Steelers, Jaguars, Rams may have new owners soon

NFL logoThe following article appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News today:

The NFL never sleeps, but it usually rests its eyes in late June and early July, before training camps open.
News traditionally is scarce as players lay low and coaches hang out the “gone fishing” sign.
But there is some interesting action going on in NFL boardrooms right now that could translate into new owners for two teams by the start of the season in September.

In Pittsburgh, Wall Street financier Stanley Druckenmiller is negotiating to buy majority interest in the Steelers, which have been owned by the Rooney family for the last 75 years. And in Jacksonville, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, who has been shopping his team for a while now, appears to be getting closer to finding a buyer, the Daily News has learned. According to several league sources, Weaver is negotiating to sell the Jags to billionaire C. Dean Metropoulos.

Metropoulos, 61, is the former chairman and chief executive officer of New Jersey-based Pinnacle Foods, which is the parent company of food brands such as Duncan Hines, Armour, Vlasic and Mrs. Paul’s. Metropoulos sold Pinnacle last year for more than $2 billion.

Contacted yesterday by the Daily News, Metropoulos denied being involved in any discussions to buy the Jaguars.

“I must tell you I haven’t had any such discussions,” he said. “I wouldn’t know how to give you any credibility to that because I don’t know anything about it.”

Several credible league sources disputed that, though. They said the discussions between Weaver and Metropoulos are being brokered by Sal Galatioto of the New York sports investment firm Galatioto Sports Partners. Galatioto has brokered the sale of several professional sports franchises over the years, including the Washington Redskins and the Phoenix Suns. Comcast’s Ed Snider hired Galatioto a few years ago when he was exploring the possibility of selling the 76ers.

Metropoulos previously has tried to buy two other NFL franchises – the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins, sources said. He denied that as well yesterday.

In February, Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga sold 50 percent of his team to real estate mogul Stephen M. Ross for $550 million. While Huizenga remains the managing general partner for now, Ross has the option to buy majority interest in the team any time in the next 4 years.

Unlike the Dolphins’ sale, Metropoulos is interested in a 100 percent purchase of the Jaguars immediately, though sources indicated he would keep Weaver on for 2 years while he learns how to operate an NFL franchise. The sources said he would bring in minority partners with him, including one in the entertainment business.

If Metropoulos buys the Jags, it probably won’t bode well for the city of Jacksonville. The Jaguars, who entered the league as an expansion franchise in 1995, have been one of the teams most often mentioned as a candidate to eventually relocate to Los Angeles. They have struggled for years to sell out their games at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, and Weaver recently laid off several members of his marketing staff to save money.

Yet another team that could be sold in the near future is the St. Louis Rams. Their longtime owner, Georgia Frontiere, died in January. Frontiere’s son, Chip Rosenbloom, and daughter, Lucia Rodriguez, have inherited controlling interest in the team. Rosenbloom, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, has acknowledged that several groups have approached him and his sister about buying the team. While he has said he intends to keep the team in St. Louis, he has declined to say the team is not for sale.

Rams minority owner Stan Kroenke – who owns 40 percent of the team, which is valued at more than $900 million – has the right of first refusal to buy the remaining 60 percent. But he already owns the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. The NFL has a cross-ownership rule that would prevent him from becoming majority owner of the Rams.

The Steelers have been owned by the Rooney family since Art Rooney bought the team in 1933 for $2,500. But a feud between the five Rooney brothers has left the door open for Druckenmiller, 55, who is chairman of Duquesne Capital Management and is known as the “Tiger Woods of Wall Street.” Druckenmiller lives in New York.

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, 75, had announced previously that he and his son, team president Art Rooney II, were attempting to buy out his four brothers in an attempt to retain “substantial ownership of the team.” Each of the Rooney brothers owns a 16 percent stake in the team. Another Pittsburgh family, the McGinleys, own 20 percent.

If the other four brothers sell their shares of the team to Druckenmiller, he would become the Steelers’ majority owner. *