Rooneys hope to finish ownership deal soon


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As if Ben Roethlisberger were running the hurry-up offense near the end of a game, the five Rooney brothers who own the bulk of the Steelers franchise are trying to beat the clock to settle their ownership issues over the next few weeks.

Four Rooney brothers are working on details of an agreement to sell their shares to brother Dan Rooney and his son, Art II, and to get NFL approval by the end of the year.

In order to do so, they need to present an agreement to the NFL in time for its finance committee to consider and then send it along to the league owners meeting scheduled Dec. 17 in Dallas.

The Rooneys thought they were close to a deal among themselves over the past two weeks, but it stalled recently as lawyers and family members haggle over specifics.

"Two Wednesdays ago, I thought we were starting to get this thing bundled up," said Art Rooney Jr., one of five brothers who each owns 16 percent of the ballclub. "But the devil's in the details; you look at things, go over them again and again and get advice."

The brothers want to have a sales agreement and get NFL approval for it by the end of 2008 because of the extra tax consequences they believe will be introduced retroactively to the beginning of 2009 by the new Obama presidential administration and Congress.

"There's a deadline because of this big tax situation," Art Rooney Jr. said. "It has to be settled in good time. I think everybody knows the clock is ticking; it's almost like a football game."

Said his brother Tim Rooney in an e-mail: "There are more than a few loose ends to be solved but are or should be doable. It is very important to solve the problem before the end of the year because of taxes."

The agreement the sides have been working on includes, according to Art. Jr., a gradual transfer of each brother's shares over a set number of years to Dan Rooney and his son, who have assembled a team of investors for the purchase. The specifics of those transfers are among the details still being worked on.

"It's working out certain details, nuances," Art Rooney Jr. said. "And you're working with five people, and you have your kids talking to you and your wives talking to you.

"I think it really gets down to the solid details to get straight."

The offer from team chairman Dan Rooney and his son Art, the club president, is the only one the other four Rooney brothers have considered over nearly two months.

"I think Dan is the last man standing," his brother, Art Jr., said, citing the economic downturn as a contributor to the lack of bidders for the franchise.

Four brothers -- Art Jr., Tim, Pat and John -- opened the bidding for their combined 64 percent of the franchise after they rejected an offer from billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller on Sept. 19.

Druckenmiller offered to purchase all four brothers' shares for $537 million and become majority owner and proposed having Dan Rooney and his son run the team.

Goldman Sachs, the four Rooney brothers' investment banker, did not produce another credible bidder, and the four brothers have negotiated exclusively with Dan and Art Rooney since, said Art Rooney Jr.

Discussions of a change in ownership have been ongoing for more than two years. The NFL pressed the issue when they urged the Rooneys to become compliant with league policies on two fronts: 1) To have an owner with at least a 30 percent stake in the franchise, which they have not had for at least 20 years, and 2) To either divest themselves of ownership in their two racetrack/casinos or in their ownership of the Steelers.

Dan Rooney has parted with his interest in the racetracks, and his brother Art Jr. nearly has done so as well. An NFL spokesman yesterday said that if a sale involved transferring shares of the team over a number of years, "that type of an arrangement would be given consideration" to complying with NFL rules during that period.

It's unclear how long a transfer of shares would take under the current discussions or if one or more brothers might maintain some shares and remain a part-owner of the team -- provided they also were no longer involved in the racetracks.

Art Rooney Jr., for example, has been a vice president of the team and was its former player personnel head. He would like to keep a hand in it somehow, but "what you want to do emotionally and love to do very well might change by the economics."

Art Rooney Jr. said the ongoing process has worn on his emotions and that of his brothers. Indeed, when the deadline arrived for them to consider Druckenmiller's bid, John Rooney spoke in favor of Dan's bid, Art said he could not bring himself to sell to Druckenmiller, and one of the other brothers wanted to keep the status quo.

"None of this has been easy," Art Jr. said. "But the one thing we have not had is a knockdown, drag-out screaming match."

Dan Rooney said yesterday that "I hope things will work out soon."


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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