SBJ/December 12-18, 2011/Labor and Agents

Buffalo Sabres owner Pegula buys France AllPro, moves into the sports agent business

When billionaire oil and gas entrepreneur Terry Pegula bought the Buffalo Sabres for $189 million in February, he was already in the sports agent business — a lot of people just didn’t know it.

“I got into it before I became an NHL owner,” Pegula said in a telephone interview last week.

On Tuesday, anyone who didn’t already know of Pegula’s interest in the athlete representation business learned about it after he announced he had acquired Atlanta-based France AllPro Athlete Management, the agency of prominent NFL player agent Todd France. FAAM represents 50 NFL players, including Baltimore running back Ray Rice, Kansas City wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis.

Terry Pegula is buying an Atlanta-based agency that represents 50 NFL players.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Financial details were not disclosed, but as part of the deal, NFL agent Brian Ayrault will work with France to expand the company. Pegula said the reason he bought France’s company was that he was already financially backing the business of Ayrault, a family friend whom he has known for nearly two decades, and he thought the merger of France’s and Ayrault’s firms would be good business.

It is not unusual for agents to go to the management side of the table in team sports. Perhaps most prominently, former MLB player agent Jeff Moorad became the lead owner of a group that bought the San Diego Padres in 2009. It is, however, somewhat unusual, if not unique, for a team owner to engage in the agent business.

Pegula said he disclosed his financial interest in Ayrault’s firm to the NHL when he was approved to be the Sabres owner. Ayrault will fold his former firm, Charlotte-based Ayrault Sports Agency, into FAAM as part of the deal.

As for extending FAAM into other sports, Pegula said, “I believe we are going to stay strictly NFL, because as an owner of an NHL team, I can’t represent NHL players.”

Ayrault, 33, said last week he represents 16 football players, and although some of them don’t have jobs, at least two of them are starters in the NFL: Houston quarterback T.J. Yates and Philadelphia linebacker Jamar Chaney.

It was Pegula’s idea that Ayrault partner with a more experienced agent, and it was Ayrault’s idea to choose France. Ayrault said that although he has had some success in the NFL player rep business, he acknowledged that it is a “tough business.”

France, 40, has represented a number of first-round draft picks in the last several years, including Buffalo defensive end Marcell Dareus and New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara, who were the No. 3 and No. 19 overall picks, respectively, in this year’s draft.

“I had a lot of near misses on a lot of top players,” Ayrault said. “And Terry and I discussed things, and he said maybe we could consider partnering with another agent. … Todd and I met in 2005, and we’ve competed against each other, and I always admired his work ethic.”

France said Ayrault and Pegula approached him in October, and after meeting with Pegula and his financial team, he agreed to the deal. “I didn’t take it seriously at first,” France said, “but meeting Terry, he is extremely bright, a visionary, and his entire management team was very impressive — as you would expect them to be at that level.”

France said he is excited about partnering with Ayrault, who has been in the business since 2006. France would not reveal if he had equity in the new firm or what his business strategy would be going forward, but he said Pegula’s backing would help current and future clients. “It puts my clients in a unique position to be involved with someone as successful, powerful and connected as Terry,” France said.

Pegula founded East Resources, a natural gas drilling company with about $7,000 of his own money in 1983. He sold it to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion in 2010. He said last week that he expects to make money with his investment in FAAM, but when asked if he expects the same kind of return on investment as he did in the oil and gas business, he chuckled and said, “No.”

In addition to buying the Sabres, Pegula acquired the AHL Rochester Americans in June. He and his wife, Kim, donated $88 million to his alma mater, Penn State, last year to build what will be known as the Pegula Ice Arena and donated $12 million to Kim’s alma mater, Houghton College, this year to build a multiuse sports complex.

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