PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins may soon be under new ownership.
Fenway Sports Group is in “advanced talks” to purchase the team, it was first reported on Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal. The deal could be completed as early as this week. No terms have been revealed.
Former Penguin Hall of Fame center Mario Lemieux and businessman Ron Burkle have owned the Penguins since 1999, when they rescued the team from bankruptcy and a possible move out of Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Lemieux will remain part of the ownership group, likely as a minority owner, while Burkle will sell his controlling stake to FSG. Longtime CEO/president David Morehouse is expected to remain, as is COO/general counsel Kevin Acklin.
The NHL Board of Governors must approve the sale.
FSG is a holdings company that owns the Boston Red Sox and the Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League. The principal owner is John W. Henry, who purchased the Red Sox in 2002 and owns The Boston Globe. Other partners include billionaire brothers Ted and Bill Alfond and television producer Tom Werner. Earlier this year, NBA superstar LeBron James and his longtime business partner Maverick Carter became partners in FSG after previously owning a small stake in Liverpool FC.
After the Penguins declared bankruptcy in 1998 under previous owners Howard Baldwin and Roger Marino, there was no way for Lemieux to collect the millions in deferred salary he was owed by the team. He acquired about 35 percent of the club for $5 million in cash and $20 million in deferred money he was still owed. Burkle joined as the team’s top investor.
“Ron is one of the main reasons we still have hockey in Pittsburgh. If I was not able to buy the Penguins and have Ron as our top investor, I don’t think the Penguins would be here today,” Lemieux said of Burkle, according to the team’s website. “He’s a great guy and a very smart businessman. He loves Pittsburgh. He loves the Penguins. I think people should know that.”
During the Lemieux and Burkle era, the Penguins have won three Stanley Cups while making four Stanley Cup Final appearances. Ownership was instrumental in the construction of a new arena, which opened in October 2010.
According to a Forbes estimate from Dec. 2020, the Penguins are valued at $650 million, a large jump from the $264 million at which the team was valued in 2011. While the Penguins are the 11th-most valuable NHL franchise, the team suffered financial losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, the club defended accepting a $4.8 million loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, which was geared to help small businesses stay open during the pandemic.
The team’s 14-year sellout streak ended on Oct. 19 after 633 consecutive sellouts dating back to the days of Mellon Arena.