Who Owns the Penguins and Do They Really Care?
The “Fire Hextall” chants rang out in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ final home game of the 2022-23 NHL season Tuesday. It wasn’t the first time those chants swept PPG Paints Arena this season, and with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang having stellar seasons, it surely should not have been the last home game. However, a season of missed opportunities and inconsistency resulted in the franchise’s first missed playoffs since 2006.
The disgust rippled through the ticket-buying public via social media.
Make no mistake, the Penguins are a mess.
What will be done, should be done about GM Ron Hextall remains the elephant in the room.
PHN has learned that members of the FSG ownership have relocated to Pittsburgh or are in the Pittsburgh offices daily, but they are on the business side. FSG is intensely engaged in the Hill District Redevelopment, partnerships, and the brand.
That’s good and a benefit to the city.
What about hockey?
The Fenway Sports Group bought the Penguins from Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle in November 2021 and were ratified soon after. Lemieux and Burkle retained some ownership. Despite initial announcements that Lemieux would remain involved in hockey operations, his ownership share is believed to be little more than a token of appreciation.
“Mario knows he’s welcome here 24/7, and the more he’s around, the better, as far as we’re concerned,” Burke told PHN in January.
He has rarely been present since the sale, most recently attending the annual Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp.
Of course, no one from FSG ownership has yet spoken publicly. Who is in charge beyond the president of hockey operations, Brian Burke? Even Burke’s power and status are in question because no one from ownership has actually claimed ownership other than a sanitized, colorless corporate entity writing a check.
The Penguins logo doesn’t even appear on the FSG Twitter profile.
But hey, they only paid three-quarters of a billion, and updating Twitter is tricky.
The folks in Boston have far more experience dealing with the Fenway Sports Group than those in Pittsburgh. Morning news teams are notoriously vanilla.
Yet, here’s Boston’s ABC morning reporter:
Red Sox: last in AL East. Another disaster season in the works.
Liverpool: 8th in Premier League. No European competition next year. On pace for worst finish in almost a decade.
Penguins: miss playoffs for first time in 16 years.
The John Henry effect 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/G6S2jkz5yo
— Yanni Tragellis (@yannitragellis) April 13, 2023
There are growing fears surrounding FSG ownership style and investment, both emotional and financial. The Boston Red Sox have not spent money to keep up with the LA Dodgers or hated New York Yankees. FSG’s other trophy possession, Liverpool FC, is currently a tire fire without direction or hope, and that is enraging one of the most passionate and largest fanbases in the world.
Even FSG’s NASCAR operation, RFK Racing, has not been competitive for years, though they recently gave driver Brad Keselowski some ownership in the company to come aboard and begin addressing the disaster. The team, a traditional power on the circuit under Jack Roush, has just three race wins in the last eight years.
FSG is likely to sell ownership shares in Liverpool FC for capital to sign players. Essentially, FSG is looking for a minority owner to provide an infusion of cash, which may result in a path out of Liverpool ownership. In the meantime, they’re losing sought-after free agents, and Henry is loudly accused of not spending enough to remain competitive.
The same fan anger and competitive slide is happening to the Boston Red Sox (minus the selling shares for capital).
Fortunately, the NHL has a salary cap and revenue sharing, so spending to the cap has not been an issue for the Pittsburgh Penguins, but what about if/when attendance falls through the floor because the Penguins are not a playoff team?
What about that lost revenue of a playoff round or two?
The Penguins organization traditionally budgets for a playoff round.
Will FSG cut back?
Is FSG happy enough with Hextall that he’ll be kept?
Do they care?
Do they even know the Penguins missed the playoffs, or will that be part of a year-end email or Skype meeting wrapup when bean counters exchange bottom lines and financial projections for the coming year?
There was a representative of FSG present when Kris Letang played his 1000th game. That person’s function is unknown. Like a bland, faceless bureaucrat gliding through the shadows, does that person have power on the hockey side? Does FSG merely send monitors to Pittsburgh to report back to a boardroom of accountants and lawyers in Boston?
Is FSG actively engaged in solutions for the rapidly declining Penguins team? Are they pressuring Hextall to make changes and undo the failed transactions with older players that hamstrung the team’s drive for a 17th consecutive playoff berth that ended in inconsistency and failure?
The oldest team in the league, which struggled to keep up with its younger competition, made inexplicable deals to get older and slower at the NHL trade deadline, thus putting itself in a hole that may be insurmountable without a total collapse and lengthy rebuild.
Does that even matter to FSG?
What are their goals for the Penguins?
Why do they own the Penguins?
We don’t know because no one has claimed responsibility, and no one has spoken publicly on their behalf in any meaningful way.
So, who owns the Pittsburgh Penguins?