´ Steel Curtain Rising: Goodell- Rooney Brother Meeting to Signal Endgame in Steelers Ownership Restructuring?

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Goodell- Rooney Brother Meeting to Signal Endgame in Steelers Ownership Restructuring?

Recent reports that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will call a meeting with the five Rooney could signal that the Steelers ownership restructuring process is reaching its end game. The Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette broke news of the forthcoming meeting last Sunday. According Bouchette, Goodell asked for the meeting after Paul Taglibue appraised of the situation. Taglibue, a former NFL commissioner, has been moderating the ownership restructuring discussions between the five Rooney brother.

League to Play Decisive Role?

The league does not normally delve so deeply into internal ownership issues, so Taglibue’s role in this process was eye brow raising from the start. At issue are the needs of the Rooney brothers, now in their late 60’s or 70’s, to plan their estates, and NFL rules that prohibit teams for involvement with casino gambling operations, which the Rooneys have at their racetracks in New York and Florida.

The exact tenor of these intra family discussions varies depending on the source. Some sources describe them as an ongoing “family feud.” Others sources, while admitting to some tension between the parties – and generations – cast the discussions as generally amicable, if highly complex and exceedingly difficult.

Dan Rooney currently controls 16% of the team, and would like to buy out his brothers, but the other Rooney boys have rejected two offers from. These rejections led the other four Rooney brothers to seek an investor capable of purchasing their shares, and New York billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller (and Steeler fan) has indicated he is ready, willing, and able to buy our the four younger Rooneys. Indeed, Druckenmiller today reaffirmed this his bid to buy out the Rooney brothers with a single, straight cash transaction remains on the table.

Reading Between the Lines

Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola wrote about the ownership restructuring in the August 2nd edition of the Steelers Digest. Labriola edited the publication for more than 20 years, working directly out of the Steeler offices. While he is not the most objective source, he undoubtedly has better access than any other journalist to what’s really going on behind closed doors. Two weeks ago Labriola made this observation:

The NFL is sensitive to the Rooney ownership issues, it wants Dan and Art II to continue to run the franchise, and it doesn’t want the team to incur more than a manageable debt. Any sale of the Steelers would be subject to
approval of 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners. (emphasis added)

Reading between the lines Labriola’s words translates into this: The NFL and/or Dan Rooney are ready to use its muscle to influence the process on the side of Dan Rooney. Just as important is Labriola’s comment that the league is sensitive to debt issues. You can interpret that to mean that any final deal will most likely not result in Dan Rooney as the exclusive buyer of his brother’s shares.

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