NFL tells Rooneys it wants Dan to be in control
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
NEW YORK -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke loud and clear yesterday to those Rooney brothers who might want to sell the Steelers to outside interests: The league and its owners will do everything in their power to keep Dan Rooney and his son in control of the franchise.
"There's great respect for the Rooney family in the National Football League,'' Mr. Goodell said after a 21/2 --hour meeting with the five Rooney brothers, "and we want to do everything we can to ensure that the Steelers continue to be operated by the Rooneys and the way they've been operated."
Four brothers have two offers to sell their combined 64 percent interest in the Steelers -- one from New York billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller and one from their brother, team chairman Dan Rooney and his son Art Rooney II, who is president of the club and also attended yesterday's meeting. Although no details of the offers have surfaced, it has been assumed that Mr. Druckenmiller's offer is higher or else the brothers would have accepted Dan Rooney's bid already.
What they should not assume, Mr. Goodell intimated yesterday, is that if they accept a higher offer than Dan Rooney's that the NFL owners will approve it.
"I think there was a genuine commitment on behalf of everybody to get this resolved in a satisfactory manner,'' said Mr. Goodell, characterizing the meeting at NFL headquarters on Park Avenue. "But we were very clear too that this issue is subject to a three-fourths vote of the ownership, as any ownership transfer is, and that's something that is very important to the league and we will make sure our league interests are respected," adding that he thinks the Rooneys understand that.
To help make that point, perhaps, Mr. Goodell invited three other owners to sit in on his meeting with the Rooney brothers. They were Tom Benson of the New Orleans Saints who is chairman of the NFL's finance committee, as well as Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers and Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals.
It would take only nine of the 32 NFL owners to scuttle any bid to buy the Steelers, and Mr. Goodell made the point in his first prolonged comments about the Pittsburgh franchise situation that the NFL is not interested in anyone other than a Rooney in control.
"They've run a model franchise and I think everyone in Pittsburgh recognizes how proud they are of the Steelers, and we in the NFL recognize how fortunate we've been to have Dan Rooney's leadership and now Art's leadership,'' Mr. Goodell said. "That is certainly a consideration and the ownership wants to make sure this team is run consistently with those principles, and that if Dan Rooney wants an opportunity to continue to run the franchise, I think that's an interest some owners have."
None of the Rooney brothers could be reached for comment after the meeting and Mr. Goodell said that they all agreed he would be the spokesman on their behalf.
Dan Rooney's four younger brothers are Tim, Art and twins Pat and John. Only Art, who still lives in Pittsburgh, worked for the Steelers as an adult before Dan fired him as the team's head of player personnel in 1986. Tim has run Yonkers harness racetrack and Pat and John have run other tracks owned jointly by the family, which now includes only the Palm Beach Kennel Club dog track in Florida besides Yonkers.
The issue of selling the Steelers has arisen now for several reasons. Two of them were prompted by the NFL, which prohibits its owners being involved in casino gambling and requires any owner in control of a franchise to own at least 30 percent of the team. The Rooneys have been in violation of both because their two tracks have added casino-style gambling in recent years and because no one owns 30 percent of the Steelers -- each brother owns 16 percent and the remaining 20 percent is split among the McGinley family of Pittsburgh.
Those issues could have been satisfied simply by the brothers selling their racetrack interests and one of them selling to Dan so he could own 30 percent.
However, some or all of the four see it as time to sell their interests in the Steelers for estate reasons.
Dan Rooney made his offer to them and, brother Art Rooney Jr. said, they wanted a second opinion and asked Mr. Druckenmiller, a lifelong Steelers fan, for a bid. That is where they stand today.
One family source related to the four brothers said they came away from yesterday's meeting optimistic that everything will work out. The source said the NFL also wants Dan Rooney to reveal who his potential investors are. Dan and Art Rooney II have solicited minority investors for their offer to the brothers, none of whom has surfaced publicly.
Mr. Goodell said he hopes the deal could be wrapped up by the end of the year. Though he has placed no deadline on an ownership resolution, he is pushing for it to come sooner rather than later.
"We are, only because the issue has just become more complex and problematic,'' Mr. Goodell said. "I think they're just as motivated to get this done within a certain time frame as we are.
"We just think it's in the best interests to have this resolved in a way that will allow people to focus on Steelers football.
"It becomes more complex as families expand, as generations get older and the financial consequences become more significant. So I think when you combine all of that, these issues don't tend to get easier, they get a bit more difficult."
The family source said the four brothers made their case that they don't want to sell to the highest bidder but want to try to get a good deal.
"I think that it's clear we had an update on where they are with respect to any proposed transactions,'' Mr. Goodell said about the four brothers, "and we have a better understanding on that.
"And they have a better understanding on where we sit.''
Clearly, that's to sell to Dan and his son, Art.
"I can't think of many owners who have a greater respect than Dan Rooney within our membership, for what he's accomplished both in Pittsburgh with the Steelers, with that community, and also at the league level,'' Mr. Goodell said. "He's been involved in critical things on the league level. He's had a tremendous influence on the game of football. He's in the Hall of Fame for a reason."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at [email="firstname.lastname@example.org"]email@example.com[/email].