Last month, Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle announced they had hired Morgan Stanley to explore a sale of the team. This week, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times, the first of the bids is expected to come in.
Their identities of the bidders and size of the bid were not disclosed, although some who have done deals in the National Hockey League said the team could sell anywhere from $700 million to $850 million.
That would represent a major profit for the group, which paid $107 million for the team in 1999. The Penguins have experienced a major turnaround in the last 16 years, going from appearing ready to move to Kansas City to becoming one of the NHL’s premier franchises, with a dedicated new arena and the league’s best player. Mark Cuban regrets not buying the team when he had the chance: “It probably will go down in history as one the biggest mistakes I’ve made.”
But from a purely financial standpoint, now is a very good time for Lemieux and Burkle to cash in. The Penguins’ value may never be higher: they have a lease on their arena that runs another 22 years; their local TV deal has 14 more years on it. The NHL is at a peak of labor peace, and recently signed its own U.S. and Canadian TV deals. Hockey is healthy, the Penguins are healthy, and it’s hard to see things getting much better than they are now.
The NHL would love a sale price in the reported range. Last year the Islanders sold for a reported $485 million and the Coyotes were valued at $305 million. In 2013, the debt-wracked Panthers went for $250 million. Doubling or tripling those figures would set a profitable precedent for a league on the verge of expansion.