Back in 1983, Terry Pegula told his business partner Robert H. Long, Jr., “If I ever have more than two nickels to my name, I’m going to buy the Buffalo Sabres one day.” Now, almost 30 years later, Terry’s dream has come to fruition.
A New Era of Sabres Hockey
On Feb. 22, 2011, Pegula became the fourth owner in Buffalo Sabres franchise history. The day Pegula was introduced as owner, the Sabres were 27-25-6 and sat in ninth place in the Eastern Conference - five points out of a playoff spot. Pegula’s purchase not only reenergized the fan base, but the players as well. With Pegula now at the helm, the Sabres went on a 16-4-4 run over the final 24 games of the season to finish seventh in the East. This included a 9-1-2 record at home, with every remaining home game selling out.
The momentum of the new era would stretch well into the offseason as the home of the Sabres – renamed First Niagara Center in August 2011 – began a multimillion dollar facelift. The renovations, which were completed in time for the 2011-12 season, included a new, state-of-the-art locker room with updated training and rehabilitation areas, player lounge and coaching offices. Along with the locker room transformation, First Niagara Center underwent several other upgrades with a focus on providing the best possible game day experience for Sabres fans. This commitment to providing a first-rate environment for players and fans quickly earned Buffalo the label of ‘Hockey Heaven.’
Buffalo fans responded to this new era of Sabres hockey in an overwhelming fashion. Since Pegula’s acquisition of the team, the Sabres have sold out every game at First Niagara Center except one. The fans that couldn’t watch the games in-person at the arena watched in near-record numbers on TV, earning the Sabres the second-highest local ratings in the NHL. The excitement incited by Pegula doesn’t appear to subsiding any time soon; the season ticket renewal rate reached 99% for the second year in a row and the waiting list has grown to include over 3,000 names.
In 2012, Pegula looked to make an even bigger impact on the City of Buffalo, using hockey as a catalyst. On Aug. 29, it was announced that the city had selected Pegula and his development team to develop and construct HARBORcenter, a $123 million multiuse facility that will sit directly across from First Niagara Center in the city’s Canalside District. HARBORcenter will be anchored by two new ice rinks that will be open for community use and a 200-room hotel. In addition to the ice rinks and hotel, there are plans for a New Era Cap Co. flagship store, additional retail and restaurant space and a parking structure.
HARBORcenter is expected to draw over 500,000 people to downtown Buffalo annually and, coupled with First Niagara Center, will provide a premiere destination for hockey fans, right in the heart of ‘Hockey Heaven.’
Expanding the Pegula-Hockey Footprint
On September 17, 2010, Terry and his wife, Kim, donated $88 million to Penn State University -- the largest private gift in the history of the school -- to fund a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose arena and a world-class practice facility, and to help establish an NCAA Division I men's hockey program. In 2012, the Pegulas announced they would increase their donation to the Nittany Lion hockey program to $102 million.
Thanks to their generosity, Penn State has been able to add both men’s and women’s varsity hockey teams, with both teams beginning play at Pegula Ice Arena in 2012-13. The building will include two ice sheets, and serve as the only major ice facility within an 80-mile radius of State College. In addition to providing hockey and figure skating opportunities for the entire Central Pennsylvania region, it will also be used for a broad range of campus and community activities.
Soon after purchasing the Sabres, Pegula explored the idea of acquiring the Rochester Americans, the AHL team that had previously spent 29 years as the Sabres’ affiliate before a three-year hiatus. On June 24, 2011, the Sabres announced the reunification of the Western New York teams as Pegula became the owner of the Amerks and continued one of the longest and most successful partnerships between an NHL and AHL club.
The ‘Hockey Heaven’ mindset was quickly adopted in Rochester as well and, like the Sabres, the Amerks experienced a momentum change. The Americans had the highest jump in attendance in the AHL in 2011-2, a 44.5% increase from the previous season, and vaulted from 25th in league attendance to 13th in just one season. As the Amerks progressed into the Calder Cup playoffs, fans were attending the games in numbers not seen since 1990.
A Hockey Fan and a Business Man
Pegula’s interest in the NHL began when the Sabres faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1975 Stanley Cup Final. His affection for the “French Connection” line began with that series, and led to his affinity for the Sabres franchise. While operating East Resources Inc. in Western New York and Pittsburgh throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, and living in Vestal, Olean and Orchard Park during that span, Terry first bought season tickets at the Memorial Auditorium in 1980. He remained a loyal Sabres season ticket holder for the next 18 seasons.
Born in 1951 and raised in Carbondale, Pa., he attended high school at Scranton Preparatory School. Pegula entered Penn State University as a Math major, but in order to stay in school he entered the Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering program through a scholarship. He went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1973, and landed his first job with Getty Oil Co. in Victoria, Texas. He later joined Felmont Oil Co., a decision that first brought him to Olean, N.Y., in 1975.
In 1983, he borrowed $7,500 from family and friends to found East Resources Inc., an independent oil and gas exploration and development company. Over the next 27 years, he built it into one of the largest privately held companies in the United States. In July of 2010, Royal Dutch Shell purchased the assets of East Resources Inc. for $4.7 billion (US). That sale allowed the Pegulas to make their first foray into the hockey world.
Together, the Pegulas have expanded their interests in the sports field by purchasing two sports agencies. After purchasing the Ayrault Sports Agency in Charlotte, N.C., the Pegulas acquired Atlanta-based France AllPro Athlete Management, a high-profile NFL player agent firm headed by Todd France, in December 2011.
Beyond the sports world, Terry and Kim also founded Black River Music Group, a country music label based in Nashville, Tenn.
Terry and Kim currently reside in Boca Raton, Fla., and have five children: Michael (34), Laura (30), Jessica (18), Kelly (16) and Matthew (13). Pegula’s younger daughters, Jessica and Kelly, were both born in Buffalo.
A native of nearby Rochester, N.Y., Kim Pegula is a 1991 graduate of nearby Houghton College with a degree in Communications, and was involved with East Resources since 1991. In 2011, Kim donated $12 million to her alma mater to support the construction of a new athletic facility, the Kerr-Pegula Sports Complex.