is correct, the Bills could still be sold to that party.

Something else to consider: if this clause was meant to be interpreted the way Kryk is interpreting it, wouldn't people like Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz have pointed it out much earlier than now? That would've been a headline worth sharing with the people of Western New York, no? That the Bills could not be sold to anyone other than a person keeping the team in the region? In fact, Poloncarz has already hit the airwaves to discuss the article.

That language exists, but it doesn't extend past the non-relocation agreement. The discussion of this clause does not change much, if anything, about the long-term outlook of the Bills. Kryk's attention-grabbing headline is misleading. (Just like this tweet was back in late March.) The Bills are going to be here for another six years, bare minimum; there's a very good shot that they'll be here another nine years; and any owner wanting to move the team is going to need to stay mum about that intention and wait a good long while before doing so.

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