Ralph Wilson Jr., the only owner the Buffalo Bills have ever known and the last surviving member of the eight original American Football League team owners, died Tuesday. He was 95. Bills CEO and team president Russ Brandon announced the news at the owners meetings in Orlando, Fla.
Ownership of the Buffalo Bills will pass into a trust following the death of Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson, reports Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News.
Per Gaughan’s sources, the trust can remain in control of the Bills franchise for “at least a couple of years,” or perhaps longer if necessary. Jeff Littman, a long-time confidante of Wilson’s and the Bills’ treasurer, is one of the executors of Wilson’s estate, and part of the trust in control of the team. The franchise’s current management structure, including president Russ Brandon and the team’s business and football branches, will remain intact for the foreseeable future.
The sole owner of the Bills, who died today, leaves behind a massive estate that includes a professional football team worth $870 million, according to an August 2013 Forbes report. Wilson never made public his intentions for the franchise, so it has long been unknown if ownership will transfer to his family members or if the team will be put up for sale — or some combination of both.
In obtaining an A.F.L. franchise for $25,000 in 1960, Mr. Wilson joined seven other founding A.F.L. team owners in a daunting challenge to the long-established N.F.L. They were nicknamed the Foolish Club. He was the last survivor of that club remaining in the N.F.L. Of the original eight, only Barron Hilton, the founder of the Los Angeles Chargers (now the San Diego Chargers), survives.