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Volume 21 No. 26
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The Sit-Down: Kim Pegula

She’s gone from a fan in the stands to a co-owner of two major league teams. Kim Pegula talks about that transition, the spirit of Buffalo and why the live game experience is the best.

[Husband Terry] had [Sabres] season tickets for 17 years. So we would go to the games and … I’m looking for Sabretooth — that’s the mascot — and I’m eating all the popcorn and hotdogs and I’m listening to the music.

He is sitting in his seat and even at intermission he doesn’t leave. Can I, like, go to the bathroom? No. Can I get … no, he just sits there and focuses on the game.

I’m just looking at the whole big entertainment side of it. So from early on we just kind of had our own little areas that we gravitated to.

I think we have a really unique situation in Buffalo. Now I know that there are other owners that own multiple teams, but we are owners that have not only the football with the Bills and the hockey with the Sabres, but we also have our [American Hockey League] team, our minor league team in Rochester, the Rochester Americans, and then we have the lacrosse, the Buffalo Bandits.

Why do you go to the game? You go because your friends are there. You go there to let loose, to cheer for your team, to be a part of something bigger, and I don’t think that will ever go away.

People pay a lot of money to go to a game and they pay a lot of money for the food, for concessions, for the merchandise, and so they want that experience to be one where they feel like they got their money’s worth.

It could be any touchpoints, anywhere from bathroom lines to concession lines to entering. That’s why we developed an app that is special to our community. It is called our One Buffalo app, My One Buffalo. And what it did is it encompassed all our properties, from hockey and football to our restaurants and our hotels.

Within the app you can remember where your car is parked, or you can see where the wait lines are at the gates. Or the bathroom lines, it can tell you where the bathroom lines are, what the traffic is. Concessions, the food prices, the maps.

We are always constantly trying to think about the fan because we want them to focus on the game.

The people from the outside who are not familiar with Buffalo, who don’t know and understand the culture of the community … they come and they get to experience it and they are like, I get it now.

To me that’s the biggest enjoyment, me being able to share with the rest of the country and the world and others who have not been to Buffalo what we really have there.

There are no bigger fans than our employees, and they want to help, they want to be a part of something bigger. And I could see that right away, and the talent was there. I mean, I was like, oh my goodness, these people have some crazy talent.

I really don’t like to be out here in the front. I really do like to be in the back. I’m trying to be better at it because I think as a leader you have to represent.

We put our name on [the business] because at the end of the day, the team and the ownership, it is us.

I have met other owners and have had conversations with other people, and there is no right way to do it. There are some people, some ownerships that are very involved, there are some that are very hands off.

You’re surrounded by all these people there you have heard of as a fan your whole life. Like Jerry Jones is down the row from you and Stan Kroenke is sitting across from you.

I know that maybe there was not a lot of women in ownership and maybe involved like I am but from Martha Ford, Dee Haslam, from Charlotte Jones and Katie Blackburn, there were a lot of women in there.

It was literally the second league meeting, and my husband had to leave for some reason, so I’m sitting there by myself and these are owner-only sessions, no team presidents.

And they were talking about the moves, I think it was the L.A. vote. So they were like, Let’s go around the room and have everyone stand up and say where they are on the situation.

This was such a big topic, and I hadn’t really delved into it yet. And I had to stand up in front of all these people, and I’m the newbie. Not only am I a female, I’m Asian, I’m generally younger than the other owners, and now I have to talk about L.A. and the Rams moving in front of everybody.

So I said something very politically correct. … It worked out just fine.

The biggest issue or the biggest challenge is winning. It’s really winning.

I can do my best to give the fans the experience. I can do what I can to try to make the stadium a safe place, and give them apps and giveaways and meet-and-greets. Be great partners with our partners and our sponsors. But I can’t control what happens on the field.

As a fan, I just went to a game, and it just happened. I didn’t know all the stuff that had to go behind putting on a game. That has been one of the biggest learning challenges for me.

As much as I love the technology and I’m excited about it and all the changes, whether you’re watching [sports] on your iPad or on Amazon or TV — I think sometimes we miss the traditions of sports.

I think we have to be careful that we don’t try to change things too fast and really the heart of why we love sports.