Steelers' New Investors: A Q&A with Paul Sams

Game maker has loved Steelers from afar

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Paul Sams loves video games and loves the Steelers, which doesn't distinguish him from the millions of other gamers and Steelers fanatics. No, what distinguishes Mr. Sams is that he's the chief operating officer of Blizzard, the company that produces the hugely popular "World of Warcraft" multi-player video game, and that, as of now, he is a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mr. Sams, 38, is part of the restructured Steelers ownership group whose four newest members -- David Tepper, Ben Statler and Mike Wilkins and Mr. Sams -- were revealed in September.

He also spent the summer making the rounds to discuss his company's new offering, "Cataclysm," a "World of Warcraft" expansion, which is set to be released in the next few months. Last week, he talked with the Post-Gazette about being part-owner of Pittsburgh's highest-profile employer.

Question: Why the Steelers?

Answer: I've been a Steelers fan since I was 4 years old. I've loved the Steelers as long as anything I can remember loving anything; the only thing longer is probably my parents. The first football game I ever saw was the '75 Super Bowl. The first play I ever saw was the touchdown to Larry Brown, the tight end. ... I've had NFL Sunday Ticket since it came out. I look at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Web site every single day of the year.

Question: But you're from CaliforniAnswer:..

Answer: I've lived here my whole life. ... I think that [my parents] thought it was a little strange that this little kid was so passionate about a football team from Pittsburgh when they weren't into football at all.

Question: Has it always been a dream of yours to own a pro sports franchise?

Answer: Absolutely not. I would have never in a million years thought that this would be a possibility, that the timing would be such [that this] opportunity would come available.

Question: Had you met the Rooneys previously? Did they approach you, or you approach them, about becoming part of the Steelers ownership team?

Answer: Interesting story. The way that I met the Rooneys was through a friend of mine, Thomas Tull (a movie producer who is also part of the new ownership group), a number of years ago. Thomas and I met to talk about doing a movie together for "World of Warcraft." ... He called me one day and said, "Well, guess what. You're coming with me to Pittsburgh. I'm screening a movie I made for the Steelers." He was screening, "We Are Marshall."

Last year, they announced that the Rooneys were going to change ownership structure. I picked up the phone immediately and called Thomas. "Did you see this? We have to see if we can get involved with this." He said, "You know, Paul, I've already talked with them."

We met with Art Rooney, [and they] agreed to include me in the new group.

Question: So last year, when everybody thought that billionaire hedge fund investor Stanley Druckenmiller might be buying the Steelers, part of you understood where he was coming from ...

Answer: I don't blame anybody for wanting to do it. What I did know is that I wanted the Rooneys to maintain control.

Question: You're pretty young, among NFL owners.

Answer: Me and Thomas both are 38. The reality of it is, I interact with people who are older than me every day. I'm totally accustomed to dealing with that.

Question: Does Blizzard have a pipeline to Carnegie Mellon University yet? Might you develop one, given your new business ties to Pittsburgh?

Answer: We started a university relations program -- we began by recruiting in schools that are closer to us. Now we are beginning to expand. We're in the process of evaluating feedback from universities that think they have a group of students that make sense for us ... I've heard from four or five different people recently that CMU would be a good place to evaluate.

Question: When is the "World of Warcraft" movie coming out?

Answer: Sam Raimi has been attached as the director. We're working really hard with Legendary [Pictures] and Sam -- he has "Spider-Man 4" first, then he'll move to this project. We're in the process of developing the scripts.


Bill Toland can be reached at btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


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