For a man that saved NHL hockey in Pittsburgh not once, but twice from bankruptcy... actually, you can make that three times if you count his role in the franchise getting a new arena deal done earlier this year, Mario Lemieux will finally get paid what has been owed to him from his playing contract.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been taking care of a periodic refinancing of their debt as a result of emerging out of bankruptcy for the second time in the 40-year history of the franchise in 1999. The team announced this week that Lemieux will receive the majority of the $32 million owed to him after his first retirement two years earlier. Before Lemieux accepted a $20 million stake in ownership of the Penguins in a deal to keep them in operation, he forgave $7 million during the bankruptcy proceedings. After the team got out of danger from ceasing operations and began to financially get back afloat, Lemieux was awarded $5 million in which he invested right back into the team's future as a majority co-owner with California billionaire Ron Burkle.
As one of the most celebrated sports figures in Pittsburgh sports history, Lemieux will personally receive a $21 million return on his $25 million ownership investment. This settlement effectively ends this long 10-year process of Lemieux being the final creditor getting paid.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Penguins beat writer Dave Molinari reported yesterday that Lemieux won't receive the $7 million he gave up from his player contract despite returning to the ice for the 2000-2001 season and playing until he retired for good in 2005. However, it won't matter too much for #66 as he can see the value of the franchise rising steadily under his and Burkle's watch. The Penguins could be worth over $200 million now and it helps to have a rising superstar in Sidney Crosby to help lead them into the future and a new multipurpose arena scheduled to open in time for the 2010-2011 season to boost revenue.
Bob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review states that all other investors have been paid back for their investments in the Penguins to get the team out of bankruptcy. Even more good news comes out of this refinancing process where the ownership structure won't change and Rossi reports that Lemieux would stand to profit if the team is ever sold down the road. The Penguins were taken off the market after the arena deal was reached with the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County officials and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell back in March.
Lemieux originally pinned his hopes to get the arena funding from Isle of Capri should they have been awarded a gaming slots license. Isle of Capri would've put up $290 million in order to get the arena built as part of a revitalization plan complete with a casino in the city. But they lost in their bid and it came down to Plan B. He threatened to back out as owner and put the Penguins back up for sale as he grew frustrated with ongoing negotiations with government officials. But it ended up working out and ultimately the Penguins are staying put.
Now Lemieux is reaping the benefits for remaining patient and seeing things through. Getting paid the $21 million is certainly well-deserved for all he has done to save the franchise from existence and in this year's instance, leaving Pittsburgh.