PITTSBURGH — First the good news:
An iconic Pittsburgh sports franchise is being sold to a financially muscular corporate dynamo with an enviable record of accumulating championships.
Now the bad news:
It’s not the Pirates.
As of this column’s deadline, the Penguins of Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle were set to sell to Fenway Sports Group, operators of the Boston Red Sox and similar platinum franchises in multiple sports on multiple continents. The FSG board approved the deal unanimously Friday, and now it is sent to the NHL league office for approval.
Well, that’s wonderful.
Lemieux was said to be staying on as a minority ownership stake holder with primo seats, and Burkle — his L.A.-based cash source originally brought to the table by the late Pittsburgh super agent Tom Reich — was reportedly being offered a similar arrangement but might instead make a clean break. Either way, with a sale price expected to come in between $650 million and $900 million, he’ll be smilin’ like a butcher’s dog, to borrow a phrase.
Lemieux and Burkle bought the club out of bankruptcy in 1999 for a little more than $106 million.
The Penguins-Fenway Sports Group transition is historic in one sense, that being it’s an outlier in Pittsburgh’s long tradition of selling its pro sports franchises only during four alarm financial fires. Twice since 1999, the hockey team successfully traversed an economic tight rope with no net just to get the right cash flow bricolage in place to remain in the city.
Three times since the mid-80s, the Pirates managed essentially the same metaphorical stunt, moving from the Galbreaths into the hands of a consortium of Pittsburgh business titans who could hardly wait to unload it on Kevin McClatchy. McClatchy, even after successfully arm-twisting into existence PNC Park as the only way to field a competitive baseball team in the future (The House Untruth Built), eventually shoved it off on Bob Nutting, who agreed to everything except the competitive baseball team part.