Fenway Sports Group To Buy Controlling Stake In Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins prepare to start a game.

(Alexandra Wimley)

The Penguins prepare to start a game.

On Monday, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that Boston-based Fenway Sports Group is set to become the new majority owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The sale, reported to be around $900 million dollars, will put Fenway Sports Group (FSG) in the majority ownership position of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Current owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle will remain part of the team, as minority owners.

Lemieux says he plans to remain active in the hockey operations of the team. “As the Penguins enter a new chapter, I will continue to be as active and engaged with the team as I always have been and look forward to continuing to build on our success with our incoming partners at FSG,” Lemieux said in a statement released on Monday. 

“They have an organizational philosophy that mirrors the approach that worked so well for Ron and me over the past 22 years.”

CEO David Morehouse, COO Kevin Acklin, General Manager Ron Hextall, and President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke will all keep their positions with the team. Head Coach Mike Sullivan also remains behind the bench.

“Fenway Sports Group brings everything we could ask for in an ownership partner to help continue the historic success of the Pittsburgh Penguins,” said Morehouse in the Penguins’ press release

“They understand what the Penguins mean to Pittsburgh, and they bring to us the latest in cutting-edge sports research, data analytics, player training and performance, real estate development, and organizational excellence. This combination is a truly exciting partnership that positions our club at the forefront of the future of professional sports and allows us to build upon what Ron and Mario created.”

FSG Chairman Tom Werner said, “The Pittsburgh Penguins are a premier National Hockey League franchise with a very strong organization, a terrific history and a vibrant, passionate fan base. We will work diligently to continue building on the remarkable Penguins’ tradition of championships and exciting play.”

“We are particularly excited to welcome Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle to FSG and have the utmost respect for all they have done to build the Penguins into the perennially successful franchise we know today. We look forward to working with Mario, Ron and the entire Penguins front office team.”

FSG is most well known for being the owner of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox. However, it also owns Liverpool Football Club in the English Premier League, and are partners of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing in NASCAR. They also dabble in property management, owning Fenway Park and Anfield, where the Red Sox and Liverpool play, respectively. FSG has majority ownership of NESN, a regional sports network in Boston. 

FSG, backed by billionaire John Henry, who owns The Boston Globe, is estimated to be worth over $7 billion dollars. In 2020, Forbes estimated the worth of the Penguins was around $650 million dollars. 

FSG has a history of winning. Since taking ownership of the Red Sox in 2001, Boston has won four World Series titles- the most of any MLB team in that time period. Liverpool has recently experienced success as well. After winning the UEFA Champions League in 2019, they were crowned English Premier League champions in 2020. Their 48 trophies are unmatched by any other English soccer team. RFK racing boasts over 325 wins and eight NASCAR championships. 

The sale will mark the next chapter of Penguins history, essentially changing hands between Lemieux and Burkle, who saved the Penguins in 1999 while the team was on the brink of bankruptcy and relocation, to FSG.

Under the leadership of Lemieux, the team was able to survive that period, acquiring franchise names like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang in the draft. In 2007, the Penguins did not relocate, as Lemieux secured funding for a new team building. Since Lemieux took over as an owner, the Penguins have won three Stanley Cups and have only missed the playoffs four times. 

Before the 2016 Cup, the Penguins were placed on the market. No sale was made, and during the back-to-back Stanley Cups, the team was pulled from the market. 

The sale still needs to be officially approved by the National Hockey League’s Board of Governors, but it is highly unlikely the NHL would try to block the sale from going through. 

As for any concerns of relocation, league rules dictate that an NHL team cannot be moved for at least seven years after a sale. In addition, the Penguins are locked into their agreement with PPG Paints Arena over naming rights for the building until 2036. Relocations of any NHL team also have to be approved by the NHL’s Board of Governors. 

The last time an NHL team was relocated was 2011, when the Atlanta Thrashers, plagued with a dysfunctional ownership group who was entangled in a lawsuit with a former partner and claimed to be losing millions of dollars, were sold by the Atlanta Spirit Group to True North Sports & Entertainment for $170 million dollars. True North then relocated the team to Winnipeg and renamed them the Winnipeg Jets to start the 2011-12 season. 

Pittsburgh is miles upon miles away from the situation the Thrashers were in over 10 years ago. Atlanta experienced poor team performance stemming from poor management and team construction, which in turn drove down fan attendance, which in turn lessened the market the NHL saw for hockey in Atlanta. Pittsburgh has not experienced any of those issues in recent years and is not poised to. The Penguins are not going anywhere. 

“I have been fortunate to be part of the Penguins organization for more than half my life and have had the unique privilege of your incredible fan support as a player and owner,” Lemieux added

“Thank you for being on this journey with me and our entire organization. Together with our new partners, we will work tirelessly to continue to make you proud and bring another Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh.”