Russ Brandon resigns as Bills, Sabres president

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Russ Brandon abruptly resigned his dual role as president of the NFL Buffalo Bills and NHL Buffalo Sabres after being confronted by the teams’ owners regarding an inappropriate relationship with a female employee, two people with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.

The people spoke on the condition of anonymity because it is an internal matter, and owners Terry and Kim Pegula did not provide a reason for accepting Brandon’s resignation in a statement they released Tuesday.

The relationship in question first became apparent to a number of team employees in late December, when the Sabres were in New York City to play the Rangers at the NHL’s Winter Classic, the people said.

Kim Pegula will take over Brandon’s roles overseeing the Bills, Sabres and Pegula Sports Entertainment, the company which controls the owners’ numerous holdings.

In a text to The AP, Brandon said he has contemplated stepping down from the job for some time, and felt the timing was right after the conclusion of the NFL draft.

“My goal when the Pegulas purchased the franchise was to reach 20 years with the Bills, in which I achieved this past November,” Brandon wrote.

“As grateful as I am for the amazing experience and the incredible people I’ve had the privilege to work with the past two decades, I am just as anxious for the professional opportunities that lie ahead,” he added.

Brandon did not respond to follow-up questions regarding his relationship.

Brandon’s departure comes after the Bills made a big splash in the first round of the draft by trading up to select both Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen with the seventh pick, and Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds with the 16th pick. The new additions join a Bills team that went 9-7 and ended a 17-year playoff drought last year.

On Saturday, the last-place Sabres earned a boost by winning the NHL draft lottery and the right to the No. 1 pick for the third time in franchise history.

“We have a tremendous amount of confidence in the strong leadership team we have built within each of these entities over the last several years,” the statement from the Pegulas read. “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.”

Brandon most recently served as the Bills managing partner, was the Sabres alternate on the NHL’s board of governors and a member of the NFL’s business ventures committee.

The timing of Brandon’s exit comes at a time he was supposed to the Bills’ next big venture in determining their future home. Brandon was expected to lead the team’s stadium search committee in deciding whether the Bills should continue playing at their current home or develop a new facility in downtown Buffalo.

He served in various roles with the Bills, involving both marketing and football decisions during a two-year stint as general manager from 2008-09. He also took the lead in negotiating the Bills most recent lease five years ago, which played a critical role in securing the franchise’s long-term future in Buffalo especially following late-Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson’s death in March 2014.

The lease included a strict non-relocation clause that included a $400 million penalty the team would be forced to pay if it considered moving before 2020.

Brandon also oversaw the Bills’ eventual sale to the Pegulas, who completed their $1.4 billion purchase of the franchise in October 2014.

The Pegulas retained Brandon and elevated him to the role of managing partner. The Pegulas thought so highly of Brandon, the Sabres were added to his responsibilities after the team reached a mutual agreement to part ways with Ted Black in July 2015.

Brandon’s resignation continues a large turnover of Bills executives who served under Wilson. Bruce Popko is the senior holdover and now becomes the top executive as chief operating officer of Buffalo-based Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which oversees the Pegulas’ numerous holdings.

Brandon grew up in nearby Syracuse, New York, and began making his mark in Buffalo shortly after being hired by the Bills in 1997 to serve as the team’s business development and marketing director.

He began by spearheading a campaign to transform them into a regional team by expanding the franchise’s fan base to offset Buffalo’s dropping population base.

That process began in 2000, when the team shifted training camp to Brandon’s alma mater, St. John Fisher College in suburban Rochester, to capitalize on the community’s corporate and larger population base.

Later, the Bills boosted their presence across southern Ontario by negotiating a deal to begin playing annual regular season games in Toronto starting in 2008. The “Bills In Toronto” series lasted through 2013 before the deal was placed on hold the following year and then terminated by the Pegulas.

Toronto-based media giant, Rogers Communications, paid the Bills $78 million to essentially lease eight games (five regular season and three preseason) during the initial five-year agreement. The price was almost double what the Bills were projected to generate if those games were played at their home facility.

The series also spurred a large bump in season-ticket purchases from across the border. By 2015, the Bills estimated southern Ontario fans accounted for about 18 per cent of their season-ticket sales, surpassing their support from Rochester.

Not everything succeeded under Brandon, who drew criticism for a number of decisions, including failing to build a winner during his two-year stint as the Bills GM when Wilson elected to promote from within the organization after Marv Levy stepped down following a two-year tenure.

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