Rogers Communications is looking to purchase a majority stake in the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and the Toronto Marlies, according to a report in Wednesday’s Toronto Star.
Buying a majority stake in Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan would transform Rogers, which already owns the Toronto Blue Jays, into one of the most powerful sports enterprises in North America.
“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.
And since Rogers has brought the NFL to Toronto on a part-time basis, there’s a good chance the rumoured $1.3 billion sale would greatly affect the Buffalo Bills and their future (or lack of a future) in the city of Toronto.
Rogers appears to be extremely interested in the Bills long term. The company indicated last month that it was interested in extending the current five-year series with the team, and there’s been talk that more games may be added in to the Toronto docket in the near-future. And since it’s widely known that the Bills Toronto Series hasn’t been a success from a business standpoint, many believe that the company’s ultimate goal is to cozy up to the team before making a pitch to move it to Toronto permanently when it no longer has an owner (Ralph Wilson is 92 and isn’t keeping the team in his family).
So is Rogers looking to become the biggest sports media empire in North American professional sports? The Leafs and Raptors joined with baseball’s Blue Jays would draw them close to that. The Bills would lock it up. Three issues:
1) The city doesn’t have an NFL-ready stadium and there are no immediate plans to build one. That hasn’t changed. No one wants to pay for a stadium, and there isn’t likely to be much money coming from a city that is focused on building facilities for the 2015 Pan Am Games.
2) The NFL, smartly, precludes corporate ownership. And there likely isn’t an individual from the Rogers empire able to emerge as the majority stakeholder of a billion-dollar operation. Ted Rogers died in 2008.
3) You have to wonder if this sale would remove Rogers from the list of potential suitors for the Bills. Maybe it’s one or the other. And if that’s the case, the Maple Leafs brand — which is far more valuable in Toronto than the Bills brand — takes precedence.
Then you have to wonder if the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan, which according to the Star has about $95 billion in assets, would consider taking its $1.3 billion from the sale and spending it on the Bills, plus a stadium. That’s unlikely. Why sell the Leafs, who print money, and spend most or all of that cash on the Bills, who have failed miserably in their limited time in Toronto?
The name that continues to emerge when analyzing the situation is Larry Tanenbaum’s. At last check, the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment chairman was worth just shy of $1 billion. You’d think that following a sale, Tanenbaum, who worked with Rogers to bring the Bills Toronto Series together, would have enough cash to become the majority owner of an NFL team.