Buffalo sports fans are in shock, and for good reason. Just hours ago, Kim and Terry Pegula, owners of the Bills and the Sabres, accepted Russ Brandon’s resignation. Brandon served as President of both teams and had been part of the Bills organization for more than 20 years.
The Buffalo News reports Brandon’s resignation is the result of an “internal investigation into [his] workplace behavior and allegations of personal misconduct.” No further details have been released and Brandon told WGRZ’s Adam Benigni that he would not dignify any talk about the investigation with a comment.
Pegula Sports & Entertainment released this press release about the shake-up:
“Terry and Kim Pegula have announced they have accepted the resignation of Russ Brandon as President of the Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres and Pegula Sports & Entertainment.
“Effective Immediately, Kim Pegula will assume the role of President of the Bills, Sabres and PSE, while Terry will continue to oversee team operations.
“Statement from the Pegulas: ‘We have a tremendous amount of confidence in the strong leadership teams we have built within each of those entities over the last several years. We are excited about the direction of our teams, especially after this past weekend’s NFL draft and NHL lottery results. Our focus remains on building championship teams on and off the field for our fans and community.'”
While the media focus will likely be on the reasons behind Brandon’s resignation, the second sentence of the press release jumped out at me: Kim Pegula will assume the role of President of the Bills [and] Sabres.
Kim Pegula is entering rare territory for a woman: she is taking a top leadership role with not one, but TWO professional sports franchises. An admittedly quick search shows there are currently no women serving as president of an NHL or NFL team (unless you count Pelicans and Saints owner Gayle Benson who is owner of both teams, but not the president).
Women are a clear minority in the upper echelon of professional sports—especially in the “big four” pro leagues. Inroads are slowly being made; in December, the Carolina Panthers named Tina Becker as the organization’s Chief-Operating-Officer. Her appointment came in the midst of an internal investigation into owner Jerry Richardson’s workplace behavior (again, it is important to note that no details have emerged about the investigation into Brandon). Even if Kim Pegula’s role as President is temporary, she is helping break ground for women and girls who aspire to a career in professional sports.
Opening the front office doors to women makes good business sense, too. A 2016 article in the Chicago Tribune argued that male viewership in professional sports had maxed out and leagues needed to appeal to women to keep growing. Stats show that growth is happening; according to Reuters, female viewership in the NFL grew by 26-percent from 2009 to 2013—and I guarantee all those women are not just there for the commercials.
In recent months there has been a groundswell of support for women in sports. The success of the U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey team in PyeongChang proved that women can, and should, be taken seriously in the world of sports. The elite athletes on that team were honored in ceremonies at NHL rinks across the country.
On the heels of the NFL Draft and NHL Draft Lottery, the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres are looking to usher in a new era in their respective team histories. With today’s move, the Pegulas may be helping to usher in a new era for women in sports. Personally, I am ready to cheer for all three.
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