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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:   
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: 
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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  • snax

    excellent journalism bluedevil.

  • duckiedeity

    You guys are absolutely doomed if George Gillett gets anywhere near your football club. Do not let this happen. Take it from a Liverpool FC fan who endured the worst period in the club’s history under Gillett’s co-ownership (made worse by other co-owner Tom Hicks)… I’m serious, do a little research about his horrendous, debt-laden (we’re talking hundreds of millions of british pounds, which converts to a lot more in USD), life-draining, promise-breaking rule over my club. If you value your Bills do not allow this life-sucking leech anywhere near the team, especially RIGHT as you guys are on the up-and-up.

  • suburban_hillbilly

    This article and the speculation within it are completely ridiculous. Vague Tweets from a highschool kid and Thurman Thomas, a flight record of a small plane from Colorado with passangers that cant be determined, and a rumor from some fans at the game. None can be directly linked to each other by any discernable facts. When I need Bills news, I will visit a real news site. In the mean time, keep writing your fairy tales.

  • bluedevil

    It wasn’t a ‘rumor’ from some fans at the game. A number of people who spent time with Mr. Gillett in the parking lot and stadium told us he was at the game. That’s not a rumor; that’s observation.

  • Urbanica

    Hmmm…not so confident about this. Reading through the story, it seems like an cyclical pattern of buying selling, bankruptcy, buying, selling. Doesnt look so good to me.

  • BlueBuffalo

    I sure hope this isn’t true… not what you want in an owner at all. Just look at the guys history – enough said.

  • jumpingbuffalo

    He sounds like Golisano in that he buys teams stricty as a business venture rather than for the love of the sport or a specific team.
    That being said, if he were serious about buying in, it sounds like he would be one of a few owners of the team especially if working with Jim Kelly who has said that he has a group of people both local and with Buffalo ties ready to purchase the team.

  • BlueBuffalo

    It might just be a business venture that is true, but he is nothing like Golisano. Look at this guys track record:
    – Storer Communications tv stations had to file for bankrupcy
    – after that Gillett himself filed for personal bankruptcy
    – Liverpool Football Club (never built a new stadium, was forced to sell the team because he was unable to make payments)
    I know we are desperate for a new owner… but are we this desperate?

  • Wolffman

    The only way I would feel comfortable with this is if he is part of a several person group (thus holding minority share in the team). If Kelly and his “group” need capital, this is the right guy. If this is his groups leader and decisionmaker, that is a big problem.
    This is all assuming Kelly does indeed have a legitimate group, which none of us know.

  • LFCred

    Folks, don’t let this man anywhere near your club. This man along with Tom Hicks almost completely destroyed over 100 years of history of being one of the world’s most famous sporting institutions. He lies every time he opens his mouth.

  • bbqguy

    This article doesn’t even touch on the mess he left behind in Nascar. If that’s the best possible owner that can be found, the team would be better of being in Toronto owned by Robbers.

  • MJW

    Another Liverpool fan here saying, hell no! Keep this guy away from the Bills.

  • JM

    I just turned on the local sports station and they reported about this crediting BRO.

  • Buffalogreek

    I think this would be a foolish move to let a person who has owned MULTIPLE franchises who has come and gone with each of them to have a stake in the Buffalo Bills. This is an area that craves a passionate person to own the team. Terry Pegula and even Tom Golisano at the time of saving the Sabres are treated like royalty. We need a guarentee that the new owner will keep the team here and will do whatever it takes to make the Bills a competitive team in the NFL. Keep in mind, this is a business but this city revolves around football and hockey. I don’t like this idea at all! There plenty of wealthy Buffalonian’s and ex-players who love this area so much, that would be much better suited to take ownership.

  • NorPark

    Wow, please don’t let this guy get his hands on the Bills!

  • bluedevil

    Also, do you ordinarily travel on private planes that are larger than the Hawker (which seats up to 13)?

  • duckiedeity

    If you are desperate, you must not allow yourself to think you are this desperate. The man is utter scum and you’d be signing your team’s death warrant by allowing him to become a part of your club. He and Tom Hicks loaded millions and millions of british pounds of debt onto the Liverpool Football Club, having paid for the club with bank loans… and instead of buying players in the summers the money that could’ve gone toward that went to paying off the massive interest on the debt… In their first press conference they promised “a spade in the ground within 60 days” in regards to building a much needed new stadium, but to this day all that exists is very expensive blue prints.
    Look, they are just horrendous owners of sporting entities in more ways than I could possibly list here.. just trust me or do as much research as you can and you’ll see Gillett’s terrible. And I’m not just talking about Liverpool. This possible connection to the Bills is nothing to be excited about… If I were you I’d be fearing it.

  • BuffaloInk

    But he is friends with Jim Kelly so what could we possible have to worry about?

  • suburban_hillbilly

    No I do not travel on private planes and that point is irrelevant. Even if he was at the game, there is no evidence to indicate that this man is interested in purchasing the team. A wealthy man with a skethcy past in professional sports may have been at the Bills game. Until he makes and offer or someone from the organization acknowleges it, it is all spectulation.

  • AKBuffalo

    If Ralph Wilson is the football owner he is made out to be and cares about his legacy, I would think he’s making moves to secure that legacy right now.
    I think Jim Kelly is the future of this Bills team staying in WNY, so maybe Gillett is just part of the solution and not the whole solution, which would make me feel a whole lot better. I don’t mind if there are 20 investors as opposed to 1. Just keep putting a good product on the field and the rest will follow.

  • ReginaldQMerriweatherIV

    So long as we are picking owners from the Premiership, I’d go with Manchester City’s.
    The Sheikh has the cash to throw around for years…

  • duckiedeity

    well, that’s all i’ll say about it. you’ve been warned, Bills fans… don’t get in bed with Gillett… good luck.

  • Tom

    I dont think this guy would be the only answer. Jim Kelly is trying to get people with money to help him buy the team. I don’t think this guy would have any control over the team. The team needs to be bought for 900million. I don’t think this guy alone can do it. Maybe half. But we will see.

  • Bend_Rocks_It

    Nice job putting various pieces of information together for this article. Looks like you broke this story, outside of random tweets. Job well done

  • jtrzewitcowski

    Someone said he sounds like Golisano. No, sounds more like Regis. I’ve got a really bad feeling about this though. I know money talks, but I can’t believe the other owners would ever let this guy into the club.

  • jtrzewitcowski

    so a guy who plunks down half a billion dollars wouldn’t have any control of the team? Huh?

  • jtrzewitcowski

    I think a far more credible rumor is that Byron is leaning on BERC to lend Leonard Stokes the money to buy the team.

  • rb09

    It’s all BS!
    Jim Kelly wasn’t even at the game. He was out of town.

  • rb09

    It’s all BS!
    Jim Kelly wasn’t even at the game. He was out of town.

  • bluedevil

    No one said Jim Kelly was at the game. It was noted in many places in the media that Kelly himself wasn’t at the game. Despite his lack of presence, Tim Graham from the News has confirmed that Gillett was interested in buying the Bills four years ago. And Bulldog at WGR, among others, indicated that Gillett has been talked about as Kelly’s money man (in partnership for a potential bid for the Bills) for years now.

  • Mark S

    Didn’t he also bankrupt a nascar team he owned? (Richard Pettys no less) I hope Ralph lives to 150 if George Gillette is the best we can do.

  • jwright

    This is the kind of article that makes Buffalo Rising difficult to accept as a legit media source. Sorry, but this isn’t journalism, it’s message board speculation. Plus, whoever buys the team (whenever that day comes) is going to be a rock solid billionaire with some minority partners, ownership won’t consist of a hodge-podge of millionaires.

  • pampiniform

    Wait, you’ve been accepting BRO as a legit media source?

  • Cooch

    Did everyone really look at his resume? He’d move the team in a heartbeat! The Bills are consistently in the lower 20% of profit makers in the NFL, and Los Angeles will soon prostitute themselves for anyone. Kelly & Thurman, don’t get impressed with his bucks. He’s just another business who simply values $ over loyalty to our region.
    Where are you Tommy G? Paychex and now the Bills would be a perfect legacy to your life. Hockey became boring to you, but the NFL would be exactly the high you’ve earned.

  • rustbeltcity

    1st for BRO…stupid article of dribble, followed by comments of well… stupid dribble. What was the point of the story?

  • ExRpmEmployee

    Reading this makes me sick. George and the entire Gillett family has ruined everything they touch not to mention have zero heart or tact when it comes to their employees. They took something that was pretty good and ruined to the point that NASCAR will never be the same. I have said over and over that George and his useful sons are only good for one thing….
    First of all if Alex can see the trigger with his blind eye, he needs to pull the trigger on himself. Foster then needs to shoot his father, then himself. Still that wouldn’t be good enough. I only hope that Tom Reddin is in the room when the gun is fired and the bullet goes thru Foster into Tom.
    Anyone who does buisiness with teh Gillett’s deserves nothing but the worst. I only hope when they do buy the team new videos are made.

  • Petty

    You couldn’t have said it better. The Gillett’s are horrible people. I once worked for George and the operate very much like the Madoff’s. The destroy whatever they touch, George is a shameless crook and his sons have such poor business acumen. Foster has no business running anything but a McDonalds, let alone a Professional Sport franchise. Alex is another George Gillett in the making, dishonest with a polarizing narcissism. They believe they are good business men; however Alex and older brother Georgie nearly bankrupted all the companies. Let’s not forget that George mismanaged 80 million; loaned from RBS to build a NEW stadium for Liverpool FC. Rumors are that George used the 80 million to keep his Madoff-like companies a float which were leveraged 100%. STAY AWAY FROM THE GILLETT FAMILY, they destroy whatever or whom ever as long as they can make money doing it.