Some perspective on Pegula’s purchase of Bills

Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

My buddy Jerry Sullivan, reacting to the news that Terry and Kim Pegula purchased the Buffalo Bills, wrote that Tuesday was “a day for people to cry and embrace … in communal joy, relief and celebration.”

Well, I was happy to hear the news, but mostly for different reasons than what Sully had in mind.

Pegula’s purchase means we’ll no longer be bombarded with stories speculating whether the Bills will leave town. The hand wringing has been going on for more than a decade, speculation passing as reporting, and it’s behind us now. Which frees the press to report on more serious matters – speculation on where a new stadium might be sited, no doubt.

There are a lot of folks who are happy that the Bills are staying put. As the saying goes, “Buffalo is a football town with a drinking problem.” Hey, I’m glad they’ve been sold to to buyers who plan to keep the team in Buffalo. The Bills are a nice thread in the community fabric.

But I’m not at all keen about a huge taxpayer outlay to build them a new stadium and the Pegula purchase sets the stage for a raid on the public treasury. Moreover, I do not consider the Bills essential to the community’s well being moving forward.

More good paying jobs, yes. Improved city schools, yes. Better leadership, absolutely. Three-hundred pound men wailing on each other on Sunday afternoons, not really. The Bills are an amusement, not an essential.

So, sorry, Sully, I’m not participating in the “communal joy, relief and celebration.” Yeah, there’s a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ going on right now, but I find it a sad commentary on how screwed up this town’s priorities are – the Bills, Sabres , beer, and, ah, whatever. We can’t be bothered voting, but tailgating is another matter.

I’m also not ready to celebrate Pegula for buying the team. The man has baggage.

For starters, he’s been a colossal failure as owner of the Buffalo Sabres. The team he bought from Tom Golisano and Larry Quinn was successful on and off the ice and respected throughout the league, as evidenced by, among other things, the NHL entrusting Quinn and Company to launch the Winter Classic.

Along came the Pegulas and their empty promise of a Stanley Cup, followed by undisciplined spending on free agents and a free fall that culminated in a last-place finish and the unceremonious departure of Pat LaFontaine. Ugh.

The Pegulas messed up a well-run franchise in short order. Do they have the chops to turn around a doormat franchise like the Bills? I have my doubts.

Then there is the way in which Pegula made the fortune that allowed him to drop more than $1 billion to buy the Bills.

I took a hard look at his track record as a hydrofracker in 2011 when I was with The News. I reported Pegula “contributed heavily to politicians in a position to advance his business interests and established a less-than-stellar track record in the environmentally dicey business of drilling for natural gas.”

In other words, Terry Pegula has polluted the political system with his money and the earth with his hydrofracking.

None of it means anything to those who live and die – mostly die – by the Bills. But for me, Pegula’s purchase of the Bills is cause for mixed emotions because the team’s savior is no hero.