Toronto sports empire sold to Rogers and BCE

Fri Dec 9, 2011 2:32pm EST
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By Euan Rocha

TORONTO (Reuters) - Two of Canada's largest telecom and media companies will take control of the Toronto sports empire that owns the NHL's Maple Leafs in a C$1.32 billion ($1.30 billion) deal that brings more premium content to their competing sports channels.

Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan said on Friday it is selling its 79.5 stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns a prized collection of some of the most valuable sports assets in Canada's largest city.

Rogers Communications and BCE, parent of Bell Canada, will evenly divide a 75 percent stake, while Larry Tanenbaum and his firm Kilmer Sports Inc, which already own the remaining 20.5 percent, will raise their stake to 25 percent.

"We believe it is strategically positive to control content-producing assets like MLSE," said Desjardins analyst Maher Yaghi in a note to clients, referring to Rogers and BCE. "Splitting the cost between these two large enterprises is also positive, as it lowers the risk profile of the acquisition."

MLSE owns the National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leafs, ranked by Forbes magazine as the most valuable NHL team at $521 million, more than double the average.

In a city where hockey is king, the team has a deep, loyal fan base that pays top dollar for sold-out home games. Their popularity endures even though the Leafs haven't won the Stanley Cup, the NHL's championship trophy, since 1967 or made a playoff appearance since 2003-04.

MLSE also boasts the National Basketball Association's Raptors, Major League Soccer's Toronto FC and the Air Canada Centre, the downtown arena in which the Leafs and Raptors play. It also has other sporting franchises, and related broadcasting assets and properties.

The deal brings Rogers, Canada's biggest wireless company and owner of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club, more premium content to feature on its Sportsnet media stable. By the same token, BCE locks up more sports programming for its TSN channel.   Continued...