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Pegulas taking steps to deal with TV and digital media issues involving Bills and Sabres

This is what I’m thinking: Rumors have been flying for months in media circles about the future television and radio plans of the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills.

There has been speculation that owners Kim and Terry Pegula are considering starting up a regional sports network akin to the Empire Sports Network to televise their games and that they may move the radio rights of the teams.

It all may be as much about wishful thinking as anything because nobody really knows what is going on.

But now there is something concrete to report.

Pegula Sports and Entertainment (PSE) has hired a consultant, Allen & Co., to deal with the team’s media issues.

Mark Preisler, the executive vice president of media and content for PSE, confirmed that the company led by managing director Steve Greenberg has been hired to “evaluate the best path and strategy for media rights moving forward in TV and digital.”

The hiring of Allen & Co. should make one thing clear: All the rumors swirling around radio and TV rights for the teams are worth about as much now as a Ville Leino jersey.

“We don’t know what we are going to do yet,” said Preisler. “All options are open despite what you hear.”

If Greenberg’s name is familiar, it is for two reasons: He is the son of baseball great Hank Greenberg. He also was the consultant the Pegulas hired to oversee their successful pursuit of the Bills.

Greenberg co-founded the Classic Sports Network and has brokered sales or purchases of several Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association teams.

Allen & Co. won’t be involved in the radio plans for the teams, whose games currently air on sports station WGR. As previously reported, the Sabres contract has a year left, the Bills deal two years left.

The owners have some time to decide if it is best to have a deal with the same company, Entercom, to carry the games on the same radio station or if it would be better to have two separate deals with different companies.

There also has been speculation that the Sabres or Bills might land on a station that the owners lease to carry the games.

The primary concern of Greenberg’s company is the Sabres TV plans.

The Sabres deal with MSG has two more seasons to run. According to sources, the team will get a $10 million rights fee in the contract’s final season and keep all advertising revenue, which could approach another $3-$5 million annually. MSG gets its money from subscriber fees from cable, satellite services and FiOS. The Sabres are the most attractive sports popularity for MSG subscribers here and in Rochester.

The $10 million would be a lot for a small market team to walk away from to start a new regional sports network, which would be an extremely expensive venture.

Additionally, the Sabres stand to get much more from MSG, Fox Sports, or some other cable partner after the current deal ends.

While the Sabres television ratings have dropped 40 percent in the last two last-place seasons to a 4.1 average for the 2014-15 season, the team’s ratings reportedly remain in the top six in the National Hockey League.

And things should return to normal soon with the likely acquisition of No. 2 draft pick Jack Eichel, the development of young players in the organization and the acquisition of free agents.

By the time the MSG deal is done, the Sabres should be a hot TV commodity again and the current rights fee it gets should skyrocket. If it does, you can probably kiss any thought of a regional sports network goodbye.

Greenberg’s company won’t have as big a task determining the value of the Bills television plans because the NFL controls all regular season games. The team has the rights to sell its preseason games, with Channel 7 currently owning the rights. The Bills also can sell special programming involving the team.

While we are on the sports beat, the Pegula Sports Network has hired Michelle Girardi Zumwalt as a senior producer for all PSE entities. A 2000 graduate of Nardin Academy and a 2004 graduate of St. John Fisher College, she has been with NFL Films for the past decade and is heavily involved in the upcoming “30 for 30” film on the Bills teams that lost four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s.


ESPN has confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in Western New York: The network is planning to carry the “30 for 30” film on the Buffalo Bills.

It really is old news. Buffalo News sports columnist Jerry Sullivan first let out the secret in an Aug. 1 column when retired Bills quarterback Jim Kelly was being interviewed by the film’s producers.

But the sports network made it news again this morning when it showed some clips at an upfront presentation to advertisers in New York City.

However, ESPN didn’t reveal any details about the film or say when it is expected to air.

According to sources, the sports network is expected to air the film before the 2016 Super Bowl.


It doesn’t look like too many Western New Yorkers will be mourning the death of “American Idol” after the 2016 edition. The program averaged ratings in the 20s on Fox affiliate WUTV in its heyday, but they have fallen as hard as Sabres ratings in recent years.

The performance finale Tuesday had a 5.5 rating on WUTV and the Wednesday episode that announced Nick Fradiani as the winner of season 14 had about a 7.1 rating.

Those remain decent ratings by Fox standards locally. But the series no longer has any buzz and I imagine its expenses are much higher than most series just because of the salaries paid to host Ryan Seacrest and judges Jennifer Lopez, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban and the production company. You could say the iconic series was a salary cap casualty.

Similarly, “CSI” was a salary cap casualty for CBS, which kept the lower-rated and presumably less expensive spinoff “CSI: Cyber.”

“Empire,” the biggest winner of the season for Fox, was helped somewhat by its “Idol” lead-in on Wednesday. It will return next season with 18 episodes in two parts separated by a fall cliffhanger. It would have been better if the season had 22 episodes, the normal TV run until recently.


Now it is time to reflect on the preseason broadcast networks winners and losers that I predicted before the TV season began last fall.

ABC’s “Forever” was the only one of my five best new series choices to be canceled. “Gotham,” “The Flash,” “Black-ish” and “How to Get Away with Murder” have all been renewed.

The only series on my worst list to survive was NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura,” which got a last-minute reprieve despite its lousy demographics. “The McCarthys,” “Bad Judge,” “Mulaney” and “Stalker” all were deservedly canceled.


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