Breaking the huddle, some Rooneys ready to give up shares in Steelers
But Dan, Art II will maintain control
February 28, 2016 12:00 AM
Dan Rooney, left, will be the last of the five Rooney brothers still appreciably involved in the ownership of the Steelers their father founded in 1933 as his brothers sell their shares in the NFL franchise. Dan’s son Art Rooney II, right, is president of the Steelers and principal owner.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The pro football team founded by Art Rooney Sr. 83 years ago and owned primarily by his five sons since his death soon may be down to just one brother in the franchise’s ownership group.
The Steelers are making more ownership changes. John Rooney sold all but about 1 percent of his stake to other partners at the end of 2015, and in 2009 Pat Rooney sold all but 2.5 percent of his ownership stake, which he put in a trust for his children. Brother Tim Rooney sold all of his shares in the franchise’s 2009 restructuring.
Art Rooney Jr., the brother who once headed the Steelers’ scouting department that fed their 1970s Super Bowl dynasty, also may sell most of his stake as other partners in the team exercise their rights to increase their shares as outlined in the 2009 ownership agreement.
That would leave only Dan Rooney, the eldest of the five Rooney brothers who succeeded his father in running the team, as the last of the five brothers still appreciably involved in the ownership of the NFL franchise their father founded in 1933. The McGinley family, which once owned 20 percent, also plans to sell all but a small portion of its stake.
The Steelers ownership is working through a series of financial transactions that started in 2009, said Art Rooney II, team president and Dan Rooney’s son.
“Most likely it will result in some or all of my uncles owning a smaller percentage or may wind up not being an owner,” Art Rooney II told the Post-Gazette.
Yet as some partners who bought into the Steelers seven years ago gain more shares in the franchise, various sources told the Post-Gazette that it will remain firmly under the control of the Rooney family through Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II.
And there is a younger Rooney on the horizon who may some day run the team for the next generation.
The latest changes in ownership had their basis in that 2009 restructuring ordered by the NFL to come into compliance with league rules that prohibited owner involvement with gambling interests — several Rooney brothers have or had ownership stakes in horse and dog tracks —and also mandated a 30 percent stake in the team by one entity.
Previously, the five Rooney brothers equally shared the 80 percent of the franchise their father owned — 16 percent each — and the McGinley family controlled the other 20 percent. That changed with the 2009 restructuring when other partners bought into the team and Dan and Art Rooney II acquired the necessary stock to put them in control and in NFL compliance. There were at least 14 separate partners before the latest reorganization. One of the original 2009 “outsiders” who bought shares, Jimmy Haslam, subsequently bought the Cleveland Browns and sold his stake in the Steelers.
“We entered into a series of agreements when we structured ownership in 2009,” Art Rooney II told the Post-Gazette.
At the time, a number of buy-sell rights — also known as puts and calls — were written into the new shareholder agreements that allowed some partners to buy the stock of the Rooney brothers and the McGinleys. Puts and calls are investment options that give shareholders the opportunity to buy additional shares at a future date.
Tim Rooney sold all of his shares and Pat Rooney sold most of his in 2009 because of their controlling interests in Empire City Gaming at Yonkers Raceway in New York and the Palm Beach Kennel Club in Florida. Some of Pat Rooney’s remaining 2.5 percent interest in his children’s trust may still be sold.
John Rooney and Art Rooney Jr. sold about half of their interest in the team in 2009. John sold his shares as other partners exercised their “call” rights, as outlined in the restructuring agreements, at the end of the year, and Art Jr. could go through a similar process.
NFL rules required Art Rooney II as principal owner to own 20 percent of the team and he and his father combined to own at least 30 percent. Art since then accumulated more shares, and sources tell the Post-Gazette that the principal ownership will remain in his family even as others buy more stock from his uncles and the McGinley family.
“It’s my belief and deep hope that Art maintains control,’’ said Jack McGinley, who represents his family on the team’s board of directors. “I’m an Art supporter. And I hope my family can make another generation out of it with the Rooneys.”
Movie producer Thomas Tull, the CEO of Legendary Pictures and one of the major new partners in the Steelers since the restructuring in 2009, believes the Rooneys will run the team for a long time.
“I think we’re all very fortunate to have Art and his father, Mr. Rooney, recognized as the foremost team sports owners in all of sports, not just the NFL,” Tull told the Post-Gazette. “They are extraordinarily respected and revered, from what Dan Rooney did to architect the league all the way to championing the Rooney Rule.
“I’m a lifelong Steelers fan but also a lifelong Rooney fan. It’s very important to me that the Rooney family is always the head of the Steelers.”
Tull, who has bought more stock in the team since his original investment, even identified a next generation of the Rooneys who could ultimately succeed his father. Danny Rooney, the eldest of Art Rooney II’s children, is a regional scout for the Steelers. Like his father and grandfather, he was a Steelers ballboy. He also served an internship in the NFL offices after his graduation from Dartmouth, where he was a quarterback on the football team.
“The future of the Rooney family is bright,’’ Tull said in regard to running the football team. “Danny is driven, competitive and learning the business from the ground up. Rather than using his last name to get a front-office position, Danny interned at the NFL and started on the lowest levels of the scouting department, doing all of the unglamorous work that goes into building a football team.
“He’s already proven himself, and I’m looking forward to being his partner for many years to come.”
The Steelers board of directors is composed of their major investors. It includes Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Art Rooney Jr., Jack McGinley, Thomas Tull, David Tepper, Larry Paul and Rob Citrone.
That could change as Art Jr. and the McGinleys sell most of their shares.
Ed Bouchette: email@example.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.
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