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Jon Bon Jovi Is the Most Hated Man in Buffalo


Many fans presume that Bon Jovi is simply interested in an arrangement like Jay Z’s brief affiliation with the Brooklyn Nets, in which the rapper bought just a fraction of a percent of the team. But if Bon Jovi wants to be a principal owner, NFL rules require that he contribute 30 percent of a team’s sale price. With the Bills likely to sell for $1 billion, Bon Jovi would need almost all of his estimated $300 million—and he would need it in cash. To get there, he seems prepared to liquidate both assets and friendships. The sale price of his Manhattan penthouse was recently cut, to $37.5 million, seemingly to foster a quicker sale, and a CBS Sports report cited “music-­industry sources” saying that Richie Sambora, the Steven van Zandt to Bon Jovi’s Bruce Springsteen, had been cut from the band’s most recent tour in favor of a cheaper session guitarist to free up cash for buying the team. (Sambora said it was for “personal reasons.”)

Bon Jovi was staying quiet—the only ­prospective owner who returned calls for comment for this article was, of course, Donald Trump—but it didn’t seem fair to leave him undefended, so one day I drove 20 minutes outside Buffalo to meet Jaimelynn Richter, who was thrilled that someone was interested in her online petition claiming that the Bon Jovi boycott “goes against civil liberties and our very rights as American citizens and music lovers.” Richter prefers to be called Jovilynn, the name on her business card, or, ideally, just Jovi. Both are in homage to her favorite artist, whose name she has squeezed onto her vanity license plate: jnbn jovi. In addition to loving his looks and music, she believes Bon Jovi to be “a good man.” “He’s gonna help us out just like he helped out Philadelphia,” Richter said, mentioning the philanthropic work Bon Jovi has done there. Richter, who is 44, is a hair stylist, and her salon is plastered with photos of the band. She has pillowcases printed with her favorite singer’s face. “Jon sleeps with me every night,” she said. “He just doesn’t know it.”

Richter likes the Bills well enough but thought the boycott was more of a black mark on the city than the team’s possible departure would be. And yet only ten people had signed her petition. “I’m the only one in Buffalo that took a stand, and if I stand, I stand alone,” she said. When I left, she gave me a Bon Jovi–branded pen, promising she had plenty to spare.

The Bills’ departure would deliver a psychological blow to the city, but there would be practical effects, too. Governor Cuomo has said the team is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the regional economy, plus hundreds of jobs. Building new stadiums with public money is regarded as irresponsible by most economists (public underwriting has been another boost to the profitability of sports franchises), but the state might be forced to consider the option. After Wilson’s death, Commissioner Goodell said the city needed a new stadium—with more lucrative luxury boxes—to keep the Bills in town. Cuomo needs votes in November’s gubernatorial election from western New York, which he lost in 2010, if he is to hit a victory margin large enough to propel a 2016 presidential campaign, and has promised he will be “personally involved” in discussions about a new stadium.

Most of the Bills Fan Thunder leadership grew up in Orchard Park, within a few blocks of the stadium, and still spend game days parking cars in their front yards, for which they had earned as much as $30,000 a year under the table until several years ago, when the IRS came around and audited everyone. When I mentioned to Mike Caputo, the Bills Fan Thunder’s PR guru, that Matt Sabuda, from the Buffalo Fan Alliance, was also from Orchard Park, he explained to me the difference between “Quakers,” who grew up in the ritzy part of the suburb—where many of the Bills have homes—and “Gaunches,” the derogatory term used to describe kids, like them, who grew up on the wrong side of a literal railroad track that cuts through town. “The Quaker way of solving things is to raise $100 million,” Caputo said. “The Gaunches’s solution is to kick somebody in the balls.”

Caputo was a Gaunch who’d since entered the world of the Quakers. Before returning, three years ago, to work in corporate and political communications and host a local talk-radio show, Caputo had lived outside Buffalo for 30 years. In the ’90s, David Lynch had hired him to foment a fan protest against the cancellation of Twin Peaks. “The thing that put ABC over the top was I had 10,000 people on a postage list, and we asked them all to mail a can of creamed corn—in the show, they’re holding creamed corn in a dream sequence—to [network executive] Bob Iger,” Caputo said. If Bon Jovi’s group seemed likely to get the team, he thought perhaps the Bills Fan Thunder might be called on to send Roger Goodell a lifetime supply of hairbrushes. And after that? “That’s when you start emailing your people to start rolling over cars.”


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