Author: Dave Brooks
Date: January 10,2007

The Pittsburgh Penguins' plans of staying in Pennsylvania got a bit
more complicated after AEG Live president Tim Leiweke made the
National Hockey League team a very lucrative offer.If team owner
Mario Lemieux agrees to move the team to the new Sprint Center in
Kansas City, Mo., Leiweke is willing to let the team play rent-free
with the option to emerge as equal managing partners. That means
the team could get a cut of concessions, luxury suites and
ticketing sales.Leiweke has been mum on other aspects of the deal,
saying he only made the announcement after his Jan. 3 and 4
meetings with team officials and Pennsylvania politicians leaked to
the media. “What we’ve tried to do is not publicly
negotiate this deal,” he said. “Word leaked out that
[the team] was headed to Kansas City and we wanted to make sure
this didn’t become a spectacle. We want to make it clear to
everyone that the offer didn’t require rent or a
buy-in.”Despite the lucrative deal, Leiweke said he was less
than optimistic that the popular team would leave Pittsburgh.
“My expectation is that their preference would be to
stay,” he said during a Jan. 5 interview. The team said it
was planning to make a decision within 30 days whether to move to
Kansas City, or remain in Pennsylvania.To keep the team in
Pittsburgh, the city would have to come to the table with a plan to
replace the aging Mellon Arena. At 45-years-old, the facility is
the oldest arena in the NHL and lacks many of the modern amenities
needed by a professional sports franchise. The team’s lease
with the facility ends in June.Pittsburgh officials are said to be
working on a Plan B to save the team after a proposal by the
Detroit-based Isle of Capri Casinos to construct a $290-million
arena alongside a casino. Capri owner Dan Barden is currently in
talks with Lemieux and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and
Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl on developing a plan to keep the
team in town.There also continue to be several groups interested in
buying the team, although it was taken off the market after the
slots deal fell through. Frank D’Angelo of Steelback
Breweries in Tiverton, Ontario, has expressed interest in
purchasing the team. Also interested is William “Boots”
Del Biaggio III, a venture capitalist who has an agreement with the
Sprint Center to own any NHL team that relocates to Kansas City.
Biaggio already co-owns the Omaha Scouts of the U.S. Hockey League
with Lemieux. “There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind
that a hockey team would be a success in Kansas City,”
Biaggio said. “Especially a team like the Penguins which have
a storied legacy in hockey history.”Biaggio also dismissed
arguments that the city’s past attempts at hosting pro teams
was a black eye for its sports reputation. Kansas City hosted the
Scouts for the 1974 and 1975 seasons before the team relocated to
New Jersey and eventually became the Devils. The city also hosted
the National Basketball Association’s Kings for three seasons
before the team permanently relocated to Sacramento.Leiweke also
said he has no doubts the team will succeed if brought to Kansas
City, although he is in no hurry to steal another team
away.“Kansas City knows what it’s like to be on the
losing end of a team relocation and we don’t want to create
any turmoil in attempts to acquire a team,” he said.
“We don’t want to get in front of the leagues on this
one.” — Dave BrooksInterviewed for this article: Tim
Leiweke, (213) 763-7700; William “Boots” Del Biaggio,
(650) 234-7222