Go back one page...

AP source: Bills, Sabres president Brandon leaving teams

By JOHN WAWROW | AP Sports Writer

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) A person with direct knowledge of the decision tells The Associated Press that Buffalo Bills and Sabres president Russ Brandon is leaving his post in a major shake-up made by the teams' owners, Terry and Kim Pegula.

It was not immediately unclear whether Brandon is stepping down or being fired. An announcement is expected later Tuesday, the person said.

The person spoke to The AP on the condition of anonymity because the teams have not announced Brandon's departure.

Brandon spent 20 years with the Bills in various roles, from marketing to 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 competed their $1.4 billion purchase of the franchise in October 2014.

The Pegulas retained Brandon and elevated him to the role of managing partner upon completing their $1.4 billion purchase of the Bills in October 2014. 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 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 is curious, given his role in overseeing both franchises as well as being responsible for heading 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.

Brandon's departure 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.

Rochester is centrally located between Buffalo and Syracuse. The Bills previously held camp at the far more rural Fredonia College, about a 45-minute drive south of Buffalo.

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.

While the games in Toronto didn't sell out and lacked the vibrant atmosphere the Bills enjoy at Orchard Park, New York, the team benefited from playing in Canada's largest city and financial capital.

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 percent 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.

Brandon eventually hired GM Buddy Nix and stepped aside to focus on overseeing the franchise while Wilson's health began to fail.

---

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL