Steelers still facing ownership decisions

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The Steelers aren't the only National Football League franchise whose owners have been forced to confront age and estate tax issues.

In February, Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga sold 50 percent of his team to New York developer Stephen Ross for $550 million. Huizenga, 70, said his age and estate planning motivated him to make the deal.

In St. Louis, the daughter and son of Georgia Frontiere, who died in January at the age of 80, reportedly have been approached by numerous suitors, but son Chip Rosenbloom said in May that the Rams are not for sale and will remain in town.

Long-time NFL owner Art Modell, 83, said yesterday he would hate to see the Rooney family sell the Steelers, believing it would be a big blow to the NFL's old guard, which includes the McCaskeys (Bears), Maras (Giants) and Bidwills (Cardinals).

One Rooney family member has said that concern about inheritance taxes has been an issue, although other factors come into play, too.

"I expected the Rooneys to sell at some time, but this is earlier than I thought," Modell said through a team spokesman. "I don't know their situation, but I do know that issues with minority shareholders can sometimes force a sale. It becomes the only resolution. If there is a sale of the Steelers because of that, it won't be the first."

The Rooney family, which owns 80 percent of the team, said earlier this week that family members are examining a restructuring of team ownership in order to meet compliance with the NFL's guidelines regarding racetracks and gambling operations.

Four of the five Rooney bothers have hired Wall Street investment banker Goldman Sachs & Co. as the financial adviser for the possible sale of their stake in the Steelers. Each Rooney owns an equal share of 16 percent; the McGinley family owns the other 20 percent.

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and his son, president Art Rooney II, have started lining up possible investors to be part of a financial partnership they hope will gain majority control of the team, for which Art Rooney Sr. paid a $2,500 franchise fee in 1933.

Modell owned the Browns/Ravens from 1961-2004. Prior to the 1996 season, he moved the Cleveland franchise -- which he purchased for $4 million -- to Baltimore.

Modell sold 49 percent of the Ravens to Steve Bisciotti four years later to help reduce the financial burden created by the move from Cleveland and he sold the rest of his shares in 2004. Bisciotti's total purchase price was $600 million.

Modell, who still owns a one percent "rooting interest" in the Ravens, praised Dan Rooney for his contributions to the NFL.

"Dan is one of the best owners ever," Modell said. "His record on the field speaks for itself. Beyond that, he has been invaluable to the NFL, especially in the last 10 to 15 years.

"He never turns down an assignment from the commissioner or his fellow owners. His work behind the scenes with the league office, the other owners and the players' association is a key to the NFL success story."

New York Giants president John Mara and Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown declined interview requests yesterday from the Post-Gazette. According to spokesmen for both teams, neither Mara nor Brown thought it was appropriate to comment on the situation involving the Rooneys.

"If [Dan] does sell, he will be missed immensely," Modell said. "He's a consensus builder and very effective leader in his style."

If the Rooneys do sell their majority interest in the team, which Goldman & Sachs has determined to be worth between $800 million and $1.2 billion, a new owner would face a long and tedious process before gaining the NFL's approval.

Article III of the league's constitution and bylaws requires that the transfer of any interest in an NFL team, other than by inheritance or gift within the immediate family, "shall only become effective if approved by the affirmative vote of not less than three-fourths or 20 [of the 32 owners], whichever is greater, of the members of the league."

And if the new ownership group wanted to move the Steelers out of Pittsburgh, it also would carry a hefty price tag. In 2001, the Steelers signed a 30-year lease at Heinz Field. It would cost them as much as $140 million to end it early, not counting obligations to repay state money. Stanley Druckenmiller, a billionaire hedge fund manager who is interested in buying the Steelers, said in a statement yesterday he would keep the team in Pittsburgh.


Ron Musselman can be reached at rmusselman@post-gazette.com .


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