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If team is sold, official wants Steelers to repay funding for stadium

If family members who own the Pittsburgh Steelers sell all or part of the team to outside interests, the county controller wants the team to repay some of the $281 million taxpayers ponied up to build Heinz Field.

Allegheny County Controller Mark Flaherty explained his threat to the team's owners at a news conference Wednesday.

"When the stadium was originally built, the public entered into a partnership with the Steelers," Flaherty said. "I feel it would be unjust for any shareholder to sell their shares and not have any implication to the public taxpayer."

Flaherty called the news conference to explain a two-page letter he sent Tuesday to the team's owners, Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney and his four brothers, who own 80 percent of the team, and their cousins, the McGinley family, who own the other 20 percent.

Flaherty noted in the letter that Forbes magazine said the franchise was worth about $300 million in 1998, but was worth $928 million by last year.

The stadium, which opened in 2001, and related lease provisions "contributed significantly to increases in the value of the Steelers franchise," Flaherty's letter said. "The public should share in the increased value that the stadium has contributed to the franchise."

Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, the oldest son of late team founder Art Rooney, wants to stay in the football business and is discussing the ownership of the team with his four brothers. Each brother owns 16 percent of the franchise. The other four brothers, all in their late 60s or early 70s, want to sell to safeguard the investment for their heirs and because some of them own gambling interests that run counter to NFL rules for owners.

Flaherty said the stadium lease, which ties the team to the city until the year 2029, anticipated that the Rooneys or McGinleys might one day sell their interests. It allows them to transfer ownership within their families, but requires them to notify parties to the lease agreement -- notably the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority -- of a sale to outside interests, Flaherty said.

Flaherty said his letter was meant to get public officials who represent the taxpayers a "seat at the table" if such a sale is contemplated.

Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said the team, including Dan Rooney and his son, Steelers president Art Rooney II, had no comment on Flaherty's letter or his comments at the news conference.

The Steelers contributed about $76.5 million to the stadium and state and county taxpayers $281 million, Flaherty said. Flaherty said he wants a proportional amount returned to taxpayers; if half the team were sold to an outsider, Flaherty said he would seek half the $281 million from the team.

The four brothers have hired the investment firm Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to calculate the value of their shares, while Dan Rooney has turned to Morgan Stanley for guidance in the matter.

Goldman Sachs analysts have put the team's value at $800 million to $1.2 billion.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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