By Bill Hoppe
After Terry Pegula purchased the Buffalo Sabres in 2011, he was listed as the team’s sole owner. His wife, Kim, quickly became a visible presence as the new regime reshaped the organization, but she had no formal title.
Then over the next year or two, some of the team’s higher-ups began mentioning the Pegulas together. Terry and Kim. Her influence was clearly growing.
In 2014, the Pegulas purchased the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. By then, Kim Pegula was morphing into one of the most powerful women in major professional sports. She had already tackled huge projects with the Sabres and other Pegula entities, including the $170 million HarborCenter facility connected to KeyBank Center that has helped rejuvenate Buffalo’s waterfront.
Still, she never held a title with the Sabres until 2018, when she took over as president of the NHL team and the Bills, becoming the first woman to earn the dual role. She is also a co-owner of both teams.
Today, she is the most recognizable woman in Buffalo.
“He has never once ever doubted I could handle whatever got thrown our way,” Kim Pegula said on the On Her Turf podcast in 2018. “Sometimes when I didn’t think I could handle things, he always threw it at me and just figured, ‘You know what, she’ll either learn, sink or swim, whatever. And I give him a lot of credit. We’ve always been great partners.”
Having been abandoned by her birth parents on a street corner in South Korea, Kim Pegula’s story resembles a rags-to-riches fairy tale. She lived in an orphanage until she was five, when a couple from Fairport, N.Y., a village about 90 minutes east of Buffalo, adopted her.
Pegula, now 51, met her future husband by chance in the early 1990s, when she was applying for waitress job at restaurant in Olean, N.Y., according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. They married in 1993 and have three children.
After Terry Pegula sold assets of East Resources, a Pennsylvania-based oil and natural gas company, for $4.7 billion in 2010, he bought the Sabres from Tom Golisano.
Terry Pegula famously promised the Sabres’ primary goal would be to win the Stanley Cup and money would never be a problem, igniting excitement throughout the region.
But the Sabres have been downright awful under the Pegulas, making the playoffs just once, way back in 2011. Their nine-year post-season drought is the NHL’s longest. They’ve finished dead last three times during that ghastly stretch while developing a reputation for dysfunction.
The same team that had a season-ticket waiting list not long ago now struggles to fill the building many nights. Fair or not, much of the team’s disgruntled fan base has directed its ire toward Kim Pegula.
The Sabres have burned through six coaches and three general managers and spent tens of millions of dollars in dead money – buyouts and firings – trying to field a winner. Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine, a Sabres icon, lasted less than four months as president of hockey operations in 2013-14 before resigning. Nothing has worked.
Meanwhile, the Bills, whose 17-year playoff drought ended in 2017, have become one of the NFL’s heavyweights.
“On the Bills side, it took us several times there,” Kim Pegula said after the Sabres dismissed GM Jason Botterill on June 16.
In June, shortly after Pegula told the Associated Press that Botterill would return for his fourth season, the Sabres fired him and gutted their hockey staff, letting go 21 other members.
They replaced Botterill with Kevyn Adams, a neophyte who earned the Pegulas’ trust working in roles outside the hockey department. They wanted to eliminate the disconnect they had with Botterill and become a leaner organization.