Penguins imitate a sucker fish (again)

Penguins imitate a sucker fish (again)

Well, if this doesn’t clinch your decision to burn your 2020 calendar, nothing will:

The New York Post reports that the Pittsburgh Penguins were the only team out of the 123 franchises that comprise men’s “Big Four North American Sports Leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL)” to accept a loan under the federal “Paycheck Protection Program,” enacted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Those mightily struggling ‘Guins received $4.82 million in public assistance through the CARES Act.

The Post-Gazette reports that in April, the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, one of the world’s most valuable pro sports franchises, returned approximately $4.6 million in such money “after there was public outcry about small businesses not getting needed financial help.”

As The New York Post reminds, quoting the Small Business Administration’s website, “The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll.”

Neither the Lakers’ nor the Penguins’ organizations are small businesses.

Forbes values the latter franchise at $650 million.

It is co-owned by multimillionaire Mario Lemieux and billionaire Ron Burkle.

Forbes says Burkle’s net worth is $1.4 billion. He recently bought Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in California for $22 million.

These would be the same Pittsburgh Penguins that have received sweetheart deal after sweetheart deal at public expense.

There was the brand-new hockey arena, underwritten with public dollars. Gambling dollars in the state-controlled enterprise are public dollars.

They were handed development rights to the old Civic Arena site.

And they receive a public bailout? The fact that it is a “loan” does not mitigate the audacity.

To The Post, the Penguins defended taking the loan as some altruistic exercise in good corporate citizenship:

“With our arena being ordered closed since March and without any event revenue, we requested that our landlord, the Sports & Exhibition Authority (SEA), consider a temporary deferral of our annual rent payment due in September. This request was denied,” the Penguins told the newspaper.

“Accordingly, we borrowed $4.8M under the CARES Act program in mid-August and applied the funds to our $6.1M September rent payment to the SEA, which was used by the public agency to make its required bond payment.

“The SEA indicated it is facing similar financial difficulties due to the closure of the SEA-owned Convention Center, and we are pleased these funds were used to support an important public agency during these challenging times.”

The Penguins note that they furloughed 40 employees through the summer, though they maintained full health benefits. Staff returned on Sept. 1 to prepare for the next season, the franchise told The Post.

Oh, and did we mention that Pennsburg.com reports that the CARES Act loan to the Penguins was made by First National Bank (FNB)?

That would be the same FNB that’s a sponsorship “partner” with the Pens and is planning to break ground this spring on a new skyscraper at the old Civic Arena site.

FBN sought $15 million of the $230 million cost of the 26-story tower from taxpayers in the form of state grant. It was awarded $6 million in December. If it will receive more is unclear.

Just what Pittsburgh needs – more taxpayer-subsidized premium office space when vacancy rates Downtown are at their highest in a decade.

And that was before the coronavirus pandemic hit, an event likely to only exacerbate that vacancy rate for the foreseeable future.

If anything, all these new revelations of more sweet and cozy dealings are the latest, best argument for getting government (in reality, taxpayers) out of the sports landlord business.

If the decidedly uber-wealthy barons of sport really want to be good corporate citizens, they’d take full responsibility for their own playgrounds and stop bellying up to the public trough.

The Penguins’ imitation of a sucker fish yet again hardly is becoming.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).