Donald Trump’s attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills in 2014 is a quest largely lost to the history of all that followed. Perhaps this world is very different if neither Jon Bon Jovi or fracking billionaire Terry Pegula exist, but they do and the latter now owns New York’s only NFL franchise.
Trump went on, of course, to run for president and win, while Bon Jovi is still making music and gotten a bit more politically active as well. But in a recent interview with GQ UK, he revealed he’s very much not over his failed attempt to buy the Bills, calling it “one of the biggest disappointments” of his life. He also still has special ire for Trump, who schemed out a reported ratf*cking campaign against Bon Jovi and his bidding partners in the city of Buffalo as a way to turn public opinion against the rivals.
In case this moment was truly lost to history for you, the sale of the Bills after the death of owner Ralph Wilson became a high-profile bidding war in 2014, as Trump publicly threw his hat in the ring along with a Toronto-based ownership group led by Bon Jovi. Rumors at the time were that Bon Jovi’s group eventually wanted to relocate the Bills, and Trump jumped on that in an attempt to gain public favor for himself.
Allegedly Trump had also been interested in buying the Bills, but he knew he would be unable to outbid Bon Jovi and his Toronto-based partners, so he hired Republican operative Michael Caputo – who has previously worked as a political consultant for Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin – and they incited a grassroots campaign to turn the people of Buffalo against him.
A group of activists called “12th Man Thunder” sprung up and began establishing “Bon Jovi-free zones” in the city, with Caputo pulling the strings from behind the scenes. Radio DJs in the city refused to play his songs on air.
While Trump and Bon Jovi were fighting, however, the numbers were in another bidder’s favor. Anyone who was paying attention in Buffalo at the time of the sale could tell you that it was always going to be Pegula — the wealthiest of all parties involved — with the highest bid and his ownership of the Buffalo Sabres already signaled he was committed to keeping the team in Buffalo long-term. Trump and Bon Jovi may have jockeyed for position with each other but, quite frankly, they were both worried about the wrong guy the whole time. And when it came time for the bidding, that’s exactly what happened.
“We showed up with a billion three, sitting there with a cheque. And we could have easily bought it at any price. We didn’t get to get back in the room. [Pegula] said, ‘What do I have to do to not leave this table without owning the team?’”
Bon Jovi claims he could have paid “any price,” but the Toronto Sun reported in 2019 that the Pegulas paid $1.4 billion for the team, a record at the time. The paper also claims Bon Jovi’s group had a final bid of $1.05 billion. Trump, meanwhile, reportedly submitted a bid of just $800 million, though the Sun reported that Trump never actually submitted a final bid for the team at all. Bon Jovi and Trump both apparently seem keep to fudge the numbers here, but one thing the rocker is adamant about is that he was never going to move the team to Toronto.
A large part of the scheme involved convincing the fans that Bon Jovi and his partners intended to move the team to Canada, which Bon Jovi strenuously denies. “I can tell you, I swear to you on a stack of Bibles, because I had to have this hardy conversation with the two partners: ‘We’re not gonna get this unless we keep this here,’” he says, recalling the incident, which he calls “one of the biggest disappointments” of his life. “We never saw it coming. I was calling the town councilman, telling him, ‘I’m moving to Buffalo, New York!’”
We’ll never know what would have happened to the Bon Jovi Bills. But it’s clear that, despite more than six years removed from the incident, Bon Jovi is not ready to forgive. On Bon Jovi’s new album, for example, he has a song about Donald Trump that isn’t very positive.
But he does take direct aim at Donald Trump on his song “Blood In The Water”. “A storm is coming / Let me be clear / Your days are numbered,” he sings.
“‘Blood In The Water’ is directed at the administration, for sure. It starts off with ‘A storm is coming’ – Stormi Daniels. ‘Your shadow sold your secrets and he’s about to do some time’ – Michael Cohen. That’s what this was all written about. Now there’s blood in the water, a year later, or two months ago, you could say that it was the impeachment.”
What’s odd about all of this is, again, neither celebrity really had much chance of buying the team out from under Pegula, a man who was valued around $4 billion at the time of the sale. That doesn’t mean the musician will ever forgive the city of Buffalo for Trump’s apparent misdeeds, though, saying, “I won’t ever go back to the city of Buffalo. You will never see my face in Buffalo ever. I have knocked it off the map.”
I think it’s fair to say you shouldn’t expect a Bon Jovi concert in Western New York anytime soon. Then again, it’s also fair to say if it keeps the Bills in Buffalo, people there will take that deal every single time.