As Buffalo Bills fans know all too well, there is never a dull moment at One Bills Drive. The dust had just settled on the team’s controversial 2018 NFL Draft, coupled with the annual plucking of undrafted free agent hopefuls. There would assuredly be a lull in Bills related activity until the team’s rookie mini-camp commenced in mid-May, right? Wrong.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Buffalo News first reported the surprising resignation of Bills president, Russ Brandon.
— The Buffalo News (@TheBuffaloNews) May 1, 2018
Brandon was not only the president of the Bills, he was also a managing partner that oversaw all of Pegula Sports and Entertainment’s subsidiaries, which includes the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bandits, among others.
The organization has appointed co-owner, Kim Pegula as Brandon’s successor.
A Look at What Led to Russ Brandon Resignation
The abrupt resignation of Brandon is head-scratching from a timing perspective. Things were seemingly in full accord in Buffalo. The team had recently buried their soul-crushing 17-year playoff drought and are now on the precipice of freeing themselves from salary cap purgatory.
The “trust the process” movement has been fully adopted by Bills players and fans alike, and the team was finally starting to do things the right way. General manager Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott have become the face(s) of the organization, with Brandon playing a more hands-off role in the distance. This has not always been the case for Brandon.
Brandon’s Turbulent History
Brandon began his sports management career as the co-general manager of the Rochester Red Wings minor league baseball club in 1990. He then traversed to the marketing side of things with the New York Yankees and finally landed a front office role as part of the 1997 World Series champion, Florida Marlins. It was shortly thereafter that Bills founder and owner, the late Ralph Wilson, offered Brandon a predominantly marketing focused role for his first foray into professional football.
Ascending Through the Ranks
With the instability of existing in a smaller market that lacks corporate supplementation, Wilson entrusted in Brandon the role of augmenting the team’s luxury suite sales as well as growing the team’s overall brand. The team had recently signed a new 15-year lease at then Rich Stadium, and Brandon’s newly assigned tasks were aimed to help keep the Bills viable in Buffalo.
Brandon made such a good impression on Wilson that he was promoted to director of non-football operations in 2006. Shortly thereafter, Brandon was a key figurehead in embarking on one of the team’s least memorable initiatives – the Bills in Toronto Series. Aimed to regionalize the Bills to their neighbors in Southwest Ontario, the team signed a lucrative $78 million deal with Rogers Communications for Toronto to host one regular-season per year from 2008-13, as well as three-preseason games.
The series was a calamity. From overpriced tickets to disgruntled Bills players who felt uninspired to call the yearly trek to Toronto a true home-field advantage, neither side was a true winner in the deal. Although widely regarded as a colossal failure, Brandon tried to find some silver lining upon the series being terminated in 2014, “In five years we have seen that growth go from 11 percent of our fanbase from the GTA to over 20 percent”, Brandon told Toronto’s 680 News.
Brandon Gains Full Control
It was during the tail-end of the Bills in Toronto Series that Brandon’s ascent further hemorraghed. In January of 2013, Brandon was promoted as Bills president and CEO with full authority of all team operations. With the ailing health and eventual passing of Wilson, Brandon began to serve as the team’s representative at the NFL’s Owners meetings.
Once Terry and Kim Pegula took ownership of the Bills in Sept. of 2014, Brandon’s control reached its zenith. He was given the added role of president of the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL as well as the Rochester Americans of the AHL. This culminated in Brandon being given the added title of managing partner of Pegula Sports and Entertainment.
Brandon Relinquishes Control (and Respect?)
Upon Brandon’s abrupt resignation, rumors have begun to swirl that he had engaged in misconduct within the organization and, as a result, a formal investigation would be conducted. Although these dubious claims are yet to be substantiated, where there is smoke, there is usually fire.
Owners, Terry and Kim Pegula made the following formal announcement on Brandon’s resignation via their Twitter page:
A statement from Terry and Kim Pegula. pic.twitter.com/nMRqDDl8CV
— Pegula Sports & Entertainment (@PegulaSE) May 1, 2018
Amid all of the rumors, Brandon released the following statement that was obtained by NFL Network’s Mike Garofalo:
“I have been contemplating transitioning out of my role for some time. My goal when the Pegula’s purchased the franchise was to reach 20 years with the Bills in which I achieved this past November. Given where we are from a timing standpoint, particularly with the conclusion of the NFL Draft, now seems like the time to make that transition. As grateful as I am for the amazing experience and the incredible people I’ve had the privilege to work with the past two decades, I am just as anxious for the professional opportunities that lie ahead.”
Never a dull moment, I tell you.