SBJ/April 4-10, 2011/People and Pop Culture

New Sabres owner Pegula's business plan starts with winning

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"I'd like to develop an identity like the New England Patriots or the Steelers," says Pegula about the Sabres.
Terry Pegula is the most recent addition to the NHL’s ever-fluctuating collection of team owners, with his reported $189 million purchase of the Buffalo Sabres closing Feb. 21. Pegula is the NHL’s archetype for ownership: He’s a longtime Sabres season-ticket holder with a net worth of $3 billion, according to Forbes; he has equal passions for hockey and the region; and he wants his team to win. Pegula spoke with staff writer Fred Dreier to discuss his plans for the team.


Why did you buy the Sabres?

PEGULA: I only wanted to buy the Sabres because I had no desire to own a team that I didn’t have an emotional tie to. I’m at the point in my life where I don’t need busywork. I don’t need to go to another city and create relationships and pretend that I want the team to win. I am a Sabres fan and I own my favorite team. That is the end of the discussion.

The Sabres lost substantial sums under the previous ownership group. What are the challenges of operating this team in western New York?

PEGULA: Since it’s a smaller market, although not by NHL standards the smallest market, I think business in Buffalo and western New York has been a little weaker than in other areas. This isn’t New York City or Chicago. Bringing in revenues and sponsorship, as far as I can talk about, can be challenging.

How do you want to improve business?

PEGULA:
I want to win. The first thing I saw with the general reputation of this franchise is that we were a franchise that was not fully committed to winning; we were more committed to the bottom-line philosophy. One of the first things I wanted to do was to let people know we are committed to winning the Stanley Cup and we are going to improve the handling of our players and personnel so that everyone around here has that attitude.

Do you have any other ideas for how to improve business, other than winning?

PEGULA:
I’m not a marketing guy. I have a lot of people here who could give better answers to that. I’d like to increase our sphere of influence. There are areas where various franchises cross over where we could open up markets, like Syracuse, where there are fans of Boston, New York, Montreal. I think one thing we can do is have a team that people can identify with because they play a certain way. I want to give them an identity: “Wow, here are the Sabres. Boy, are they fast and score a lot of goals.” I’d like to develop an identity like the New England Patriots or the [Pittsburgh] Steelers. They are identified by their stability. And good players like to go there. I think that comes with time.

There are numerous leaguewide topics of discussion in the NHL. As the newest owner in the room, which topic do you want to address?

PEGULA:
I think everybody would like to jump on the concussion thing. I’ll make the same comment I made to the NHL: Get rid of it. Guys are hitting each other in the head. I say suspend them for a year.

The Sabres also attract fans from Canada. Do you have plans to grow that market?

PEGULA:
As long as the Canadian wing of our market are Sabres fans, we want them here.

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