Is George Gillett a Potential Suitor for the Buffalo Bills? (Updated)

Have you ever heard of George Gillett? Well, he’s the former owner of the Montreal Canadiens*. He is a former minority owner of the Miami Dolphins and used to be co-owner of the Liverpool Football Club. And, according to multiple sources, he was tailgating at Ralph Wilson Stadium yesterday with the family and friends of Jim Kelly before and after the Bills-Eagles game.

Interestingly, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was also in town this weekend. Coincidence? Well, maybe. But let’s take a step back. 
Chad Kelly, in addition to being a highly touted high school quarterback for St. Joe’s, is also Jim Kelly’s nephew. He is also an active Twitter user. Or he was. Last week, Chad Kelly tweeted the following:   
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The tweet is clearly leading readers to believe that a new owner is coming. Kelly’s tweet quickly set off rumors and speculation on Bills fan websites and, in response, the next morning Chad tweeted “the bills news has nothing to do with a owner. . . . ” But that tweet retraction wasn’t strong enough, apparently, as Chad went on to delete his entire Twitter account. Not surprisingly, that has only led people to believe there is something substantive to Kelly’s tweet. 
Now let’s get back to George Gillett. He was born to a wealthy surgeon in Racine, Wisconsin. He was, by his own account, a terrible student and worked his way through various jobs during his early 20′s. At the ripe old age of 27, he called the National Football League to see if any franchises were for sale. It turns out a piece of the Miami Dolphins was for sale and, with money borrowed from wealthy friends in Wisconsin, Gillett acquired 22% stake in the Dolphins for a little over $1M. He sold that stake less than a year later and bought the Harlem Globetrotters for $3.7M. 
Gillett spent the 1980′s acquiring companies using junk bond financing. Indeed, he worked with the king of junk bonds, Michael Milken, to raise $550M of junk debt to make a $1.1 billion acquisition of 6 television stations from Storer Communications. The value of the stations fell over the following years and the debt couldn’t be serviced by Gillett’s company and bond investors ultimately forced the company into bankruptcy. Not long after, Gillett himself filed for personal bankruptcy. 
Gillett bounced back, though, and made money with his ski resorts (most notably, Vail) and by acquiring companies in the meat business. He raised his profile in 2001 when he bought the Molson Centre and an 80% interest in the Montreal Canadiens for a reported $275M. In 2009, Gillett sold the Canadiens and the Bell Centre (same building, new sponsor) to the Molson brothers for an estimated $525M
During his tenure as owner of the Canadiens, Gillett purchased an ownership stake in the Liverpool Football Club with business partner Tom Hicks for $343M. When Gillett and Hicks (who currently owns the Dallas Stars) purchased the Liverpool club, they promised fans a new stadium. Hicks and Gillett made the Liverpool acquisition with loans from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RSB) and, in September 2010, RBS assigned the loans to its “toxic-assets division” as Gillett and Hicks were unable to make payments. That forced Hicks and Gillett to raise capital to refinance the RBS loan (or else risk a forced sale) and that seems to be a primary reason why Gillett sold the Canadiens – to raise capital to stave off loosing the Liverpool football club. It didn’t work as Hicks and Gillett were forced to sell the team to the owners of the Boston Red Sox. Oh, and that stadium they promised. . . it never got built. 
Now, in addition to multiple sources telling us George Gillett was at the Ralph this past weekend, we’ve also looked into private aircraft travel into and out of Buffalo. On October 8, a Raytheon Hawker 800 departed the private air terminal in Denver, Colorado and landed at Prior Aviation at 12:48pm. We can’t be certain of who was on the plane but we know that this plane hasn’t made any other recent trips to Buffalo. And we know that Gillett has a lot of ties to Denver. Indeed, he’s described as a ‘Colorado financier’ in a number of media articles. More significantly, his ties to Denver run so deep that he partnered with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway in an attempt to purchase the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalance and the Pepsi Center. Gillett and Elway were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempt to purchase those franchises but it’s interesting that Gillett has experience partnering with a Hall of Fame quarterback in pursuit of a sports franchise. 
Another vague tweet has added to the story. Saturday night, Thurman Thomas sent the following tweet: 
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When a follower asked Thurman if this tweet was in reference to Chad Kelly’s deleted tweet, he responded by claiming it had “nothing to do with the bills.” If so, it seems strange to close the tweet with a reference to Bills fans. 
While we’ve heard from multiple sources who ‘tailgated’ with Gillett at the Eagles game, one of the sources indicated that Gillett referenced meeting Roger Goodell while he was in town. 
All of this leads to a couple compelling question – is Gillett now attempting to partner wit
h another Hall of Fame quarterback to purchase the Bills? And has a sale process been started while Ralph Wilson is still alive? At this point, we can’t be sure but with the combination of the tweets, the Goodell trip to Buffalo and the Gillett sighting at the Ralph, there’s a lot of smoke. Time will tell if there’s fire. 
Update: Tim Graham of The Buffalo News was just on WGR and confirmed that, as of 4 years ago, George Gillett had interest in purchasing the Buffalo Bills. 
* We tweeted last night that a current owner of a NHL team was at Ralph Wilson Stadium with Jim Kelly’s group but Gillett is a former NHL owner (oddly, the Montreal Canadiens website still references Gillett as the team’s owner). 

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