Terry and Kim Pegula are again expanding their sports empire.
The Pegulas, who purchased the National Lacrosse League's 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. We're very proud to contribute again to the Western New York and Rochester community by keeping the team here."
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 he's spent years building while keeping a historic franchise intact.
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.
According to a news release, Pegula Sports and Entertainment will provide $1.5 million for the scoreboard.
"With Terry and Kim's investment there, we've begun to create a system that is much like Buffalo," Pegula Sports and Entertainment COO Bruce Popko said. "We really think we're going to do a lot to enhance the fan experience each and every day when people are coming by."
— Pegula Sports & Entertainment (@PegulaSE) September 13, 2018
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 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, 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 League's 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.
"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.
"The Knighthawks almost won it all last year," New York State senator Joe Robach said. "I don't know how they could leave, but we're glad we're having a new franchise. There's a great fan base here."
The National Lacrosse League kicks off its 33rd season on Dec. 1, with the Bandits opening at home against the Toronto Rock.