Lemieux, the former Penguins star and Hall of Famer, and his investors bought the Penguins in federal bankruptcy court in 1999. They first put the team up for sale in 2005, but a proposed buyout by venture capitalist William (Boots) Del Biaggio III – a friend of Lemieux’s – fell through.
Three months ago, Lemieux and partner Ron Burkle negotiated an estimated US$175-million sale of the 40-year-old franchise to Canadian businessman Jim Balsillie, but he pulled out within a few days of the planned closing date. He apparently balked at the NHL’s insistence that he couldn’t move the franchise even if an arena agreement wasn’t reached.
Selling the Penguins would have allowed Lemieux, one of the most popular athletes in Pittsburgh history, to escape blame if the team had relocated. The Penguins were free to move after their Mellon Arena lease expires in June – possibly to Kansas City, with Del Biaggio as the owner – but a deal to build a new $290-million arena in Pittsburgh was finalized Tuesday.
With young stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, the Penguins figure to be a contending franchise for years and Lemieux prefers to keep his stake in the team.
“We went through a lot the last few years and we see that the team is turning around and we want to be part of it,” Lemieux said. “Ron wants to be part of it, the ownership group wants to be part of it and I want to be part of it.”
Lemieux became the first star athlete to buy the major pro sports team he once played for when he leveraged the more than $25 million owed him by the franchise in deferred compensation into a large stake in the team.
“I’ve said for years my goal was to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh and win the Stanley Cup,” Lemieux said. “We have one out of two. It’s a good start.”