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MLSE may or may not be for sale. Rogers may or may not want to buy them

MLSE may or may not be for sale. Rogers may or may not want to buy them

Confusion reigns supreme in the brouhaha that recently erupted over news that the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan (OTPP) is putting their majority stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (owners of the Maple Leafs, Marlies, Toronto FC and Raptors) on the open market. The OTPP confirmed in a press release on Saturday that it does, indeed, plan to explore the possibility of selling its 66 per cent share of MLSE. But, really, that’s all anybody knows at this point.

The news means that MLSE is certainly shopping their stake around, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to sell. And though the Star is trumpeting the headline, “Rogers leads pack of MLSE suitors, experts say,” according to the Globe and Mail, the telecom giant isn’t actually all that interested in acquiring the largest property in Canadian sports. To summarize: Rogers is both leading the pack and not yet among that same pack. Huh?

Here’s the Globe’s version of events:

High-ranking sources at Rogers say the company has “very little” interest in putting in a bid, even though there were reports late last year that Rogers was in talks to buy MLSE. The sources said Rogers walked away from any notion of buying the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors and other MLSE assets last spring and never revisited the idea.

Teachers confirmed this weekend that it is now soliciting bids for its 66 per cent stake in MLSE, which includes more than a billion dollars worth of assets that also includes the Air Canada Centre and the Toronto FC soccer team. The pension fund expects to decide by summer whether to sell the stake.

Rogers did entertain purchasing MLSE at around the same time last year, but control over the company proved to be a stumbling block. Talks never truly got off the ground because of the sticky situation around broadcast rights (MLSE’s charter requires broadcast rights to be auctioned off to the highest bidder).

Apparently, Rogers wanted to control all broadcast rights for the sports properties—no surprise, given the premium content and captive audience that comes with pro sports clubs. The company is still expected to take a gander at MLSE’s books when the formal auction process begins, but the Globe’s sources say that Rogers is unlikely to change its mind.

On the other hand, the Star is reporting that insiders say there are currently four clear contenders for MLSE—all of which are telecom companies—and Rogers is the leading horse. Bell Canada, Shaw Communications and Telus Communications are the other three. The Star also reported in early December that Rogers was in talks to buy a majority stake in the Leafs empire—but that deal, rumoured to be worth near $1.3 billion, never materialized.

Of course, this could all turn out to be a crafty strategic ploy by Rogers. Only time will tell. But the real question that nobody seems to be asking is this: where the hell is Jim Balsillie and his bags of money when you need him?

Rogers not yet among MLSE suitors [Globe and Mail]Rogers leads pack of MLSE suitors, expert say [Toronto Star] • Teachers’ move closer to MLSE sale [Globe and Mail] • Change is on tap at MLSE [Globe and Mail]

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