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Terry Pegula: What Kind of Owner Do We Want Him to Be?

Terry Pegula, a man almost no one in Western New York had heard of just six months ago, will give his first press conference tomorrow as the owner of the Buffalo Sabres. Pegula, one of the richest 150 people in America (the man is richer than Oprah for God sakes), is also among the richest 10 franchise owners in any of the four major sports.  Pegula’s immense wealth have Sabres fans excited. And when a really rich guys say things like – “We’re gonna win the Stanley Cup. Then, you know what, we’re gonna win it again” – fans go crazy. Especially in a town starved for championships. 

But what kind of owner are we hoping Terry Pegula will be?  The glib answer is successful.  But beyond that, there are a number of different styles that have worked for different owners and franchises.  We’re going to highlight a few of the most successful professional franchise owners to give some context to what Pegula might be like.  
1.) Mark Cuban – Bombastic, detail-oriented, fan
Cuban, like Pegula, is a self-made billionaire.  He’s dramatically improved his franchise – the Dallas Mavericks won at a 40% rate in the 20 years before Cuban’s ownership and have won 69% of their regular season games in the decade he’s owned the team. And the Mavs have reached the playoffs in every season since Cuban acquired them. While Cuban hasn’t won a championship, he did lead the Mavs to the finals in 2006.  Beyond leading a dramatic on-the-floor turnaround, Cuban is also an outspoken NBA owner consistently pushing the league to improve.  He’s a true fan, sitting in the same seats he had before owning the team and showing his emotions at every game. markcubansmaller.jpgHe encouraged interaction with the fans (asking them to email him suggestions for making Mavs game a better experience) and has followed through on a number of those suggestions. No detail is too small for Cuban as he’s known for stocking both locker rooms with luxurious towels with the Mavericks logo on them in hopes that visiting players will keep the towels and, come free agent time, remember how good they were treated by the Mavericks. At the same time, he is intimately involved in player decisions as he sits in the war room on draft day and talks to other general managers to close deals. 
2.) Robert Kraft – Staid, hire-the-experts style with focus on development around stadium
Another self-made billionaire, Kraft owns the New England Patriots. Sadly, he’s won 3 Super Bowls as Pats owner. He started with Bill Parcells as head coach, moved to Pete Carroll, and finally on to Bill Belichick. He’s built a dynasty in a league designed for parity.  And he did with a franchise that was largely irrelevant – both in its league and its region as the Pats always trailed the Red Sox and Celtics in fan interest.  By all accounts, he lets the football people run the football operation and serves more as the CEO for the Patriots organization. At the same time, he’s very active in real estate development in and around the Patriots stadium (his ownership of land near the old Foxboro Stadium put him in pole position to ultimately own the franchse) which is a focus Buffalo fans may find appealing given the state of the ECHDC. 
3.) Peter Holt – Under-the-radar, financially prudent, sticks with his studs
If you ask folks to name the most successful sports franchise, most people will forget to name the San Antonio Spurs. But they should be top of mind. Peter Holt purchased the Spurs in 1993 and has won 4 NBA titles and been to the playoffs 16 times. His signature move – keeping the studs of the team in place and happy. David Robinson. Tim Duncan. If Holt owned the Sabres, Briere and Drury are wearing Sabres sweaters. And Holt has kept the same coach, Gregg Popovich, for 15 years (that’s right, there is a coach who has been around longer than Lindy Ruff).  The Spurs are an interesting parallel for the Sabres as they are a mid-market team that has consistently and successfully competed with the biggest markets in the league.  
4.) Mike Ilitch – Turnaround expert, moved company headquarters to downtown, don’t tinker with brand
A lot of people bought Little Caesar’s pizza and that made Mike Ilitch a very rich man. He purchased the Detroit Red Wins in 1982 for $8M.  It’s hard to believe but the Red Wings had 9 straight sub-.500 seasons prior to Ilitch’s ownership.  Since then, the Red Wings have won 4 Stanley Cups and have been to the playoffs 19 straight times. Ilitch has hired proven coaches (he hired Harry Kneale in 1985) and let them do their work (Scotty Bowman was there for a decade). Believe it or not, the Red Wings play with the same jerseys they played with in 1982 when Ilitch bought the team. No Red Wings slug. No complete change of colors. Interestingly, Ilitch purchased the iconic downtown Fox Theatre in Detroit and moved his company into the building to helped secure it’s future.
5.) Art Rooney / Dan Rooney – Classy, consistent, maintains blue-collar style of play for decades

The Pittsburgh Steelers may be the most well-run organization in professional sports. They have played in 8 Super  rooneysuperbowl.jpgBowls, winning 6 of them. They have always had a consistent style – blue-collar smash-mouth football characterized by hard-hitting defenses. The Rooney family is revered in Pittsburgh for their honest, hard-working style and they’ve led on controversial issues like hiring more minorities (see Rooney Rule).  The Rooneys have almost always held their players accountable for their off-the-field actions and tend to avoid controversial players (with notable exception of Ben Roethlisberger). 

6.) Jerry Buss – Build around stars, willing to make big deals, party guy who likes strip clubs, poker and burgers

Jerry Buss bought the LA Lakers in 1979. He’s won a stunning 10 titles in 32 seasons while going to the playoffs 29 jerrybuss2.jpg times. Buss thought the NBA was ‘archaic’ when he bought the Lakers so he set about to change things. He brought in the famed Laker Girls and signed Magic Johnson to a record 25 year long contract. He was one of the first owners to introduce waitresses providing table service in the arena. He’s a gambler who loves to party but has a common man appeal even amidst the glamor of LA. And in a town where it’s cool to show up late and leave early, he has Lakers fans hanging around after each game to sing Randy Newman’s ‘I Love LA.’ 

7.) George Steinbrenner – Big mouth, big spender, emotional, willing to change mgmt, built tv network around franchise
He’s known as “The Boss.” He’s the most controversial owner in the history of professional sports. He’s been unabashed in his desire to win – talking and spending his way to 7 World Series Championships and 11 pennants. He outspent everyone else in the league. He hired and fired one manager five times. The Sabres could never be the Yankees and while some part of the Steinbrenner persona was fueled by the New York market and the Yankees storied history, The Boss had an innate desire to be in the spotlight exerting his will to win.  Given Golisano’s spending habits and absence over the past few seasons, a Steinbrenner type would the exact opposite of Golisano.  
It’s remarkable how little the world knows about Terry Pegula given he’s worth more than $3 billion (and worth more than all the owners described above). He’s got one of the shortest Wikipedia pages of any multi-billionaire. And while his acquisition of the Sabres has been going on for at least 4 months, we still haven’t heard directly from him.

So what do you hope Pegula is like as an owner? Outspoken and actively involved with the fans like Cuban? Under-the-radar and committed to keeping his stars like Holt? A Bob Kraft type who brings in the experts to run the sports franchise and focuses his business acumen on developing the area around the Sabres to make the Sabres stronger? Or do we want our very own Steinbrenner type who brings audacity and bravado to a town in need of some swagger? 

 

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