Why not, right? The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is shopping Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment; and while the Financial Post writes there is "absolutely no deal" in place, Canadian telecommunications mega-corporation Rogers is in the hunt to purchase a majority stake for a reported $1.3 billion.
According to sources close to the preliminary discussions, "there's nothing concerete" in terms of a sale that would include the National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors NBA basketball team, Toronto FC soccer club and the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs minor league hockey team. Teachers owns a 66% stake in MLSE, which is valued at approximately $1-billion.
In fact, sources familiar with events say Teachers has also been in talks with BCE Inc. which recently bought CTV, Larry Tanenbaum, the chairman of MLSE, and at least two potential U.S. buyers.
B-I-L-L-I-O-N. Wow. That's a lot of Burkie dogs right there.
Coming up, news on whether this will actually happen, reactions for Leafs Nation and did Alex Trebek predict this story last night on "Jeopardy"?
According to the Toronto Star, Tanenbaum's company owns a 20.5 percent share of MLSE and has a right of first refusal to sell. So he could be the sticky wicket here, or perhaps not, according to Steve Simmons at the Sun:
The story may well be true. The story, may also, be yet another version of the old Ted Rogers-Tanenbaum talks - because the truth is, none of this can happen without Tanenbaum's stamp of approval.
Tanenbaum may only own 20.5% of MLSEL - estimated at around $400 million - but he maintains the right of first refusal for any offer on the Teacher's share. If he wants to take a majority position in MLSE and is able to do so, he can nix any possible deal between Rogers and the Teachers'. But in the past, as with an expensive marketing deal for the Maple Leafs or his early involvement in the Bills In Toronto series and the possibility of an National Football League team coming to Toronto, Tanenbaum had been Rogers' partner and the the two worked well together.
The Globe & Mail notes that "a Rogers-owned MLSE would become the first [company] to have majority control of franchises in Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association," in addition to an MLS club. (The Argos are now that little corner store attempting to keep its lease before the steamrollers make way for the megamall.)
In other words, Rogers would be Cablevision North. And the Knicks, Rangers, Liberty and Red Bulls can't find enough space in the trophy case for all the titles they've been winning under their corporate masters ...
... Oh, wait, what? They've won nothing? Well, the good news is that it'll simply be status quo for the Leafs and Raptors.
Yes, there a salary caps and luxury taxes that prevent MLSE from simply buying a winner, but perhaps the most salient indicator of the corporation's approach to winning is that Mats Sundin(notes) played for the Leafs for the entire prime of his career, and he was forever saddled with wingers the likes of Frederik Modin and Jonas Hoglund. Could someone not have brought in a sniper, already?
So maybe Rogers would be different. Maybe it would want winners, since winners drive ratings. But the Jays haven't sniffed the playoffs since Rogers bought them in 2000 (admittedly a tall order in a division that includes New York and Boston), and Rogers' other sporting venture, the lease of eight Buffalo Bills games over five seasons, is thought to be a financial disaster.
It's hard to envision MLSE selling the majority ownership to the monstrous cash cow that is the Maple Leafs but that they're entertaining the idea is interesting to say the least. The common complaint about MLSE's profit-driven motives and primary concern with the bottom line doesn't necessarily change with the potential sale to another corporation with shareholder interests of its own to look after. It's not like the team would be handed over to a fan boy like Newcastle's Mike Ashley or Jim Basille, which has advantages and disadvantages of its own. The Star could have a point that while losing doesn't seem to affect ticket sales at the ACC, winning could draw a bigger overall (i.e. TV) audience. We all know more than a few bandwagon fans that could attest to that.
At this point, we have but three questions:
1. How would working for a company that owns the Leafs affect coverage for Sportsnet, if at all?
2. What, pray tell, will our friends at Pension Plan Puppets do if the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan sells its share of the Leafs? Rogers Rabid Rationalists just doesn't pop.
3. Finally ... has there ever been a more appropriate Final Jeopardy clue than this one from last night, given the news of the day?
By the way: Lesson learned. Stay the [expletive] away from Final Jeopardy if you don't know hockey, for it will be your downfall.
- National Hockey League
- Larry Tanenbaum