Buffalo Sabres owners buy NWHL franchise

After partnering with an NHL club three months ago, the National Women's Hockey League broke historic ground again on Thursday.

The Buffalo Beauts were purchased by Pegula Sports and Entertainment Group and will be the first NWHL franchise to be owned and operated by outside owners. PSE, headed by Terry and Kim Pegula, owns each other Buffalo area sports franchise, including the NHL's Sabres, NFL's Bills and National Lacrosse League's Bandits.

"This is an unbelievable step for not only the women on the Beauts and the league, but for women's sports," commissioner Dani Rylan said. "I couldn't be more excited to bring in such an unbelievable ownership group and be welcomed into the PSE family."

The Beauts are one of the original four members of the NWHL and are the reigning Isobel Cup champions after upsetting the Boston Pride in 2017. For the past three seasons, the franchise has played its games at Buffalo's HarborCenter, which the Pegulas operate.

Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Riveters signed a three-year partnership with the New Jersey Devils, which offered financial growth, marketing and visibility. The Pegulas will outright own the Beauts franchise. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

The Pegula group is worth more than $1 billion across its sports franchises, offering a boost for the NWHL, in its third season.

"We want to contribute to the growth of women's hockey," said PSE CEO and president Kim Pegula. "HarborCenter has allowed us to make a positive impact on the game at the amateur, high school and collegiate levels, and we believe this is the perfect time to expand our reach to include women's professional hockey through the NWHL. This sport provides outstanding opportunities, and we are committed to helping extend those opportunities to females of all ages."

PSE will have full control of the Beauts and are likely to cross-promote with their other franchises. While the Bills and Sabres are safely established franchises, the Bandits of the NLL are also widely considered among the most successful pro lacrosse teams in North America and have set NLL attendance records, largely because of cross-promotion with the other two clubs.

The NWHL, which averages salaries between $7,000 and $10,000, is expected to see a financial boost from the deal as well. Currently the league has just one sponsor, Dunkin Donuts, and makes the rest of its income from tickets and merchandise sales, along with compensation from the Devils deal.

The Pegulas will become the first independent owners of a team in the league, after the original four were operated by the league itself for the first 2½ seasons.

"This extraordinary commitment from Kim and Terry Pegula -- a complete acquisition of one of our founding four teams by NHL owners -- is a landmark moment for the NWHL, our players and fans, and women's hockey," Rylan said. "We thank Kim and Terry for believing in the Beauts and in the mission of our league to fuel the continued growth of our sport around the world. Supporters of women's hockey should take enormous pride in this significant step for our game." Rylan was brief about the possibility of an NHL partnership in Boston for the Pride franchise, saying there was "nothing" she could speak about "as of now."

Expansion also looms for the league, which has stated its goal of adding two more franchises over the next two seasons. Pittsburgh is a widely speculated contender, and the league is holding a neutral-site game there in January.

The Beauts host the Pride on Jan. 6 in the league's first game back from the holiday break. It will be their first game under PSE ownership.