ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Terry and Kim Pegula are one big step closer to owning the Buffalo Bills.
The husband-and-wife team that owns the NHL Buffalo Sabres had its NFL-record $1.4 billion purchase agreement to buy the Bills approved unanimously by the league's finance committee on Wednesday.
''This is a very big step,'' NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman said after announcing the results of the committee's vote, which took place at the league's headquarters in New York.
The vote clears the way for NFL owners to formally approve the sale at league meetings on Oct. 7-8. The Pegulas will require three-quarters majority approval from the 32 owners, including the trust overseeing late Bills owner Ralph Wilson's estate.
Terry Pegula made a brief statement confirming the committee's approval, but declined to go into detail because the sale process is not complete.
''As far as I can say, we're not NFL owners until that vote is approved, and we'll have no further comments,'' he said.
The thumbs-up from the finance committee comes a little over a week after Wilson's estate reached a ''definitive agreement'' to sell the team to the Pegulas. The agreement came a day after the Pegulas were among at least three prospective ownership candidates - including a Toronto-based group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi - submitted formal bids. New York City real estate mogul Donald Trump also submitted a bid.
The Bills were on the market after Wilson, the Hall of Fame team founder, died in March.
The Pegulas have begun preparing themselves to become NFL owners.
A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the Pegulas have relinquished their involvement and are divesting their interest in Five Star Athlete Management, an Atlanta-based sports agency that represents NFL players.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Pegulas have not announced their plans publicly.
Terry Pegula acquired the high-profile firm headed by Todd France in 2011.
NFL rules prevent owners from being involved in firms that represent league players.
Though Terry Pegula is listed as the Sabres owner, his wife oversees numerous areas of the operation.
Kim Pegula has played a key role in spear-heading the family's purchase of the Bills, including spending an afternoon touring Ralph Wilson Stadium in August. She is expected to have a high-ranking role with the Bills, working alongside current team president Russ Brandon.
Terry Pegula has a net worth valued of over $3.5 billion, and made his fortune in the natural gas industry. In 2010, he completed a deal to sell a large portion of his company East Resources' assets for $4.7 billion to Royal Dutch Shell.
Pegula has since wasted little time spending a portion of that fortune on his two passions: Penn State, his alma mater, and hockey. He donated more than $100 million to build an ice arena at Penn State to establish the Nittany Lions' Division I men's and women's hockey programs.
Aside from purchasing the Sabres, Pegula invested $172 million to build a hockey/entertainment complex called HarborCenter across from the Sabres' arena in downtown Buffalo.
The Pegulas then took a highly aggressive approach in their bid to buy the Bills and ensure they stay in western New York, amid concerns the franchise could potentially relocate to Toronto or Los Angeles.
The Pegulas were celebrated by fans attending the Bills' home-opening 29-10 win over Miami on Sunday. Many fans carried signs and wore T-shirts paying tribute to the Pegulas.
Numerous local businesses have even bought ads in local newspapers thanking the Pegulas for their commitment to the Bills and Buffalo.
They also have the support of area politicians, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.
''Over the past week, I spoke with a number of owners on the committee, including chairman Bob McNair, and made sure they understood how serious the Pegulas are about keeping the Bills in western New York,'' Schumer said in a released statement. ''I will continue to work over the weeks ahead to ensure that the Pegulas' ownership of the team, and the Bills' future in western New York, are approved by the rest of the league.''
Gov. Andrew Cuomo referred to the unanimous vote as an ''important milestone.''
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