Rogers might buy MLSE, somehow make Leafs fans even more depressed

Rogers might buy MLSE, somehow make Leafs fans even more depressed

The blockbuster news of the morning, broken by the Toronto Star, is that telecom goliath Rogers is looking to buy a majority share of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment for more than $1 billion. The deal would give Rogers control over the Leafs, the Marlies, the Raptors and Toronto FC, as well as MLSE’s TV channels. This is the rare kind of business deal that alters pieces of the city’s DNA—hockey and the Rogers clan—and would effectively unite the means of communication with the very things we communicate about. It would also allow Rogers to come close to cornering the market on pro sports in this town (it owns the Blue Jays, but not the Argos).

According to the Toronto Star:

“I know it’s real,” said one top sports industry executive, who requested anonymity. “I’ve heard it from Rogers at a high executive level and from MLSE at a (the highest) level.”

Sources close to the talks say the asking price for the 66 per cent stake owned by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, which has about $95 billion in assets, is in the neighbourhood of $1.3 billion.

“This would be unprecedented in a market the size of Toronto,” said Richard Powers, sports marketing professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “They would have a stranglehold on basically the entire professional sports market in southern Ontario and control almost every single stream of sports-producing revenue in the city.”

The only thing left out of Rogers’ control would be MLSE’s real estate holdings (which will at least mean that there won’t be two different Rogers Centres). The deal could mean that Rogers is trying to head off Bell-CTV, whose TSN channel is already ahead of Rogers Sportsnet and will have a lock on things like Olympic coverage. Of course, if that’s the case, Rogers is going to have to try not to make a hash of things like it did with its Sportsnet One debacle earlier this year—Leafs fans have suffered enough without having to deal with that again.

But wait—not so fast. Despite reassurances from the Star’s anonymous exec source, the National Post is reporting that there’s nothing close to a solid deal here, and that the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is shopping its share of MLSE around to interested buyers. Indeed, the teachers have even approached Bell, a deal for content that would basically leave Sportsnet in the dust. Nobody, apparently, denies that the teachers are looking to offload their shares, so it looks like one way or another, the Leafs will have new owners in the future.

• Rogers in $1.3B talks to buy majority stake in Leafs empire [Toronto Star]
• No deal close for Rogers to buy Maple Leafs: sources [National Post]