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Old 01-31-2011, 06:29 AM   #1
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Default Mehno: Steelers super thanks to Rooney's stability

Mehno: Steelers super thanks to Rooney's stability
By: John Mehno
Beaver County Times

Sunday January 30, 2011 11:54 PM

Is it possible to have a $996 million dollar mom-and-pop business?

That’s sort of what the Pittsburgh Steelers are, as Forbes magazine estimates their value to be just a few bucks short of $1 billion.

Pretty good for an enterprise that was founded on a $2,500 investment in 1933.

Since then, there’s been one constant about the Steelers: They’ve been owned and operated by someone named Rooney.

Dan Rooney, the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, is listed as Chairman Emeritus and has ceded day-to-day operations to his son, Art II, who carries the title of president.

But the ownership situation is much more complicated than that these days.

The Steelers restructured in 2009 in order to comply with NFL policies. Some of the Rooney heirs were involved in the family’s race track interests, and the NFL requires a separation from gambling-based businesses.

There was also a concern about inheritance taxes as founder Art Rooney Sr.’s sons age. Dan, the oldest, turns 79 this year.

The end result is The Pittsburgh Steelers Ownership Group covers two full pages in the Steelers’ 2010 media guide, picturing 22 people. Five of them are named Rooney.

Things are clearly different, yet they seem to be the same.

The new partners are decidedly silent partners. The organization hasn’t disclosed how shares are divided.

The other investors are listed in alphabetical order after Dan and Art Rooney.

The media guide contains no biographical information about the investors, although there have been perfunctory profiles of some of them on the team website.

Ben Statler, it says, made a fortune in coal mining. Thomas Tull is the CEO of Legendary Pictures, the studio that produced “The Dark Knight.”
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Peter Varischetti, just 39, heads a family business that includes holdings in nursing homes, commercial real estate and consulting services in the waste industry.

Paul Evanson is CEO of Allegheny Energy. Paul Sams is chief operating office of a company that makes video games and was brought into the group by Tull.

John Stallworth is the most recognizable name. A Hall of Fame receiver for the team from 1974-87, he has been successful in information and technology businesses.

When the Steelers announced their intention to restructure ownership, billionaire hedge fund investor Stanley Druckenmiller expressed an interest in buying the franchise. His plan would have had the Rooneys running the operation.

But the Rooneys wanted to maintain control, and they’ve done that.

The style remains unobtrusive. Dan Rooney likes to circulate in the locker room after games, shaking hands with players, a tradition his father started.

But he deflects attention from himself.

Art Rooney II speaks for the franchise, but not often. Most of his comments are carefully guarded, reflecting his training as a lawyer.

The operation has grown. The Steelers of the 1970s may have had 30 employees in the office on a daily basis. Today they list 22 people just on the merchandising staff, which oversees several retail outlets.

It’s a huge business now, but one thing remains the same:

Someone named Rooney is in charge.

Times sports correspondent John Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com.
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