The Pegulas, who purchased the National Lacrosse Leagues Buffalo Bandits in 2011, were introduced as the owners of an expansion National Lacrosse League franchise in Rochester on Thursday afternoon in front of Blue Cross Arena. The new franchise, set to launch for the 2019-20 season, will inherit the Rochester Knighthawks name and history from the current team, which the league announced earlier Thursday will relocate to Halifax at the end of this season.
“This is what we consider to be a good day in the city of Rochester,” Terry Pegula said. “It will have the Knighthawks legacy. Were very proud to contribute again to the Western New York and Rochester community by keeping the team here.”
Mayor Lovely Warren said these improvements are part of more than $18 million worth of upgrades and changes being made to the facility as Pegula Sports and Entertainment takes over as the managing company. This includes up to $1.5 million coming from PSE. $16 million is coming from the state and local tax dollars.
The exchange of franchises, though unconventional, allows the NLL to keep Curt Styres, the current owner of the Knighthawks, in the league and happy with the infrastructure hes spent years building while keeping a historic franchise intact.
This is my hometown, and its just really important for us to stay here, said Kim Pegula. I think Terry and I have always kind of shown the importance sports has on a community, and so with Rochesters history here, we would hate for that to go away.
Officials also announced enhancements to Blue Cross Arena, made possible by $18 million from the city, state and the Pegulas. A new Jumbotron is coming as well as an expansion of the arena on the Exchange Street side, which includes a new locker room, offices and more concession space. The facility is also getting a new roof and improved restrooms and lighting and audio/visual systems.
When it comes to the future of entertainment at the Blue Cross Arena, Bruce Popko, Chief Operating Officer of Pegula Sports and Entertainment said the goal is to bring an more and larger acts, much like those they are able to bring to Buffalo.
According to a news release, Pegula Sports and Entertainment will provide $1.5 million for the scoreboard.
“With Terry and Kims investment there, weve begun to create a system that is much like Buffalo,” Pegula Sports and Entertainment COO Bruce Popko said. “We really think were going to do a lot to enhance the fan experience each and every day when people are coming by.”
Were working together to make sure what were doing here is for the long term, said Mayor Warren, so Rochester has a bright future when it comes down to the sports and entertainment.
We are proud to expand our contribution to the @NLLs unprecedented growth and further our commitment to the Rochester community. -Terry and Kim Pegula pic.twitter.com/4kMNue4ppt
Pegula Sports and Entertainment took over management of the arena in August and is working with the city on a long term contact the company hopes to have signed by the end of the year.
The Pegulas are the only ownership group to control multiple franchises in the NLL. League commissioner Nick Sakiewicz, who previously was executive in Major League Soccer before joining the NLL in 2016, said in March on the “Off The Cross Bar Podcast” that he was open to owners running two teams, but would be uncomfortable with groups owning three or more.
“Frankly, having multiple owners that owned multiple teams was a huge benefit (in MLS),” Sakiewicz said. “At one point, (Philip) Anschutz owned six of the 10 MLS teams. I wouldnt advocate for that. Thats something that is uncomfortable, in my opinion, for a lot of different reasons. If theres an opportunity to be strategic about a particular market with a great owner, then I think its great. It just shows more confidence in the existing owners of the league.”
The NLL, which expanded to San Diego and Philadelphia for the upcoming season, will have 12 teams for the 2019-20 season, with others expected to be announced in the coming months. A franchise in the Bay Area owned by the Golden State Warriors is set according to a report by US Lacrosse Magazine. New York, particularly Long Island, and Boston have also been rumored as new locations.
Styres has owned the Knighthawks since 2008. He was also the owner of the American Hockey Leagues Rochester Americans before he sold the franchise to the Pegulas in 2011. With this move, the Pegulas now own the only two main tenants of Blue Cross Arena in addition to serving as the interim managers of the facility.
Styres was in Halifax on Thursday morning to announce his intention to bring lacrosse to the city. The Halifax franchise, which has yet to be named, will be the fifth Canadian NLL team.
This includes a new center-hung electronic board that is currently being put up for this season in the Blue Cross Arena.
“For NLL fans of the Rochester community, it was very important for my family and I to make sure that your Rochester franchise would be well looked after,” Styres said in a statement.
The Knighthawks, founded in 1995, are the second oldest franchise in the league, trailing only Buffalo in longevity. They are also one of the most successful, winning five championships and appearing in a league-high 10 championship games. The Knighthawks won three straight from 2012 to 2014 and represented the East Division last year in the NLL Finals, falling in three games to the Saskatchewan Rush.
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“The Knighthawks almost won it all last year,” New York State senator Joe Robach said. “I dont know how they could leave, but were glad were having a new franchise. Theres a great fan base here.”
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The National Lacrosse League kicks off its 33rd season on Dec. 1, with the Bandits opening at home against the Toronto Rock.
About four hours after Knighthawks owner Curt Styres announced he would be moving the team to Halifax, Nova Scotia, for the 2019-20 season in a heartfelt letter to fans on Thursday, the National Lacrosse League announced it had awarded an expansion franchise for Rochester to sports moguls Terry and Kim Pegula.
The Pegulas already own the NLLs Buffalo Bandits, the Knighthawks fiercest rival, along with the NFLs Buffalo Bills, NHLs Sabres and AHLs Rochester Americans.
The announcement came at an outdoor news conference on the Genesee River side of the Blue Cross Arena at the Rochester War Memorial where Mayor Lovely Warren announced $18 million in improvements to the aging facility where the new lacrosse team, like the current one, will remain a key tenant, also beginning in 2019-20.
They will have the Knighhawks legacy and were very proud to contribute again to western New York and the Rochester community in keeping the team here, he said.
In 2011, the Pegulas stepped in to purchase the financially struggling Amerks and reinstalled that flagship team as the farm club of the Sabres, which they had purchased four months earlier from Rochesters Tom Golisano.
The Pegulas, who operate Pegula Sports and Entertainment (PSE), also own a music label, marketing services and arena management branches.
The NLL, founded in 1986, is growing for the first time in a decade, adding franchises in Philadelphia and San Diego for this season. Those ownership groups paid an expansion fee of $5 million and its believed the Pegulas will pay roughly the same.
That amount is in the neighborhood of what Styres paid for the Knighthawks in June 2008 when he purchased the financially struggling team from Steve Donner, immediately providing stability.
The NLL has a policy prohibiting multiple ownership of teams in the league and also from franchises being placed within a 73.1-mile distance arena-to-arena. The leagues board of governors waived those rules this time.
NLL chief operating officer Dave Rowan said franchises are studied on a case by case basis. In this instance, two current owners (the Pegulas and Styres) had a shared desire to keep a team in Rochester.
Its very simple, Rowan said. Rochester has had a team for 25 years. We had an ownership group that stepped up and said, Wed like to own another team and do it in a venue where we already have our AHL team in and were taking over running. It synergistically made sense.
The Knighthawks are a storied franchise, winning 10 division titles and five league championships. Theyve also been a championship finalist five times, including last season. They reached the playoffs each of their first 13 seasons, and once won a record three consecutive titles (2012, 2013, 2014).
Their roll call of stars includes Gary and Paul Gait, John Grant Jr., Cody Jamieson, Casey Powell, Steve Dietrich, Pat OToole and Matt Vinc.
Styres will be allowed to take to Halifax any coach or player under contract, Rowan said. It has yet to be determined if he can keep all of the Knighthawks records. The new K-Hawks will be stocked through an expansion draft. Team colors and uniform design could change.
Because of the quality of both ownership groups, its been a smooth transition already, Rowan said. You have two great owners that really care about this community. Curt won a lot of championships here but hes also provided a lot to the community with youth programs, serving underprivileged kids. The Pegulas will do the same. Its in their DNA.
In his letter, Styres praised the passion of his teams fan base and that he was most proud that he achieved his goal of leaving the franchise in better shape than he found it and was happy to leave it in very good hands.
For all the fans of the Rochester community, it was very important for my family and I to make sure that your Rochester franchise would be well looked after, Styres wrote.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott was an intern for Rowan when Rowan was an executive with the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 1990s. When Rowan came to visit McDermott at Bills training camp in summer 2017, he met with PSE executive Bruce Popko, another past NFL colleague.
It was then they discussed a perfect scenario that would satisfy Styres desire to have a team in his native Canada and the Pegulas desire to operate a second NLL franchise in a building they hoped to be managing.
It just made sense from everybodys part and conversations continued for the last year, Rowan said.
Saving the Amerks and now pro lacrosse in Rochester is personally gratifying for Kim Pegula, an orphan who grew up in Fairport with her adopted family, who were big Amerks fans.
Im very proud, she said. I grew up here and this is home to me. I have such great memories here, especially the War Memorial. I spent a lot of time here.
Starting an expansion franchise is a challenge she looks forward to, she said, that and those nights when the Knighthawks and Bandits play.
I cant pick one over the other, she said. “Im just happy were able to keep a team here in Rochester. Curt has done a wonderful job and for the team to be here 25 years…were just happy to be able to continue that.
The Pegulas are contributing financially to upgrades at the arena, paying for a new a state-of-the-art video scoreboard for starters.
Plans to upgrade locker rooms, concession areas, lighting and other technology were critical to keeping the Amerks and Knighthawks in town and improving the fan experience that will help draw fans, Warren said.
We have a partner now that we know is here for the long term and committed to the citizens of Rochester. Not only have they purchased two franchises, they are (helping with) making capital improvements, so Rochester has a bright future for sports and entertainment in our community.
Sen. Rich Funke, a former Rochester sportscaster, called it a good day for Rochester lacrosse and area sports in general.
Once you lose a franchise its hard to get it back, he said. Lacrosse is such an important part of this community. To have a professional team leave, you lose something like that, you lose a lot. You dont get it back. So Im thankful the Pegulas picked it up and are keeping a team here. And Ill be curious to see how they do when the Bandits are playing the Knighthawks.