Open Season On Penguins

While state and local officials in Pennsylvania continue to hammer out a Plan B agreement to keep the Penguins hockey team in Pittsburgh, Kansas City officials and AEG extended a formal offer to the team.

Oklahoma City leaders also threw their hat in the ring, and one of the Penguins’ formerly silent partners suddenly stepped into the spotlight.

Penguins’ owner Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, an investor in the team who has somehow managed to remain below the radar for the past seven years, met with Kansas City officials and AEG execs January 4-5 to discuss a possible move by the team to the city’s new Sprint Center.

AEG offered the team rent-free use of the arena and the opportunity to invest $27 million, half of AEG’s stake, to become partners in the building, according to the Kansas City Star.

Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, stressed that he and K.C. officials were only letting the team know that the offer was out there.

"We are not trying to steal the Penguins," Leiweke said. "We have been very respectful of their process. We understand that this is Pittsburgh’s to lose, and we respect that."

However, the Kansas City Star reported that AEG wasted no time at all sweetening the deal the next day by dropping the request for $27 million from the Penguins. AEG is now offering the team a new home and a 50-50 split of arena revenues with no upfront fee and no rent. Leiweke said that the Penguins would make a decision within 30 days.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoman reported that Express Services founder Bob Funk and Express Sports CEO Brad Lund met with Oklahoma City leaders January 4th and discussed the possibility of inviting the Penguins to the Ford Center.

Burkle’s role emerged last week when the Penguins issued a statement that he was a long-time investor in the Lemieux Group and would be accompanying Lemieux to Kansas City to help negotiate a deal.

The California billionaire, who formerly owned the Ralphs and Food4Less grocery store chains, is a well-connected figure who is well known and respected for his contract negotiating skills, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Burkle and AEG CEO Philip Anschutz are part of a group trying to build a stadium and bring the NFL back to Los Angeles.