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Rossi: Few vacancies in esteemed Owners Club

| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:30 p.m.
REUTERS
Steve Ballmer recently completed his $2 billion purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers, ending a saga that began when former team owner Donald Sterling was heard making racist remarks to his girlfriend on a tape recording.

Sport is great because sometimes it leaves us in a state of disbelief. Somebody just paid $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Clippers. Also known as Not The Lakers. A team that is a guest in the arena it calls home. They began in Buffalo before moving to San Diego, then shipping to Los Angeles, where their famous fan was Billy Crystal — and he usually wore a Yankees cap at games.

Somebody just paid $2 billion for that.

Sport. Disbelief. Check.

Still, nobody in Pittsburgh should expect the Penguins to go on the market. The same goes for the Steelers and the Pirates.

Ron Burkle is one of the world's comparatively small group of billionaires. He didn't get that money by not knowing when to sell high.

Burkle is also Mario Lemieux's majority partner in the Penguins.

If Burkle thought he could get for the Penguins half of what former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer paid for the Clippers, well, the sale would be closed before the home opener.

Fans should pay no attention to what Ballmer paid for Los Angeles' other NBA team. Whatever Buffalo's Bills are sold for should be forgotten the minute that figure — projected around $1 billion — is made public.

The business of sport is booming, but the market is a lot more thunder than lightning likely striking twice.

Seriously, if the Clippers' sale signaled that all teams could command crazy coin, every owner in each of the four major sports would be taking bids.

That isn't happening right now.

James Dolan knows he can't collect $4.6 billion for the New York Knicks, which is what they would be worth if the metrics used to measure the Clippers' uptick applied to other NBA teams.

The Clippers were valued at $550 million before former owner Donald Sterling was banned for life by the NBA because of racist remarks.

Look, $550 million would have paid for the construction of PNC Park and Heinz Field and left about $50 million to spend on the atrium at Consol Energy Center. It's a lot of money.

That's especially true for a team like the Clippers, which lacked any kind of brand identity until a few months ago. In something that probably makes sense only in a sports landscape where athletes are paid handsomely after they've done their best work, the Clippers became a cha-ching commodity because of Sterling's behavior.

Sports. Disbelief. Checkmate.

“I think (Ballmer) bought on brand, the brand they can become,” said Ed O'Hara, senior partner for New York-based branding firm SME. “The Clippers, if they do this right, will be the shining example of how to do things the correct way with diversity, cultural sensitivity and unity. They could become what their owner wasn't.”

From second-class citizens to basketball's embarrassment to the NBA's Statue of Liberty … Los Angeles, meet your 2014-15 Clippers!

Pittsburgh is home to three of the 122 professional sports teams among the four major North American leagues. There have been 44 ownership changes in the four leagues since 2006, but not all were sales.

Almost 70 percent of teams in the Big Four haven't been for sale in about a decade.

Financial ruin, exile and death are the three things that can pry a team from an ownership group's hands. There are reasons for that, too: Sweet arenas — paid for mostly by the public — supersized TV deals, and egos.

Forbes reported the world to have 1,645 billionaires (including Burkle) or basically 13 for every major North American professional team.

There's a reason Pittsburgh's owners aren't looking to sell their teams. The Owners Club is a tough one to crack. Once in, nobody really wants to get out.

Even billions can't buy everything.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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