Could Pegula Sports and Entertainment own both sides of one of the fiercest rivalries in the National Lacrosse League?
The Pegulas, who have owned the Buffalo Bandits since 2011, are in line to add a Rochester-based NLL team to their stable of sports franchises according to a report from Inside Lacrosse. The question is whether it will be the Knighthawks or a new organization.
The original report stated that league sources had told IL that current Knighthawks owner Curt Styres would sell the team to PSE. Styres would then be awarded an expansion team in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a long-rumored landing spot for the NLL.
However, Styres reportedly now wants to move the Knighthawks to Halifax, allowing him to keep the championship-caliber team he built instead of starting over from scratch. In that case, the Pegulas would be awarded an expansion franchise in Rochester.
Either way, the NLL would have to rescind a previous rule that prohibited owners from operating more than one franchise.
Those involved in the situation have been tight-lipped. Rochester Knighthawks Vice President of Player Personnel Jody Gage told The News there is nothing to report at this time. A PSE spokesman said he had no comment.
The Bandits responded with a short statement.
"Other than congratulating the Knighthawks on a great season and commending Curt on being one of the best owners in the NLL, there's nothing else for us to say about Rochester," Bandits Director of Lacrosse Operations Scott Loffler said.
NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz did not respond to an email from The News, but issued the following statement to Inside Lacrosse on Saturday.
“The NLL is growing as a result of a growth strategy that has been evolving over the last 24 months. We are fortunate to have great partners in Curt Styres and PSEG who operate great organizations and first-class franchises. Both remain committed league owners and they are both very much in our long-term plans going forward. They are both committed to growing the NLL as we focus on executing our five-year strategy for expansion.”
If the Pegulas were awarded an expansion franchise in Rochester, it would likely not be for the upcoming season. This year's expansion draft, which includes the Philadelphia Wings and San Diego Seals, is set for July 16.
Rochester would be the second franchise to change hands this offseason if a sale is completed before the 2018-19 season kicks off. The Vancouver Stealth, who have played in Langley, B.C., since 2013, were acquired by the Vancouver Canucks on Monday. They'll relocate from the Langley Events Centre to the downtown Rogers Arena under a new name next season.
A sale to the Pegulas would also give PSE ownership of the only two consistent tenants of Blue Cross Arena, providing leverage when it comes to renovations or construction of a potential new arena. Last month, arena officials announced plans for an update to the venue using grant money. Improvements to the restrooms and locker rooms are expected this summer with more substantial changes to follow.
PSE purchased the Rochester Americans in 2011. Along with the Bandits, the Pegulas own the Bills, Sabres and Beauts of the National Women's Hockey League.
The Knighthawks, founded in 1995, are one of the most successful franchises in the history of the NLL. Rochester has won five titles, including three in a row from 2012 to 2014, and represented the East Division in this year's NLL Finals. Styres, who previously sold the Americans to the Pegulas, has owned the franchise since 2008. He also serves as the Knighthawks' CEO, COO and general manager.
Sakiewicz has experienced ownership groups controlling multiple franchises before. He joined the NLL in 2016 after a lengthy career as an executive in Major League Soccer, which didn't steer away from owners running multiple teams until the mid-2000s.
Sakiewicz said in March on the "Off the Crossbar" podcast that he would not be opposed to an ownership group owning more than one team, but it would start to get uncomfortable if a group owned more than that.
"Frankly, having multiple owners that owned multiple teams was a huge benefit (in MLS)," Sakiewicz said. "At one point, the Anschutz owned six of the 10 MLS teams. I wouldn't advocate for that. That's something that is uncomfortable, in my opinion, for a lot of different reasons. If there's an opportunity to be strategic about a particular market with a great owner, then I think it's great. It just shows more confidence in the existing owners of the league."
The NLL grew to 11 teams this year with the addition of San Diego and Philadelphia. Sakiewicz said in his state of the league address last week that he sees a path to 14 teams before 2021 and 30 teams in the next 10 to 12 years.