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First Niagara, Sabres feel they're part of a hot team as bank aquires arena naming rights

John Koelmel, with a new Buffalo Sabres jersey nearby bearing his name, looked around and said the obvious: It's been a very good month for First Niagara Bank.

The bank, which took over 195 HSBC branches Aug. 1, took the next step in increasing its regional presence today by acquiring the naming rights to the Sabres' arena. The building at the foot of Washington Street is now known as First Niagara Center, with the team and bank agreeing on a 15-year deal.

"August has been a good month for us," Koelmel, president and CEO of First Niagara, said in the atrium of First Niagara Center. "The first of the month we proudly announced our transaction with HSBC, and I'm thrilled that we're relatively able to close the month with the second piece of the puzzle. It's a wonderful opportunity to partner with an organization that has been at the heart and soul of this community for the last 40-plus years."

Financial terms were not disclosed, but the deal brings the Sabres significantly more cash than their previous deal. HSBC bought the naming rights to the arena for $15 million as part of a 20-year deal in 1995 and reportedly paid another $9 million five years later to settle a lawsuit and put its new name on the arena.

"This is the most significant sponsorship agreement in the history of Western New York sports, both financially and the fact that it joins two of the hottest brands in our region," Sabres President Ted Black said.

First Niagara, which began as Lockport Savings Bank, has been aggressive in its expansion. It mirrors the aggressiveness of the Sabres under new owner Terry Pegula, and the sides were pleased to come together. Koelmel inquired about getting the naming rights during the latter stages of the negotiations with HSBC.

"We're incredibly proud that the First Niagara banner will be flying over the home ice for many years to come," Koelmel said. "As Ted said and I agree, it's two teams very much on the rise, two organizations committed to winning with top talents playing against the best in the business, and doing so with a determination to win, and also with a determination to ensure we mutually work together to provide leadership across this organization to make Buffalo and Western New York a better place to work and live."

The Sabres' goal is to have the transfer of the outdoor and indoor signage from HSBC Arena to First Niagara Center completed by the home opener Oct. 14.

Paul Cronin, executive vice president of HSBC Bank, said the latest transaction should not be taken as a sign the corporation is abandoning Western New York. He said the bank has signed a new lease for a suite in hockey arena and is preparing to refurbish HSBC Atrium, which is across the street from the arena.

"The naming rights here are a natural progression from the transaction that we announced earlier in the month with First Niagara," said Cronin. "We will continue to have a strong presence here in Buffalo and in Western New York. Our community involvement will continue to be strong and our businesses here, our commercial banking business, our global banking businesses, our private banking business."

---John Vogl

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl |

About Sabres Edge

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

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