About an hour after the Bills announced the passing of Owner Ralph Wilson, Jr., Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz did his best assure fans the team’s immediate future in Buffalo was secure.

“The Bills are here today.  They will be here tomorrow,” Poloncarz said.

The Bills signed a new stadium lease with Erie County to continue playing home games in Orchard Park last year.  Under the 10-year agreement, any new owner of the Bills would be unable to move the team until after the 2019 season.

“If a new owner should come in a year and a half from now and decide at that time they want to move the team, they cannot.  The lease says they are bound to stay here.  If by chance a court of law allows them to, they have to pay 400-million dollars,” Poloncarz said.

This $400 million figure has been widely reported as a “buyout.”  A well known sports consultant out of Chicago clarified the figure is a penalty if the new owner found a way to break the lease and move the team.

“If the court and the NFL rules that the team might be able to move, then there’s a liquidated damages-type provision for $400 million but the likelihood it would ever get to that is almost non-existent because of how strongly the lease is worded,” said Marc Ganis of Sports Corp Ltd.

Lt. Governor Bob Duffy was part of the team that helped negotiate the new lease with the Bills.  During a visit to Chemung County Wednesday, Duffy said this deal amounts to a “punt,” to use a football term.

“It buys us seven years which is a substantial amount of time to make sure that the next ownership team that comes in sees the benefit of keeping that team in Buffalo,” Duffy said. 

After the 2019 season the team could be moved for a fee of $28.4 million.  Ganis told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen that the language in this lease is ironclad.

“I know how this has been put together and how it’s been interpreted when it was approved by the league and it was set up as a seven-year, no outs for seven years, type arrangement,” said Ganis.

Ganis has worked on several projects with NFL teams and got to know the late Wilson while attended annual league meetings.  He said Wilson was an astute businessman and knew full well he left millions on the table.

“There were definitely greener pastures elsewhere.  There’s no doubt about it.  But Ralph kept the team in Buffalo at personal expense and sacrifice because he always felt great loyalty to Buffalo.”

For the short term, the stock in the Buffalo Bills has been transferred into a trust.  It will be business as usual until a buyer is found and approved by the league.

It’s a process that won’t happen overnight.  It leaves time for the current management, local politicians and the league to sell Buffalo to any potential buyer.

“If that is what happens I could see that team staying there forever,” Ganis said.

It’s one last gift to Western New York from the man who did everything he could to keep the Bills in Buffalo.

“This lease that commits the team to stay in Buffalo for at least the next six years, while it works out trying to get a long term stadium deal, is an extraordinary sacrifice that he has made for the fans in Buffalo,” Ganis added.