A very hot topic around the 2017 Buffalo Bills front office has been, “Who is this Russ Brandon character that has been around during the entire drought?” Well, let’s dive into this question. Much has been made about what Brandon actually does among fans who are desperate to find the reason for the Bills’ sustained lack of success.
Russ Brandon was originally employed by the Bills in 1997, so the team has indeed made the playoffs since Brandon has been on board. There is more evidence that the stadium being built atop an old cemetery (or maybe *gasp* Tom Brady) has much more to do with the drought than Russ Brandon.
Next, the question that pops up immediately before we go any further is this: What exactly does Russ Brandon do? Does the Bills fanbase have the right to go into Terry and Kim Pegula’s office and ask what he does? After all, the fans pay good money, and all they’ve gotten in return this millennium is mediocrity. Naturally, they demand answers! Let’s take a closer look at the enigmatic role of Russ Brandon.
As quoted from The Buffalo News’ interview with Bills owner Terry Pegula –
“Russ might like to look at how scouts break down film for the same reasons I do, because I find it fascinating and I enjoy it. I’ll be there while they’re watching film, but that doesn’t mean I’m evaluating players. But inside the football tower [Pegula positions his hands as if holding an orb] are the owners, the coach and the GM, working tightly together. We help them with whatever they need. They work in unison, and if Doug Whaley wants to walk down the hall and ask Russ Brandon a question, he’s totally free to do that. If Russ wants to come down the hall to talk to Doug or the coach, we encourage that. That’s a good, healthy organization.”
Russ Brandon oversees PSEs (Pegula Sports and Entertainment’s) entire operation. He is the president of the Bills, Sabres, and the AHL’s Rochester Americans. He also manages the hotel, restaurant and music entities that fall under the PSE business operation. Surely during his duties coordinating Kelsea Ballerini’s tour schedule, he’s encouraging rogue GM Doug Whaley to draft Kolby Listenbee with the Bills 6th round draft choice. That’s after he ignores medical information and pushes the Bills to draft Shaq Lawson 19th overall, after of course deciding the nightly specials at (716) Food and Spirt at HarborCenter. You get the picture. Clearly, I think the Bills fanbase has used Russ Brandon as a scapegoat for many decisions in which he really played no part.
But enough about what Brandon doesn’t do. What does he do?
Russ was a behind the scenes executive until the Bills handcuffed themselves by giving Marv Levy the GM job in 2006, following Tom Donahoe’s departure. In early 2008, Ralph Wilson decided to Elevate Brandon to a COO role, with the duties of overseeing the Bills’ football and business operations. Following the 2009 season, Buddy Nix was elevated to the Bills GM, making him responsible for handling all football operations. Russ was pushed back to his familiar role of leading Bills business and marketing.
The Bills have had back to back years with their highest ticket sales since the 90s, and they are getting their share of the NFL’s TV revenue. Russ has been great for the Bills’ bottom line. This is what we are looking for out of your PSE president, isn’t it? As is commonly forgotten, football is a business, and a grossly profitable one, at that. Don’t we remember the days of penny pinching and playing cash-to-cap? Russ Brandon helped sell the Bills for 1.7 billion dollars. He made the Wilsons’ estate a ton of money and helped keep the team in Buffalo. He helped work out the Erie County lease deal that basically blocked anyone from moving the Bills and immediately earned respect from his new bosses.
Brandon runs all executive meetings. He’s the point of contact for major sponsorship deals (e.g. La Nova, St. John Fisher, New Era, etc.). He’s delegating marketing and sales responsibilities to his team, deciding on revenue streams (what is the best way to sell merchandise, properly market tickets), working with key members like Jim Overdorf and Jeffery Littmann to put together proper budgets, and being available to the Pegulas, Doug Whaley, and Tim Murray whenever they need something. He’s involved in major business expansion ideas from PSE. New buildings are always being purchased and ideas are being discussed. He hires executives for each segment of the business (not just the head coach of the football team). These are vitally important tasks in which presidents of many large corporations participate. He works the business side of things, and he works it a lot.
I have it on strong authority that Russ Brandon is highly regarded within the Bills’ front office, and that there is very little questioning his decisions and ability to do his job. He was liked by Ralph Wilson and staff, as well as Terry and Kim Pegula.
Russ Brandon was quoted saying this in Matthew Fairburn’s article on Syracuse.com:
“My goal was always to be a team president. My goal was never to be a GM. That’s never what I aspired to be. I didn’t come up that side of the business in scouting. I’m around it a lot. My job is to provide resources and tools for people to succeed on that front, but that’s where it stops. There were times that I had to fill voids within the organization based on how the structure was at that time. There were times I wasn’t all that comfortable with it, but you do what you need to do and surround yourself with great people. There hasn’t been a senior executive that I’ve worked here with that I haven’t enjoyed being around and learned from. That’s one of the things we’re very prideful of. We have some really good people here and a really good staff. It’s been an unbelievable ride from 1997 until now. To be in this capacity, there’s nothing more that I could have ever dreamt.”
He follows this up with –
“I’ve never drafted a player. I know I had the GM title, but I never drafted a player. That was the responsibility of the director of college scouting how we were structured then. We had a director of pro scouting. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but that’s how we were structured. I’ve never drafted a player. The funny thing is, the one draft that a lot of people pinned on me, it was a great draft with the exception of the first-round pick (Aaron Maybin in 2009). All that credit goes to Tom Modroff. That’s part of the business. I get a kick out of it sometimes.”
It’s easy to get caught up blaming the president of the entire PSE operation for day-to-day football activities. I mean, after all, he was in the draft room and did take pictures with Sammy Watkins. But that doesn’t he was the one who decided to cut Fred Jackson or Deonte Thompson.
As a marketing connoisseur myself, I can see why Brandon’s success in the Bills’ organization is of particular interest, but maybe we should take Terry Pegula at his word and let the Bills’ profitability speak for itself.