Why Did Mario Lemieux Sell The Pittsburgh Penguins To Fenway Sports?

Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox have bought the Pittsburgh Penguins. That sounds like a joke, but it’s kind of true. The group that owns the baseball team from Boston (along with their stadium and the English soccer team Liverpool FC) is now the person signing Sidney Crosby’s checks. Mario Lemieux is staying on as part owner, as well as his partner Ron Burkle.

Why would the franchises’ Mr. Everything who saved the team on and off the ice multiple times sell the team? Let alone why would he sell it to someone without a hockey background? For those hockey traditionalists out there you might not want to hear it. It’s an investment for both sides.

John Henry and his aptly named Fenway Sports group have built a sports empire. That empire has attracted the likes of even Lebron James as an investor. Now they have a hockey team as a new addition to their collection.

Fenway Sports Group has bought the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mario Lemieux will stay on as a minority shareholder.

Fenway Sports doesn’t have any emotional attachment to the Penguins or the city of Pittsburgh. This is them diversifying their portfolio to create new revenue streams and tip their toes into the NHL market. With new United States media deals with TNT and EPSN, the value of franchises might rise so Fenway picked a good time to pick up a new asset.

Why would Mario Lemieux want to sell his beloved penguins? Well, the answer is simple, more money. Gone are the days of sports owners like George Steinbrenner who had an emotional investment on if his New York Yankees won or lost. To most sports team owners (there are some still family owned by the same people for generations), buying a sports team is no different than buying a stock you think you will do well. You may know nothing about it, but if you can buy it and make more money why not?

The good news is that Mario Lemieux is staying on as a part of Fenway sports group. When asked about the sale, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said it shouldn’t affect their daily on ice operations. From their side of things, nothing is changing. If the Penguins need something Sullivan and hockey operations will go to Lemieux just as they have since he bought the team in 1999. Having Lemieux stay on to make the transfer easier is important for the continued success of the club.

As for Lemieux, he’s making out pretty well here. When the near bankrupt Penguins were bought by their former player with Burkle in 1999, the team was sold for $107 million. Other reports say that Lemieux’s personal financial stake was $20 million dollars in unpaid deferred salary being exchanged for equity in the team. Rumors of Lemieux selling the team for a handsome profit have been circulating for years.

While the exact cost hasn’t been released, it’s reported to be near the $900 million range. Forbes valued them at $650 million last year. Most NHL teams’ value estimations declined last year in 2020. The Penguins were still ranked pretty highly at 11th in the NHL. Assuming all other team’s values stayed the same (they haven’t), that $900 million price tag would be good enough for 6th in the league now.

Is it weird that the Penguins are owned by a baseball team in Boston? Is it weird that in some weird way Lebron James is Evgeni Malkin’s new boss? Yes, but that’s the business of professional sports in this day and age. Don’t worry though, Penguins fans. Lemieux is still around to make sure the team is well taken care of.