Quest for Buffalo Bills looks a hunt too far for Donald Trump
The attention-grabbing billonaire is trying to push his way into the NFL
Donald Trump: some NFL owners have previous with the business man that may not bode well for his chances. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA
Somewhere in between denouncing President Obama as “the biggest liar I know”, tweeting that Americans who contract Ebola while working in Africa should be made to stay there to “suffer the consequences”, and battling a lawsuit that alleges he ripped off thousands of students at his now-defunct university, Donald Trump is trying to buy the Buffalo Bills.
In typical Trumpian (yes, he even has his own adjective) style, he’s already tried to circumvent the NFL’s labyrinthine bidding process by offering $1 billion in cash to be paid within an hour of contracts being signed.
An ostentatious gambit that might turn heads in other industries, in America’s most popular and most lucrative sport, however, money is only part of the equation. All those wishing to purchase the Bills from the trust which took over the club upon the death of owner Ralph C Wilson in March are subject to rigorous vetting.
A consortium headed by Jon Bon Jovi was rejected for being uncompetitive, and whoever emerges victorious will still require 24 out of 31 clubs to finally approve their bid before the reins are handed over, probably in October.
Although he professes himself to be friends with many of the plutocrats involved, some NFL owners have previous with Trump that may not bode well for his chances. In 1984, he bought the New Jersey Generals, a team in the United States Football League (USFL), an upstart rival to the NFL, and caused all manner of trouble.
He pushed his fellow owners to switch the season from spring to autumn, putting it in direct competition with the NFL juggernaut. That disastrous move was compounded by an equally ill-judged anti-trust lawsuit against the more established league.
DebaclesWhile Trump has sought to downplay his role in those debacles, many involved still regard him as at least partly culpable for the USFL’s premature demise.
“Good people of Buffalo, take up a collection, pass the hat, start a fund, anything you can do to keep this away from him, anything to outbid him,’’ said Mike Tollin, producer and director of the documentary Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? “Fans, get your dictionaries. Learn the definition of narcissism.’’
As is too often the case with Trump, it’s difficult to decipher whether he is sincere about the Bills or just using them to garner cheap publicity. Attention is something he appears to crave as much as if not more than money. Witness his repeated threats to run for political office, very long on outlandish, headline-generating statements of intent, very short on practical steps towards seriously getting into a race.
Some believe he can only ever flirt with running for president because to actually do so would require opening his financial records to public scrutiny and revealing his true worth. A touchy subject.
“What’s the difference between a wet raccoon and Donald J Trump’s hair?” asked Trump during a Comedy Central roast a couple of years back. “A wet raccoon doesn’t have seven billion f**king dollars in the bank!”
That’s his estimate, and, if it’s true, dropping a billion on an NFL club, one of the most blue-chip investments in professional sport, doesn’t seem outlandish.
Exaggerated fortuneBut, to Trump’s constant dismay, financial experts regularly dispute the boasts about his personal wealth, pointing out that he tends to exaggerate the size of his fortune in the same way – people of Doonbeg be ye warned – that he overhypes the economic impact of his golf investments.
Like so many cities across America’s struggling Rust Belt, Buffalo has suffered much in the past few decades and its people are wary of all Bills’ suitors, especially with talk about relocating the club across the border to nearby, more prosperous Toronto.
Losing its foothold in the NFL would be a concussive blow too far for this corner of upstate New York, and Trump’s assertion he would keep the team where it is has endeared him to some Bills fans.
Of course, given his tendency to incorporate his surname into everything he owns, those same supporters remain concerned about the prospect of one day having to cheer for the Buffalo Trumps. Surely too big a price to pay.
Before reaching that stage of the vanity project, the NFL has other issues to consider.
DisreputeWith the NBA battling to divorce racist owner Donald Sterling from the Los Angeles Clippers, and as photographs of the Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones behaving inappropriately with women went viral just this week, there is a heightened awareness about avoiding investors who might bring the games into disrepute.
This may count against Trump. On any given day, he is likely to hold forth on everything from green energy (comparing wind turbines in Scotland to the Lockerbie bombing), to Obama’s birth cert (still advancing conspiracy theories), to what he’d like to tell Chinese businesses dealing with America (“Listen you motherf**kers, we’re going to tax you 25 per cent!”)
Against that background, it’s easy to see why Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the city’s NHL team, the Buffalo Sabres, are the bookies’ favourites to take over the Bills.
“I would say my chances are very, very unlikely, because I’m not going to do something totally stupid,” said Trump last week, indicating he won’t get caught up in a pricey auction for the club. “Maybe just a little bit stupid but not totally stupid.”
A little bit stupid. Not totally. Sounds like a fair assessment.