Sabres shakeup: Bills boss Brandon replaces Black as team president
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Bills president Russ Brandon dressed for the occasion Monday, when it came time to discuss his new expanded role of overseeing Buffalo's other pro sports franchise, the NHL's Sabres.
"Hey listen, I've got a Sabres tie on and Bills socks, so there you go," Brandon said, shortly after the Sabres announced he was taking over as team president as part of a front-office consolidation under Terry and Kim Pegula, who own both teams.
Brandon assumes the duties of Sabres president Ted Black, who reached a mutual agreement to part ways with the franchise, the team announced.
The shake-up comes as a significant surprise, as Black had held the role since the Pegulas purchased the Sabres in February 2011.
And the decision comes after the Pegulas added to their sports holdings in October, when they bought the Bills for an NFL-record $1.4 billion from the estate of Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson.
Brandon has been with the Bills since 1997, and has served as the team's president since 2013. As part of his expanded role, Brandon was also given the title of Bills managing partner, though it does not come with a stake in the franchise.
As president, Brandon will oversee the business and marketing side of both teams. Sabres general manager Tim Murray will be responsible for hockey operations and report directly to the Pegulas, which is similar to how the Bills' football department operates under GM Doug Whaley.
It's a reward for Brandon, who has established a strong business model for a small-market franchise that in 2013 boasted a net profit of $30 million despite being in the midst of the NFL's longest active playoff drought that stands at 15 seasons. In 2012, Brandon played an integral role in negotiating the Bills lease that helped secure the franchise at Ralph Wilson Stadium through 2022.
And he was the Bills point man during the sale process last year, when Brandon earned praise from the Pegulas for how he outlined the franchise's strengths during a formal presentation.
"Since we purchased the Buffalo Bills last October, we have been highly impressed with the business acumen that Russ has shown with the Bills," the Pegulas said in a statement released by the team. "Now is an appropriate time to give him additional responsibilities with the Sabres."
Brandon has also worked on transforming the Bills into a regional franchise, by first relocating their training camp facility from Fredonia to Rochester in 2000, and overseeing the team playing annual "home" games in Toronto.
The Bills In Toronto series began in 2008 and ran through 2013, before the Pegulas negotiated to cancel the agreement.
As part of the transition, Brandon inherits Black's other roles as Sabres' alternate NHL governor and president of the team's AHL franchise in Rochester.
Brandon, who grew up in Syracuse and attended college in Rochester, grew emotional when asked to reflect on his role as dual president.
"It's an emotional day. It's a great day," he said. "I'm overwhelmed."
Though new to the NHL, Brandon noted there is a large crossover on the business and marketing side involving both franchises. And part of both teams' operations are controlled under the owners' umbrella company called Pegula Sports and Entertainment.
The dual role is not unique to Buffalo. In New Orleans, Dennis Lauscha serves as president of both the NFL's Saints and NBA's Pelicans, who are owned by Tom Benson.
The shake-up takes place as the Bills prepare to open training camp Friday under new coach Rex Ryan.
The Sabres are in the midst of a top-to-bottom transformation after finishing last in each of the past two seasons.
Murray is rebuilding the team by adding young talent, highlighted by the selection of Boston University center Jack Eichel with the No. 2 pick in the draft last month.
Black had served as the Sabres public voice for much of his tenure with the team. He played a key role on the business and marketing side, and helped the team lure the NHL's pre-draft combine to Buffalo for a two-year stint that began this past May.
Black also forged a relationship with USA Hockey to have Buffalo host numerous national and international hockey events.
"We are grateful to Ted Black for all he has done for the Sabres organization, and wish him much success in his future endeavors," the Pegulas said.