Where There's Smoke, There's Fire Roger Marino, fiery new Penguins owner, has fanned the flames in Pittsburgh

September 06, 1998

Roger Marino, a man blessed with the ability to annoy almost
everyone, gleefully grabbed the two editorial cartoons he had
stashed behind his desk. "Take a look at these," said Marino,
the Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner who was amused by the
unflattering drawings that appeared last month in local
newspapers. Marino, a Boston native and resident who bought half
ownership in the Penguins from Howard Baldwin in May 1997 and
has since enraged Pittsburghers with his abrasive personality
and management style, views himself as strong medicine for an
ailing franchise.

The Penguins have been successful on the ice in the 1990s,
winning a pair of Stanley Cups, but they have limped along
financially under Marino's soon-to-be-former partner Baldwin,
who essentially horse-traded future revenue from things such as
board advertising and concessions for cash now to keep the
Penguins solvent. Asked if Baldwin had been imprudent in using
this approach and by lavishing a contract on now retired
Pittsburgh legend Mario Lemieux that still owes Lemieux $12.7
million in salary the next two years, Marino, who is under
orders from the NHL to stop publicly squabbling with Baldwin,
replied, "I really can't answer that." While he spoke he printed
YES on a sheet of a paper.

Unfortunately for the league, Marino's difficulties with the
Penguins are the latest embarrassment in the NHL's long list of
recent ownership problems. Last week Fox Sports Pittsburgh filed
a suit against Marino for trying to get out of his cable-TV
contract with Fox so that he could start his own network. That
completed the hat trick. Marino was socked with a $1 million
suit in July by SMG, the corporation that runs the Civic Arena,
for nonpayment of rent, three weeks after Lemieux filed a $33
million breach of contract suit against Marino and the Penguins
but not Baldwin. (Marino and Baldwin agreed on a price for
Baldwin's share of the franchise months ago--$8 million
cash--but Marino, who says he has spent $37.5 million of his own
money to meet operating expenses the past two seasons, has been
unwilling to make certain guarantees, notably that he will meet
the remainder of Pittsburgh's obligations to Lemieux. Lemieux,
meanwhile, says he'll forgo some money owed to him in return for
a piece of the team if Baldwin, who's trying to put a group of
investors together to buy controlling interest of the club, buys
out Marino.) Marino, who threatened to have the Penguins declare
bankruptcy in July but has since backed off, set off alarms in
Pittsburgh last month by hiring as interim CEO J. Garvin Warden,
a turnaround specialist who oversaw the bankruptcy of a
restaurant chain in western Pennsylvania in 1996. Lemieux's
agent, Tom Reich, has called Marino "a poor man's Wayne
Huizenga" who "thinks he can come in here and intimidate and
force 'haircuts' on people he owes money to." Said Pittsburgh
mayor Tom Murphy, "The first time I met with him he was flailing
away at everybody. I was bewildered by his approach."

Marino concedes that his disagreement with Lemieux got out of
hand, and he understands Reich's pique--"I smacked his boy in the
face although that was not my intention," he says--but he is not
taking back a word about SMG. "Even Dracula leaves his victims
half alive after sucking the blood out of them, so he can come
back and suck the next day," he says. "These people don't have
that concept down."

Marino says the other thing that is sucking him dry is the
37-year-old Civic Arena, despite the fact that the arena's
management company made major concessions to Marino when he
bought into the team. Known as the Igloo, the Civic Arena stands
as a monument to the Penguins' myopia. They agreed to take $10.4
million in improvements from the city last year and extend their
lease until 2007 instead of pushing to be part of the convention
center-stadium complex that will house the Steelers and the
Pirates. "Let's see, $461 million [the city's contribution to
the proposed complex] and $10.4 million," Marino says, his hands
imitating the scales of justice. "Four sixty-one versus ten
point four." But his spirits don't droop for long. "When I was
the president of a $400 million company, no one knew me," Marino
says. "Now I've got a $40 million company, things are flying all
around."

Marino, 60, was a founder of EMC, a Massachusetts-based high-tech
firm that made him wealthy enough to retire at 53. He counted his
money for a while and then bought an American Hockey League team.
Last year he became Baldwin's partner in what seemed a perfect
match--Baldwin's NHL experience and Marino's wallet--but they have
had separate agendas.

In the long run Marino's tactics may change the Penguins for the
better, but these days when fans in Pittsburgh look at Marino
all they see is red.

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [Roger Marino]

"I smacked [Lemieux] in the face, although that was not my
intention," says Marino.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
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