The Buffalo Bills could identify a new owner within three months, leading Gov. Andrew Cuomo's stepping up the state's efforts to secure the franchise's long-term future in the region.
A person familiar with the sale process told The Associated Press on Saturday there is an anticipation that the Bills' could be sold by July, and the sale approved by NFL owners as early as the league's meetings in October. The same person and another person also told the AP that at least one prospective ownership group has already toured potential new stadium locations in Buffalo.
Both people spoke on condition of anonymity because the sale process has not been made public.
The person would not identify which ownership group toured the city, what sites were viewed or who provided the tour.
The Bills' future in Buffalo is uncertain after team owner and founder Ralph Wilson died in March. Wilson's estate is in the process of hiring an investment banking firm that would oversee the sale of the team, which is expected to go to the highest bidder.
The updated timetable has led Cuomo to speed up the state's involvement in protecting its interests in preventing the Bills from relocating. The state intends to hire a consulting firm over the next week to produce a report within three months that would be issued to prospective owners. The report would identify potential stadium sites and outline public financing options that would be made available.
That firm would work with sports business attorney Irwin Raij, whose contract was extended last month, to represent the state during the sale process.
Raij specializes in stadium development projects and lease agreements. In 2012, he represented New York in negotiating the Bills' 10-year lease that included a strict non-relocation clause that makes it difficult for the team to move before the 2020 season.
The firm would produce its report ahead of the "New Stadium Working Group," a committee made up of public and private leaders, including Bills executives. The group has already met twice over the past month and is responsible for making recommendations whether a new stadium or renovations to the team's current home best fit the franchise's needs to remain viable in Buffalo once the lease expires in 2023.
The working group is expected to take six months or longer before making its recommendations, well after the team could be sold.
Cuomo is intent on making sure a framework of a plan is in place much sooner, Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy told the AP during a visit through the region Friday.
"The governor wants to be prepared if there are any earlier offers to buy the team," Duffy said. "Our team is looking at sites now in Erie County, Buffalo, Niagara County. We're just being prepared because we don't know who the next owner will be. We're not sure what the goals and the objectives of the next ownership team will be."