According to stories swirling about in the news in the last ten days, there appeared to have been as many as 6 bids to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins. One such offer was from a consortium that included former NFLer Dan Marino and Marc Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks. The only other bid made public revolved around a group of Hamilton, Ontario businessmen. Groups behind the four remaining bids were not known. It has since been revealed that the Marino / Cuban headed offer was insufficient and had been turned down. Both sports figures are originally from the Steel City area. The Hamilton group pulled an initial bid, only to resubmit a more detailed and lucrative proposal.
Owners of the team stated that offers accepted would not be tied to any relocation plans for the franchise, but were conditional upon the building of a proposed arena and casino complex in downtown Pittsburgh. The project has yet to be given the green light by the city in what has been a stalling process at times. The outdated igloo shaped Mellon arena holds a capacity of 16,940 seats and is the oldest building in the league. The Lemieux Group Limited Partnership, the current owners, have been trying to sell a new arena idea to the city for eight years. Majority owner, former Penguins star Mario Lemieux stated in 2004 that the team would be put for sale pending approval of a new building. More recently, Lemieux has let it be known, that the wait is compromising the eventual sale.
The Penguins currently enjoy a crop of rising stars led by Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury. Top picks Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal will solidify the teams on ice future. Owner Lemieux knows that he is finally sitting atop a valuable commodity after suffering many years as a small market team. The NHL's new CBA and the winning of the draft lottery allowing them Crosby changed the teams fortunes overnight.
Holding up the building deal, is a confirmation from the state of Pennsylvania as to how much it will contribute to the project. The city for its part has made clear it will not foot the bill for the casino for budgetary reasons. It has also stated numerous times that it is not willing to proceed with the arena without a commitment to the casino being built and funded by the state.
It is believed that a Winnipeg led consortium is behind one of the stronger bids to buy the team. The Manitoba city financed the building of a modern arena after losing the NHL Jets to Phoenix in 1996. The group has purchased the rights to the Jets name and has been pursuing the Penguins franchise for six years now with the intent of relocating it in Winnipeg.
Lemieux is adamant that a final decision regarding the new arena be made during the next Penguins season. Lemieux purchased majority ownership of the franchise in the mid-1990s with money owed to him on deferred contracts thus saving the team a second time. Rounding up prospective co-owners, Lemieux prevented the team from bankruptcy. The planned sale would see Lemieux recoup more than triple his owed salary for his efforts.
Meanwhile time is running out on the city of Pittsburgh. It may be with jets that the Penguins finally fly.