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Thursday, December 4, 2008
Rooney family near deal to keep family control of Steelers

ESPN.com news services

The Rooney family has reached an agreement that would satisfy the National Football League's ownership rules while maintaining family control of the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The five Rooney brothers have agreed to terms of a deal and will present it to the NFL's finance committee for consideration at its meeting on Wednesday, according to the report. If the committee accepts the plan, it would then be voted on by the league's ownership. The proposal would require the support of 24 of the 32 owners for approval.

According to the report, four of the five Rooney brothers would sell part or all of their shares in the team to the fifth brother, team chairman Dan Rooney, who runs the team with his son, team president Art Rooney II.

The four brothers had entertained selling their shares to an outside buyer rather than accept an initial buyback offer from Dan Rooney. They quietly enlisted the services of a Wall Street firm to determine the franchise's value and had considered selling to billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller before he withdrew his $537 million offer for their combined 64 percent of the franchise.

"My brothers sacrificed themselves doing this," John Rooney said, according to the Post-Gazette. "They could have gotten more money from another offer.

"My brothers stood up, you know. It's the best way to keep it going [in the Rooney family]. I hope Dan lives 20 more years to enjoy them."

Steelers founder Art Rooney left the control of the team to his five sons; another 20 percent is owned by the McGinley family of Pittsburgh. That family also will sell a small portion of its shares in the team to Dan Rooney, according to the report.

The decision to consolidate the Steelers' ownership came about for a number of reasons. The current ownership structure violated NFL ownership rules, which stipulate that a controlling partner must own at least 30 percent of the club; some of the Rooney brothers have stakes in racetracks that now allow slot machines, another violation of NFL policy; and members of the family wanted to sell their shares in the interest of financial and estate planning.

The NFL will allow Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II to count as one for the 30 percent requirement. The two have been working to assemble investors to buy out their four brothers, according to the report.

"I think the deal is as done as it can be," John Rooney said, according to the Post-Gazette. "But until you see the money, I guess no deal is done."