Fenway Sports Group enters hockey with purchase of Pittsburgh Penguins
After much anticipation and speculation, it’s official: John Henry will soon have a professional hockey team in his portfolio.
On Monday, the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League announced that Fenway Sports Group, the sports, entertainment and real estate conglomerate primarily owned by Henry, reached a deal to acquire a controlling stake in the Penguins. .
The deal is still subject to approval by the NHL board of governors, but is expected to be concluded before the end of the year. No transaction price was given, but the Penguins are valued at over $ 800 million.
For Henry and FSG, who already own the Red Sox, Liverpool Football Club in the English Premier League and a majority of NESN, this is a further expansion of what is already one of the most impressive sports empires in the world. professional athletics.
Under the agreement, current principal owners of the Penguins Ron Burkle and former Penguins player and Hall of Fame member Mario Lemieux, who have led the franchise since 1999, will continue to be part of the group. property.
In a statement, FSG President Tom Werner said they will work to continue building on the tradition of the Penguin Championship, which includes three Stanley Cups under the leadership of Burkle and Lemieux.
“We are especially delighted to welcome Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle to FSG and have the utmost respect for all they have done to make the Penguins the successful franchise we know today,” said Werner. “We look forward to working with Mario, Ron and the entire Penguins front office team.”
In a statement, Lemieux reflected Werner’s enthusiasm.
“As the Penguins enter a new chapter, I will continue to be as active and engaged with the team as I always have been and look forward to continuing to build on our success with our new partners at the FSG. Said Lemieux. “They have an organizational philosophy that reflects the approach that has worked so well for Ron and I over the past 22 years.”
Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College, says the old model of family ownership is fading as the value of teams has risen and many professional sports owners are moving beyond their own leagues to invest in other companies.
“So it’s pretty common today to have these really large companies run by one or two sports owners who have teams in multiple leagues,” he said.
Victor Matheson, an economist at Collège de la Sainte-Croix, says Henry is probably the most diverse sports owner in the world with teams in several major leagues and countries.
Lemieux, who was part of a group that bought the team in 1999 when they were in the midst of financial problems, has been the face of the franchise’s leadership for years and, according to Matheson, has been a white knight for the city.
But now, says Matheson, Pittsburgh fans are probably worried that the new group of out-of-town owners aren’t primarily focused on maintaining the team’s local roots.
“Anytime someone from out of town walks in you worry, especially a team you’re in a small market like Pittsburgh, are they just buying this franchise with the intention of moving it somewhere else soon. that they can? He said. “And that’s still a concern.”
Andy Greathouse is a member of Yinz in Boston, a social group for Pittsburgh sports fans in the Boston area. (Think of ‘yinz’ as a western Pennsylvania synonym for ‘y’all.’)
Although he stressed that he does not speak for the group, he said he was initially upset when he heard about the FSG deal, seeing a potential blurring of the lines between his allegiance to Pittsburgh and Boston Property.
“I don’t mean to say it’s hatred for Boston sports teams, I mean we certainly have a lot of respect for professional Boston based teams,” he said. “But I’ve always seen myself and the Yinz in Boston group as being very distinct from the Boston-based groups.”
But as he thought about it more and saw the success FSG had seen in other endeavors, the more he began to see this move as positive for the Penguins.
“I think there is optimism,” he said. “I don’t think in seven to eight years we’re going to be discussing whether or not to relocate the Pittsburgh Penguins, you know, anywhere. I think you’re going to be looking at a franchise that has turned out to be a good investment. for the Fenway Sports Group and hopefully a mutually beneficial relationship for the City of Pittsburgh. “