Penguins owner Mario Lemieux said he has received inquiries from several groups about buying the team and “we are now in a situation where we are going to look at all our options.”
But Lemieux said that the goal is to keep the team in Pittsburgh for the long-term – and that any prospective owner would be bound to the team’s recent arena/casino proposal with Isle of Capri.
“I think we’ve done everything we can do as an ownership group, as far as setting up the franchise for the long term here in Pittsburgh,” Lemieux said. “We have a plan with Isle of Capri to fully fund construction of a new arena without public money and make sure this franchise stays in Pittsburgh forever. That’s always been my goal.”
Lemieux did not identify the prospective buyers and said the negotiating process was just getting under way.
“We just think that the time is right, with the way things have unfolded,” he said. “We’ve got a new CBA that levels the playing field for all the teams. We’ve got a strong base of young talent here, led by Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Whitney and – soon – Evgeni Malkin. And now we’ve got a tremendous arena plan on the table with Isle of Capri that can deliver a new arena at no cost to the taxpayers.”
Lemieux, who spearheaded a group that bought the Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1999, has said from the start that he never intended to own the team forever. With interest picking up over the past three or four months – “we’ve heard from a couple groups” – he and his partners have decided to explore those options.
Accordingly, Lemieux announced the team president Ken Sawyer has been promoted to CEO and will oversee the operation of the franchise, in addition to quarterbacking the sale process. Lemieux will remain as chairman of the board for as long as his group owns the team.
Lemieux said that recent momentum – including the endorsement of the Penguins’ arena/casino plan by 18 prominent western Pennsylvania elected leaders – has made him optimistic about the team’s long-term future here.
“The support of those 18 local leaders is very encouraging and I think it’s a great sign for the future of the franchise in Pittsburgh,” he said. “It’s really an outstanding proposal – one that not only provides a new arena for the community but also includes significant development in the area around the arena. Now, we need other local leaders to step forward and support us. Because, clearly, there has to be a new arena for the team to be here for the long term.”
The Penguins’ lease at Mellon Arena expires in June, 2007.