BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A Buffalo Bills fan group uncovered documents that suggest a Toronto-based prospective ownership group has plans to relocate the franchise north of the border.
In a release issued Thursday, the Buffalo Fan Alliance identified several announcements referring to Rogers Communications consultant, Roger Rai, as part of the ownership group "attempting to acquire and move the Buffalo Bills to Toronto."
Rai told The AP on Wednesday he's not involved with the group's ownership bid. He added the references connecting him to the proposed Bills' purchase were "a mistake on my behalf," and the result of a misinterpretation made by a co-worker who wrote the biography.
The alliance, made up of fans, former Bills players and business leaders, said the references made in the documents "would seem to cast further doubt on the credibility" of the Toronto group's assurances to keep the Bills in Buffalo.
Rogers is part of a Bills' prospective ownership group that includes rocker Jon Bon Jovi and Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
The Associated Press has verified the documents exist.
One of the references to Rai was included in an announcement issued in July by Marketwired, a Toronto-based press release distribution company. Another was included in Rai's biography published in a public filing in January announcing a special meeting to approve Primary Petroleum's merger with Keek Inc.
Rai is listed as Keek's vice president of business development. The announcements also to refer to Rai as someone who "assists in sports ownership affairs of Rogers Communications and was responsible for the acquisition of the Toronto Blue Jays," which the company purchased in 2000.
Rai said he first became aware of the error when the reference was published in a release on July 8 announcing his appointment to Pinetree Capital's board of directors. A day later, Marketwired issued an updated release removing any mention of Rai's ties to Rogers, except that he held various managerial positions at the company.
The Bills are on the market after Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson died in March. And questions of the franchise's long-term future in Buffalo have been an issue throughout the sale process.
Though a lease agreement essentially locks the Bills into playing at Ralph Wilson through the 2019 season, there is a one-year opt-out clause that would allow them to move in 2020.
Last month, Bon Jovi attempted to address questions regarding his ownership plans in a seven-paragraph letter published in The Buffalo News.
He wrote it was his objective "to carry on the legacy of Ralph Wilson and make the Bills successful in Buffalo."
A person familiar with the sale process told The AP that the Toronto group attended a presentation on Tuesday during which Bills officials provided extensive financial and background information on the franchise. A second person said Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula attended a similar presentation on Wednesday.
The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sale is private.
New York real estate mogul Donald Trump also attended a presentation last week.
The presentations are an opportunity for prospective ownership groups to gain information to prepare formal bids, which are expected to be submitted within three weeks.
The Buffalo Fan Alliance released this statement Thursday:
Recent reports have indicated that the original bid submitted by the Toronto group led by Bon Jovi, Ed Rogers and Larry Tanenbaum, was originally rejected by Morgan Stanley. This was based, in part, on the position that it contained inadequate assurances that this group had no intentions of moving the team out of Western New York.
Some have speculated that these assurances were required because of the provision in the non-relocation agreement with Erie County and New York State that prohibits the team from selling, assigning or otherwise transferring ownership of the team to any person who, to the team's knowledge, has an intention to relocate, transfer or otherwise move the team.
Subsequent reports indicated that the Bon Jovi-Rogers-Tanenbaum group was later allowed to submit another bid and proceed through the second due diligence phase of the sale process. Presumably, this means that Morgan Stanley, in its estimation, received sufficient assurances from this group regarding its intention to keep the team in Western New York.
If true, this development begs the question of what assurances were made and also whether these assurances are credible, given what is known about this group. The Buffalo Fan Alliance recently revieweed documents that would seem to cast further doubt on the credibility of any such assurances.
This information centers around Rajiv "Roger" Rai, a Toronto businessman who "works with the owner/controlling shareholder of Rogers Communications, Inc." and "oversees and advises on many corporate issues" related to this entity, according to these documents.
A news release a month ago obtained by the Buffalo Fan Alliance that announced Rai's appointment to the board of Pinetree Capital, stated that "Mr. Rai assists in the sports ownership affairs of Rogers Communications and was responsible for the acquisition of the Toronto Blue Jays and is part of the ownership group attempting to acquire and move the Buffalo Bills to Toronto."
Curiously, Marketwire – a news release distribution service headquartered in Toronto – quickly issued an edited release the next day eliminating the section quoted above about relocating the Bills to Toronto. Despite these efforts, however, as of this date, the link to the initial press release remains active.
What makes this disclosure even more interesting is that this was not the only time that this representation was made. In fact, in a public filing listed on Canada's System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval [SEDAR], the system for disclosing documents for public companies and investment funds in Canada, this same representation about the group's intention to move the team to Toronto was again made in the context of a public disclosure involving Rai. [See page pictured below].
Ironically, these disclosures come at a time when the Bon Jovi-Rogers-Tanenbaum group is attempting to convince those involved in the sale process, and also the Western New York community in general, that they won't relocate the Bills if they're successful in acquiring the team.
It is unknown what effect this little known public filing and subsequent press release may have on the efforts of the Bon Jovi/Toronto group's bid to purchase the Buffalo Bills. It will be interesting, however, to see how these stated representations comport with the assurances made by this group to Morgan Stanley and whether such representations made by the group could be viewed as violative of the non-relocation provisions.
SEDAR filing link (see page 72) - http://www.sedar.com/GetFile.do?lang=EN&docClass=10&issuerNo=00025344&fileName=/csfsprod/data149/filings/02160250/00000001/C:%5cSEDAR%5cFILINGS%5cINFORMATION_CIRCULAR.pdf