Legends expands WNY presence

Legends is stepping deeper into the Western New York sports market.

Meanwhile, the Pegula family and their longtime and now former business partner and manager take another step away from each other.

Pegula Sports and Entertainment confirmed Friday that the Pegula family, which was the majority owner of ADPRO Sports, has sold the company to consulting group Legends, which is already a major player in the future Buffalo Bills stadium – leading sales of sponsorships and personal seat licenses.

ADPRO, a Cheektowaga-based company that sells branded and licensed merchandise and apparel, was founded by Ron Raccuia, who was also the Bills’ executive vice president and chief operating officer until he parted ways with the team Wednesday.

Ron Raccuia, speaker, has left the Buffalo Bills after several years working with owner Terry Pegula, left.

Derek Gee/Buffalo News

Raccuia sold a majority stake in ADPRO to Kim Pegula and her three children, Jessica, Kelly and Matthew, in 2017. He remained a minority shareholder and president of the company, and with Legend’s acquisition, he is leaving ADPRO.

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In a statement to The News on Friday afternoon, PSE said: “We are pleased to confirm that the Legends completed their purchase of ADPRO Sports earlier this week. We have had an ongoing partnership with the Legends for Bill’s new stadium project over the past several months. And while this sale is separate from the stadium deal, the Legends were impressed with our team and facility and have maintained that they will continue to invest and operate from Western New York.”

With the acquisition, the Legends’ presence in Western New York will include its work at Bills stadium, its contract to be the food and beverage supplier at the future Highmark Stadium and now the operation of ADPRO, which reported revenues of $28.71 million in 2021, according to Buffalo Business First.

Legends has more than 100 employees working on the stadium project, and ADPRO has a team of approximately 90 in Western New York. Between now and 2026, when the new Highmark Stadium is scheduled to open, the Legends’ hospitality division will also build a staff of about 30 managers and more than 2,000 gameday workers. Many, perhaps most, of those gameday employees will transfer from the current and longtime food and beverage provider, Delaware North, a Buffalo-based company that was a finalist for the new stadium contract but ultimately lost the bid to the Legends.

The Bills’ team store at the current Highmark Stadium is also operated by the Legends, who took over the store space from Delaware North in the spring.

In a statement, Kirta Carroll, the president of Legends Global Merchandise, said: “Legends’ merchandise business has experienced tremendous growth over the past few years, delivering e-commerce, on-site retail, major live events and brick-and-mortar stores for our partners globally. The acquisition of ADPRO Sports and the addition of their Western New York manufacturing facility will accelerate our licensing and wholesale business and expand our in-house manufacturing capabilities, which will better position us to provide an expanded range of premium merchandise products.” to our partners and their fans.”

Raccuia has not commented on his departure from the bills other than a brief statement issued Thursday.

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“For the past several years, I have been honored to work for the Pegula family and to serve as their business partner and lead director on the new stadium project,” the statement said. “Our work together has been fulfilling and I am so proud of all that we have achieved in the organizations. The time has come for new professional challenges and I am excited for what the future holds.

“As a lifelong Buffalo resident, it has been a blessing to work with the men and women of the Bills, Sabers and PSE. My family and I would like to personally thank the entire community for all the love and support they have shown us.”

A source told The News that Raccuia’s departure from his Bills executive role is unrelated to the sale of ADPRO, which provided the initial basis for his relationship with Kim and Terry Pegula. In the months after the couple bought the Buffalo Sabers in 2011, Raccuia met with Kim Pegula at the Buffalo Sabres’ offices to show her samples of branded apparel that ADPRO could provide for the hockey team’s upcoming European tour. He met Terry Pegula later that year.

“All relationships start on a personal level, and when the Pegulas first came here, my family and our businesses developed really good professional and personal relationships,” Raccuia told The News in a story published last April.

In the years that followed, both ADPRO and Pegulas’ presence in Buffalo grew. As ADPRO expanded its business, it purchased the naming rights to the Buffalo Bills training center in June 2014. (A team official told The News on Friday that the ADPRO Sports Training Center name is not under any imminent change.) In September 2014, the Pegulas made the winning bid to buy the Bills from the family of team founder Jral’s late Wilson.

In 2017, Kim Pegula and her children bought a majority stake in ADPRO, while Raccuia retained the title of president and, together with his partners, a minority stake.

Raccuia also joined the Bills as a director in 2017, and when Kim Pegula took over the team’s presidency the next year, he became one of her top lieutenants. When negotiations with the state of New York and Erie County for a new stadium in Orchard Park began in earnest in mid-2021, Raccuia was the main figure for the Bills. A year later, when Kim Pegula entered a long rehabilitation period after suffering cardiac arrest in June 2022, Raccuia essentially took over the running of the team.

When ground was broken on the future Highmark Stadium, which is across the street from the Bills’ current home in Orchard Park, Raccuia was one of the speakers on stage. The other was political and football heavyweights: Terry Pegula, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Governor Kathy Hochul and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

Now, with Terry Pegula taking over as team president and Sabers executive John Roth expanding his role to fill Raccuia’s former position, the sale of ADPRO appears to fully signal the end of the Raccuia-Pegula partnership.

“One of Ron’s legacies will be his leadership in making the new stadium a reality,” former New York Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy said in a text message to The News Friday night.

Duffy, who is executive director of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and chairman of Empire State Development’s Erie County Stadium Corp., described Raccuia as “great to work with” and “the consummate professional.”

He added, “The new Buffalo Bills stadium will be a world-class facility befitting a world-class team/organization… I wish Ron and his family all the best as he embarks on his next successful chapter.”

Follow Tim O’Shei on Twitter @timoshei.

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