For years, rumors have circulated among business leaders in western New York that Terry Pegula is on the verge of selling the Buffalo Sabers.
His executives repeatedly denied this claim when asked. That person was usually COO Ron Raccuia, who was fired three weeks ago. Now there’s more news that has WNY raving about a possible sale.
It was announced Monday that Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the holding company that oversaw all of the family’s non-petroleum businesses, was dissolving. The Buffalo Bills are serviced exclusively by Bills employees. The Sabers are serviced exclusively by Sabers employees.
With the exception of Pegula as President and John Roth as COO of both clubs.
“Terry is extremely excited about the Sabers,” Roth said. “He loves this team. He’s on fire. He invests his own money in this squad and the arena. I think you can tell from his actions how much he supports the organization.”
Roth said Pegula will pay for a new KeyBank Center roof, improve acoustics and replace the video billboard.
Why exactly does PSE no longer exist? Roth said it would simply eliminate too many employees with overlapping duties. It was an often frustrating dynamic for the grassroots. Sabers team sources say fewer than 10 people have been fired, with measures being taken to reduce layoffs, according to the source.
“The steps were purely for efficiency and better focus,” Roth said. “We just had too much redundancy. None of these steps were performance-related.”
Still, rumors that the Sabers are for sale increased again on Monday. While the likelihood of this being true is close to zero, according to team sources, that won’t stop speculation from reviving today.
Roth was brought on board as the Sabers and PSE’s daily steward in January and has since taken a number of steps to streamline operations. Roth does not have a sporting background. He previously worked as an investor and portfolio manager.
An unspoken aspect of this series of business moves is how firmly Terry Pegula and Roth came to the conclusion that Kim Pegula’s biggest business ideas were proving unrealistic. Unable to work after a debilitating cardiac arrest last year, her creations and closest allies continue to disappear from the company.
Kim Pegula was the driving force behind the creation of PSE. She also brokered a deal in 2017 for her and her children to buy 70 percent of Raccuia’s ADPRO Sports, which was sold this month to Legends, the same company the Bills have given much of their new stadium’s business to, including PSLs , sponsorships, merchandise and concessions.
PSE previously sold most of its restaurant operations, most notably the Showcase (716) Food and Sport, to Southern Tier Brewing Company in 2021 and its Tim Hortons location in 2020.
Other companies in the PSE portfolio, including the Buffalo Bandits and Rochester Knighthawks of the National Lacrosse League, the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League and Black River Entertainment, remain essentially unchanged and their respective leaderships continue to report to Roth. — Graham
What that means for the Sabers
This reorganization will raise a lot of questions regarding the Sabers, even beyond the notion that it will make it easier for Pegula to sell the franchise, as Tim mentioned.
Pegula’s assumption of the presidency is not an unusual move for the franchise, considering Kim Pegula held the role prior to her health issues. What’s odd about the announcement is that the Sabers and Bills “will split resources between the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabers, allowing each respective organization to focus on their efforts individually.”
But Pegula will be the president of both teams and Roth will be the COO of both teams. On the Bills’ side, operations are managed by a committee between Roth, Kathryn D’Angelo, the team’s general counsel and senior vice president of business administration, and Josh Dziurlikowski, senior vice president of finance and business administration. It’s not yet clear if the Sabers will form a similar structure for their business operations, but the team’s press release only mentioned that Pegula and Roth are working together on the business side of the organization.
This all comes at a pivotal time for the franchise, both on and off the ice. The team is planning a number of arena renovations over the next few years, and on the ice, Buffalo’s roster is poised to become a playoff contender and boasts as many young talents as any team in the league. Ever since Pegula cut jobs at the Sabers in 2020, saying his goal is to be “effective, efficient and economical,” fans have wondered if the team is operating on an internal budget. The Sabers haven’t spent up to their salary cap in recent years, but that can be attributed to a youth movement and a rebuild led by general manager Kevyn Adams. But as more of these up-and-coming youngsters require contract extensions and the team moves ever closer to the competition, Pegula’s spending streak will be crucial in the years to come.
The Pegulas bought the Sabers in February 2011 and the team has not made the playoffs since that season. Adams appears to be taking the on-ice product in the most promising direction in over a decade. The hope of hockey fans in western New York is that Pegula will continue to take a no-fuss approach to a smoothly functioning hockey department. — Fairburn
(Photo by Terry Pegula: Justin Berl / Getty Images)