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Bettman Says Five Groups Are Eyeing Sabres

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was in Buffalo Thursday reassuring leaders and the community that he is committed to keeping the Sabres in Western New York. But Bettman is asking fans for help.

Bettman arrived in town one day after John Rigas was arrested. But he says that was a "coincidence." He says the visit was pre-planned. Rigas, owner of the Sabres, relinquished control to the NHL last month. Bettman says five groups are interested in the team, but refused to give names. However, he says he is not talking with anyone who wants to move the Sabres from Buffalo.

"I'm not going to characterize the state of negotiations or give you a timetable," Bettman said. "Obviously the purchase of a major league sports team and rights to the building in which it plays is not a simple transaction."

Bettman says the Sabres season ticket base continues to slide and is below league average. He is calling on fans to purchase tickets now and not to wait until a new owner is announced. Bettman reassured fans that the money will not leave the organization.

"The money you spend in support of this club is not going to Adelphia and is not going to the Rigases," Bettman said. "All the money will go to the operations of the Sabres."

Bettman says the team needs the community's support during this time of uncertainty. He says higher ticket sales will make it "more attractive" to a prospective buyer.

"If all of our fans in Buffalo said we are not buying tickets because we're worried that a year from now something will happen, that could become a self fulfilling prophecy," he said. "Our intention is to make sure the Buffalo Sabres stay in Buffalo in this building for the future."

The hockey commissioner says he hopes that within the next few weeks there will be a purchase offer. Bettman says he does not believe the civil lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission this week against the Rigases will affect an ownership change. The suit includes assets of Niagara Frontier Hockey, which is the holding company for the Sabres.