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Burkle, a California billionaire investor and supermarket operator who joined Lemieux's group in 1999 by making a $20 million investment, was interested previously in buying the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs.
"Mario and Ron are very smart business people. They've been very successful with the Penguins and have done a great job with them," Coonelly said. "What they see in the Pirates, I would think, is that they're interested in purchasing a team much like the Penguins earlier this decade: A team on the rise. A team that has a plan. A team that has financial stability."
Owning two of the Pittsburgh's three major pro sports teams might have allowed Lemieux and Burkle to launch their own TV sports channel. Because they would own the teams, Lemieux and Burkle could have kept all advertising revenues without paying expensive rights fees, once the teams' current rights deals with FSN Pittsburgh expired.
Lemieux and Burkle, according to people with knowledge of their interest, believe the Pirates could substantially hike attendance -- recently among the lowest in the majors -- with a more aggressive approach to player acquisition.
Nutting's family owns a Wheeling, W.Va.-based newspaper chain and first became involved in the Pirates' ownership group when California newspaper heir Kevin McClatchy bought the team in 1996. The Nuttings subsequently began to increase their shares by buying out partners of the once-large ownership group and now own a substantial portion of the shares.
Last season, Forbes estimated the Pirates' worth at $288 million, less than that of any team except the Florida Marlins, who currently play in an NFL stadium.
Penguins vice president Tom McMillan declined Saturday to confirm Lemieux's interest in the Pirates, saying, "The Penguins don't discuss private business matters."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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