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TAKEOVER BY RIGAS LIKELY TO SIMPLIFY COMPLICATED OWNERSHIP STRUCTURE

With John J. Rigas ready to take control of the Buffalo Sabres, the team's ownership structure would be greatly simplified.

Who owns and controls the team now?

That's a tricky question, with a complicated answer.

The original Seymour H. Knox III-led faction still holds six of the nine seats on the management board that operates the team. Rigas controls the other three seats.

Rigas and his Adelphia Communications Corp. own a large -- but not a majority -- share of the team. The company has pumped $37.8 million into the Sabres over the last three years, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Rigas group bought 34 percent of the team in 1994. Rigas and his company also loaned the Sabres additional money, and that debt could be converted into stock. If that happened, the Rigas group would own somewhere between 45 and 52 percent of the team, several sources said.

But as of today, Rigas does not own a majority of the team and does not control its management board.

"The original group continues to hold legal control and a majority of the economic interests of the franchise," one Sabres board member said.

A nine-member management board operates the Sabres, technically known as the Niagara Frontier Hockey Limited Partnership.

That board includes six members of the original Knox family ownership group -- Chairman Northrup R. Knox; Vice Chairmen Robert O. Swados and Robert E. Rich Jr.; Seymour H. Knox IV; Joseph T.J. Stewart; and George Strawbridge Jr. -- and three members of the Rigas family -- John J. Rigas and his sons, Michael J. and Timothy J.

Some of the Knox faction is expected to be bought out.

John Rigas also serves as chairman of the board's three-member Executive Committee, which also includes Swados and Northrup Knox. That committee, which meets infrequently, is designed to handle emergencies, when there's no time to go to the larger board.

So who made the big decisions over the summer and early fall that led to the departures of former coach Ted Nolan, former general manager John Muckler and star center Pat LaFontaine?

The Sabres traditionally have left player matters in the hands of the general manager. But the board obviously had to sign off on the LaFontaine trade, as well as Nolan's and Muckler's departures, sources said.

"Any major policy decision would be that of the management board," the board member said. "The greater the importance, the more it's necessary that the matter be discussed with the board."

In an interview on Empire Sports Network that aired between periods of the Sabres' Sunday night game against the New York Rangers, Lawrence Quinn, the team's president and chief executive officer, indicated that the ownership situation was more evolutionary than revolutionary.

"Whatever happens will be good," Quinn said. "It's just a question of which group ends up with predominant control. It's not like it's somebody we don't know. We know him and we like him. You don't worry about what you can't control, but there's nothing to worry about anyway."

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