Numbers have a funny way of getting tricky on you if you don’t follow them. So when Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney passed away earlier this year, there were many who were wondering what they might mean for the future of the franchise under the Rooney family, which has been in control since its founding in 1933.
It is a question that I posed myself, particularly with regard to the line of succession that will follow the team’s president, Art Rooney II, as there is no clear successor in place, though it could end up being his son, Danny Rooney, or Daniel Martin Rooney.
It’s a question that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pondered as well, on more practical terms. And unlike me, they actually had the resources to get the answer. According to multiple league sources, the Rooney family is well-positioned to retain its controlling stake in the ownership group.
“I don’t mean to sound remotely cavalier about Dan Rooney’s passing; you cannot replace a Dan Rooney,” said one said, Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice president. “But from the standpoint of ownership structure and continuity, they are in, I think, a very good position”, he said, adding, “the family ownership I would think can be expected to continue for many, many, many years to come”.
To provide a brief recap of details I have previously laid out in related discussions, a group must hold at least a 30-percent figure of a team’s shares in order to own a ‘controlling’ share, and the Rooney family does own a bit more than that.
They came into compliance with this during a 2009 ownership reorganization that saw in particular Art Rooney II significantly increase his share, but Dan Rooney retained a large share as well. And upon his passing, it remains in a trust, where it can remain, though Ed Bouchette notes that “at some point moves may be made to distribute it”.
“From the ownership rules perspective, from the league’s perspective, we would look that Art is owning a necessary percentage and has necessary control whether it’s through a trust or company or otherwise, which he does” Jay Bauman, league senior vice president for legal and business affairs said. “From our perspective”, he added, Dan Rooney’s stock “can stay in trust.”
While noting that he has owned a share for some time, Bouchette pointed out that Art’s brother, Dan Rooney, Jr., is now publicly listed as part of the ownership group. Other Rooneys in the group include two of Dan Rooney, Sr.’s brothers, as well as a nephew.
While others within the family have recently sold their shares in the team, largely as necessitated by league guidelines regarding competitive interests, the Rooney family remains in compliance to control the franchise, and their ownership group beyond the family is in full support of that.
“The family ownership structure is in all respects in full compliance with league rules” Pash said. He described the rest of the group as “strong and supportive” and “a very impressive group of people”.