Pittsburgh Mailman's Daughter-Turned-CEO Drops $25 Million on Her Beloved Penguins

  • Cafaro will invest $25 million in Ron Burkle’s hockey team
  • Pittsburgh team won the 2016 Stanley Cup, stars Sidney Crosby

Patric Hornqvist #72 of the Pittsburgh Penguins scores past goalie Antti Raanta of the New York Rangers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 13, 2016.

Photographer: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Debra Cafaro, the chief executive officer of Ventas Inc., is in advanced talks to buy a minority stake in the Pittsburgh Penguins for $25 million, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The daughter of a mail carrier and a stay-at-home mother, Cafaro grew up in Pittsburgh and has said watching the city’s sports teams helped to shape her as a leader. Now based in Chicago, she runs a $37 billion real estate investment trust with 1,300 properties across the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

Debra Cafaro

Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg

Cafaro will lead a $66 million investment in the team controlled by billionaire Ron Burkle and hockey Hall-of-Famer Mario Lemieux. (Lemieux wore No. 66 as a Penguins player.) Another two or three investors are likely to join the ownership group, although those talks aren’t as advanced, said the people, who asked to be anonymous because the discussions are private.

The Penguins declined comment. Any transaction must be approved by the NHL.

Cafaro’s interest in the Penguins is a continuation of her family’s devotion to Pittsburgh sports teams dating to 1960, when her parents attended the Pirates’ Game 7 victory in baseball’s World Series, said a person close to Cafaro who didn’t wanted to be named because she isn’t authorized to speak publicly.

Burkle and Lemieux had been shopping the 2016 Stanley Cup champions earlier this year for around $700 million but couldn’t find a buyer. Forbes says the Penguins are worth $570 million, ranking 11th out of 30 National Hockey League teams. Burkle and Lemieux paid about $107 million for the team in 1999.

Cafaro took charge at Ventas in 1999 when it was on the verge of collapse and has since restructured the company, shedding under-performing properties and acquiring new ones. Her experience in real estate could be useful to the Penguins, who moved into a new arena in 2010 and are now developing the 28 acres of land where their old venue sat. The site is owned by the Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

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