The owners of the Boston Red Sox are in “advanced talks” to buy the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins, according to a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday.
Talks with Fenway Sports Group have been taking place for at least a couple of months, according to reports. The team was not officially on the market for sale, according to a Post-Gazette source, and it was Fenway Sports Group that initiated the discussion.
Ron Burkle, who teamed with franchise icon Mario Lemieux to purchase the team out of bankruptcy in 1999, intends to sell his controlling stake in the franchise to Fenway Sports Group; he could also stay in for a small percentage, according to Post-Gazette sources.
Lemieux is expected to be part of the ownership group in some capacity, likely a minority ownership role, as well as be involved on the hockey side. The club’s senior management is also expected to remain intact.
The agreement will also need approval from the NHL and the Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, which owns PPG Paints Arena and leases it to the team.
Terms of the deal, including how much Fenway Sports Group will pay for its stake, have not been revealed.
“We are aware of the reports but have no comment on the speculation,” a Fenway Sports Group spokesperson told the Post-Gazette in an email.
The NHL has a standard agreement that prevents new owners from applying for relocation for seven years, so even if the Penguins are sold, they’ll stay in Pittsburgh.
The team’s lease at the arena keeps the Penguins in Pittsburgh until at least June 30, 2040.
The sale is not expected to have any affect on the community benefits and other agreements related to the redevelopment of the 28-acre former Civic Arena site, where the Penguins control the development rights.
Fenway Sports Group, backed by billionaire John Henry, has built a sports-centric portfolio that includes the Boston Red Sox of MLB, Liverpool of the English Premier League and Roush Fenway Racing of NASCAR, the Post-Gazette reported. The NBA’s LeBron James also has a stake in the company.
Fenway Sports Group, which also owns real estate like Fenway Park, has recently expressed an interest in expanding further.
Lemieux and Burkle initially acquired the Penguins in 1999 out of bankruptcy during a crossroads moment in the franchise’s history, when the team was floundering on the ice and attendance was hurting.
Seven years later, the Penguins and state and local political leaders battled over construction of a new arena, even exploring relocation options, before reaching a deal that kept the franchise in Pittsburgh. PPG Paints Arena opened in 2010.
The Penguins won three more Stanley Cup titles, bringing their total to five, and have become one of the NHL’s marquee franchises under Lemieux and Burkle’s ownership. The team was valued at $845 million by Sportico, ranking 15th in the league.
The Associated Press reported that Fenway Sports Group received a reported $750 million investment from RedBird Capital Partners in March that valued the sports conglomerate at $7.35 billion.
The Penguins, like most professional sports teams, have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the club remains one of the most popular NHL franchises by many metrics.
The Penguins’ have 1.9 million followers Instagram, the most of any NHL club, plus a following of 1.8 million on Twitter. Last season, the team had the highest local ratings share of any NHL team. An average of 7.8% of Pittsburgh TV homes tuned in for Penguins games on AT&T SportsNet.