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Rooneys to keep Steelers in family

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Saturday, Nov. 15, 2008
 

Four sons of deceased Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr. have apparently agreed to sell a controlling stake of the team to their brother, Hall of Famer and chairman Dan Rooney, and his son, Art II.

The deal could pay brothers Art Jr., Patrick, Timothy and John Rooney a total of $750 million after business debt is subtracted. The brothers hope to complete the deal before a meeting in December.

"We have a board meeting in December, but we hope that's just a formality and everything is out of the way by then," Art Jr. said.

Wall Street has estimated the value of the team at $800 million to $1.2 billion.

Word of the imminent deal came from brothers Patrick and Art Rooney Jr. They confirmed that rumors leaking out of the NFL are true: About $280 million of the deal will come from loans arranged by PNC Bank in Pittsburgh, and Dan Rooney will need to bring in an unknown number of equity partners he has yet to name.

The money will be paid out over a period of years still be negotiated. The team itself will act as the collateral for the loans.

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell is analyzing the deal, and owners are willing to OK it as long as the Steelers remain in the Rooney family. Dan Rooney declined to comment.

Each of the five Rooney brothers controls a 16 percent stake in the team, with their relatives, the McGinley clan, holding the remaining 20 percent.

The franchise was founded in 1933 by Art Rooney Sr. with $2,500 he won at a horse race. The much-admired NFL owner and community icon died in 1988.

"It's a good deal. I'm happy for Dan. I'm happy for the rest of the family. I think young Art, Dan's son, will do a fine job," said Patrick, who left town in 1963 to found a string of successful horse- and dog-racing venues that provide much of the family's wealth.

"I think we're doing the right thing."

Art Jr., the scouting genius who helped construct the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s, said he would try to retain a small number of shares so that he can remain a part of the team. He wants to meet Dan Rooney's equity partners, but he believes they're outstanding people.

"The outside investors, those are now going to be Dan's concern," added brother Patrick.

In September, New York hedge fund titan and philanthropist Stanley Druckenmiller yanked an $820 million cash offer after the Rooney brothers failed to reach a consensus on selling the team. The brothers felt they were being prodded to sell by two gathering storms: NFL bylaws that demanded they divest from increasingly lucrative casino gambling operations in Florida and New York; and the increasingly likely November election of Democrat Barack Obama, who has suggested that as president he might work to hike estate and capital gains taxes.

"It was a struggle to get all of this back on track," Art Jr. said. "But everyone has been talking to each other, and it seems we're all moving in the right direction. It's been like you're in the service, and you're on a long march through the sand -- three steps forward, then two steps back."

Druckenmiller has had nothing but good things to say about Dan Rooney and his brothers. He declined to comment about the impending sale of the team he loves.

Spokesmen for PNC and the NFL also declined to comment.

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