- Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.
Fenway Sports Group is in advanced talks to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins, a source confirmed to ESPN on Tuesday.
Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux have been the Penguins’ majority owners since 1999. The Wall Street Journal and Sportico were the first to report on the potential sale.
The agreement needs to be approved by the Fenway Sports Group board, and then would be subject to NHL approval. The NHL’s Board of Governors must approve any potential sale.
Billionaire John Henry is the principal owner of Fenway Sports Group, whose portfolio includes the Boston Red Sox of MLB, Liverpool of the EPL, and Roush Fenway Racing of NASCAR. Fenway Sports Group also owns real estate, including Fenway Park. NBA star LeBron James has stake in the company.
The Penguins were on the verge of bankruptcy in 1999 when Lemieux, a franchise legend, and Burkle, an investor, led a group that bought the team for a reported $107 million. Lemieux and Burke were instrumental in securing a new arena in Pittsburgh, which fended off potential relocation. Since then, the Penguins have rediscovered success on the ice — thanks, in large part, to the arrival of Evgeni Malkin (No. 2 pick in 2004) and Sidney Crosby (No. 1 pick in 2005).
While Lemieux helped the Penguins to their first two Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992, Crosby and Malkin led the franchise to three more in 2009, 2016 and 2017.
According to recent valuations by Sportico, the Penguins are the NHL’s 15th most valuable team, with a value of $845 million. According to the data compiled by Sportico, the average NHL team is valued at $934 million, and the combined market value of the 32 teams is $30 billion.
Burkle and Lemieux have explored selling the Penguins previously, including in 2015, when they hired Morgan Stanley to help them look at options.
Fenway Sports Group, meanwhile, has been public about growing its sports portfolio in North America.
“We’re a huge admirer of the National Basketball Association and obviously the National Hockey League,” partner Sam Kennedy, who is also the president and CEO of the Red Sox, said at a Sportico webinar in April. “It represents a natural place for Fenway Sports Group to look.”
The Penguins, like many teams in the NHL, have struggled financially during the pandemic. The team accepted a $4.8 million Paycheck Protection Program loan in 2020, and its 14-year sellout streak ended earlier this season.
The last NHL team sale involved the Arizona Coyotes, as Alex Meruelo took over as majority owner in 2019. The NHL has a standard agreement that prevents new owners from applying for relocation for seven years after they take over.
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