On Monday, the XFL announced its executive leadership team, including new President Russ Brandon and several other significant hires, in preparation for the league’s official launch.
In his role as President, Russ Brandon will be tasked with managing the league’s day-to-day operations while directing strategic planning for business and football operations on both the league and team levels.
But who is Russ Brandon? And why do Dany Garcia, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Gerry Cardinale of RedBird Capital Partners believe he is the right man for the job?
Currently 54 years old, Russ Brandon has held many executive roles throughout the world of sports but is most famous for his 21-year career with the Buffalo Bills.
After graduating from Saint John Fisher College in New York, Russ Brandon landed a position as the Director of Public Relations for the Rochester Red Wings, a minor league baseball team of the Washington Nationals. Before leaving the team in 1993, he’d work his way up to the role of Co-General Manager and was inducted into the team’s ‘Walk of Fame’ in 2013.
The Frontier Field ‘Walk of Fame’ has existed since 1997 and is dedicated to honoring Rochester sports icons such as coaches, players, management, and media who have positively impacted the Rochester Sports Community.
Brandon held a position with the New York Yankees in a marketing role for a brief stint before landing a front-office job with the then Florida Marlins. He’d spend four years in the Marlins front office and was part of the 1997 World Series Championship team.
Only six days after winning the World Series in 1997, Brandon would leave the Marlins and join the Buffalo Bills organization as the Executive Director of Business Development, getting promoted to Vice President of Business Development two years later.
In 2006, Brandon earned the role of Vice President of Business Operations for the Bills. Shortly after his promotion, he’d become a key figurehead in the ‘Bills in Toronto Series,’ which was aimed to help regionalize the Bills in Southwest Ontario.
The team signed a $78 Million deal with Rogers Communications for Toronto to host one game per year from 2008-2013, as well as 3 preseason games. While the series is widely regarded as a failure, Brandon would go on the record stating that in 5 years, the team had seen growth go from 11% of the fan base being from the greater Toronto area, to over 20% of their fans being from that area.
In 2008, Brandon assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer and a year later, In 2009, he’d add the title of General Manager, replacing Marv Levy. His string of promotions would continue the following year when he became the team’s Chief Executive Officer in 2010.
One of his many notable ventures with the organization includes helping negotiate the 2012 stadium lease among the Bills, Erie County, and New York State.
By around that time, Bills owner Ralph Wilson’s health had drastically declined to the point where it was too difficult to make regular trips to the Bills facilities from his home in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan. Because he was unable to travel, Wilson requested Brandon visit him at his home in Michigan, where Wilson told him he’d be appointing him as President and CEO of the Buffalo Bills. An official announcement would come on New Years Day in 2013, giving Brandon complete control of the franchise and making him the 3rd person to ever serve as the Bill’s President after Ralph Wilson and Tom Donahoe.
Some of Russ Brandon’s most important work for the Bills organization would come following Ralph Wilson’s death in March of 2014. When the future of the Bills organization was up in the air, with fans convinced their team could be relocating, Russ Brandon oversaw all team operations during the process of the team’s sale and transition to new ownership, including conducting the search for a new owner.
In September of 2014, it was announced that Terry and Kim Pegula had placed the winning bid to purchase the Buffalo Bills for $1.4 Billion, outbidding Donald Trump as well as a group backed by Toronto money and fronted by Jon Bon Jovi. The Pegula family also holds ownership of the Buffalo Sabres (NHL), Rochester Americans (AHL), Buffalo Bandits (NLL), Rochester Knighthawks (NLL), and Pegula Sports and Entertainment.
Once the Pegula family officially took ownership of the Bills organization, Russ Brandon’s control of the franchise reached it’s peak. The Pegula family parted ways with former Sabres President Ted Black in July of 2015, and on top of his existing roles, Russ Brandon was given Ted Black’s role of Sabres President, also being made President of the Rochester Americans, and given the additional title of Managing Partner of Pegula Sports and Entertainment.
Despite the change in title, Brandon did not receive a partnership stake in the Sabres, unlike his predecessor Larry Quinn, who owned a share of the Sabres in his time as a managing partner.
After spending 21 years with the Buffalo Bills, Russ Brandon announced his resignation from Pegula Sports and Entertainment in May of 2018 amidst allegations of workplace misconduct. A report in ‘The Buffalo News’ claimed Brandon had been subject to an internal investigation regarding inappropriate relationships with female employees. However, neither the Bills nor Russ Brandon mentions that in their statements.
In an announcement made to the press, Brandon stated,
“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.”
Since his resignation from Pegula Sports and Entertainment, Russ Brandon has worked as an advisor to RedBird Capital Partners.
With his exemplary background in sports management, there should be no question as to why Russ Brandon has been on Dany Garcia, Dwayne Johnson, and Gerry Cardinale’s radar. Whether or not Brandon is the right man for the job is something only time will tell.
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