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Rooneys to huddle with NFL chief Goodell

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By Scott Brown
Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2008
 

Nothing less than the ownership of the Steelers is on the agenda today when the five Rooney brothers meet in New York with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell called the 10 a.m. meeting at NFL headquarters to determine where the ownership situation stands among the brothers, who apparently cannot agree on a satisfactory sales price.

"I don't have any particular hopes or wishes for our meeting," said Tim Rooney in an e-mail. "I am complying with the commissioner's request for the meeting and hope that it is instructive."

The brothers -- Art Jr., Tim, Patrick, John and Dan -- each own 16 percent of the Steelers. The McGinley family owns the remaining 20 percent.

The brothers -- all of whom are in their 60s and 70s -- are under pressure to sell their interest to avoid inheritance taxes. The NFL also wants the Rooneys, who own horse racing tracks and slots casinos, to comply with league rules that ban team owners from holding stakes in gambling enterprises.

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney is trying to keep control of the team founded by his late father, Art Rooney, in 1933. The four brothers so far have resisted Dan Rooney's buyout pitch.

The four brothers hired the investment firm of Goldman, Sachs & Co. to field offers. The Steelers could sell for more than $1 billion.

Billionaire hedge-fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller, a rabid Steelers fan with strong ties to Pittsburgh, has offered to buy out the four brothers and gain a controlling interest in the team. Druckenmiller could not be reached for comment.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said only the five Rooney brothers, Goodell and his representatives are expected to attend the meeting.

Aiello said Goodell is bringing the Rooneys together "in order to try to continue to make progress and bring it to a resolution."

The internal dispute emerged publicly last month when the Wall Street Journal disclosed the Steelers were up for sale.

"When matters involving a franchise in any sport become public and a matter of speculation in the newspapers, whether it be about management or ownership, the commissioner's job is to be proactive and understand what's happening within his league," said Steve Greenberg, managing director of Allen & Co., a New York investment banking firm that specializes in sports transactions. "The commissioner's doing his job, which doesn't surprise me."

"Any commissioner would want to be on top of that and understand what's happening, especially since the Steelers are a marquee franchise with a storied history and one of the important franchises in the league."

NFL rules requiring the approval of 24 of the league's 32 owners to transfer shares in a team. Dan Rooney only would need eight owners to vote against the sale to block it.

Rooney, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is one of the NFL's most influential owners. He declined to comment for this story.

He and his son, Art II, who is president of the Steelers, need to acquire at least 30 percent of the team to comply with current NFL ownership rules. The Steelers' ownership structure was established before the rule took effect.

The five Rooney brothers have been meeting with former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who has served as mediator during their talks.

As for today's meeting with Goodell, Tim Rooney said, "We will have to wait and see what develops."

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