Canada regulator accepts Maple Leaf Sports deal

Wed May 2, 2012 5:56pm EDT
 
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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's Competition Bureau won't challenge a proposal by BCE Inc and Rogers Communication Inc to acquire a majority stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment for C$1.32 billion ($1.33 billion).

The two media companies agreed in December to acquire most of Ontario Teachers Pension Plan's 79.5 percent stake in MLSE, the owner of the National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leafs and a stable of other sports assets.

The bureau, an independent federal agency, said on Wednesday it issued a "no action letter" to BCE and Rogers indicating it won't block the deal, though it reserves the right to reconsider its position within a year of the deal's closing.

In a separate statement BCE said it expected the deal close in the middle of the year, pending approvals from the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission and sports leagues in which MLSE has franchises.

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

The Maple Leafs, ranked by Forbes magazine as the most valuable NHL team at $521 million, is MLSE's crown jewel.

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

The deal brings Rogers, Canada's biggest wireless company and owner of Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays, more premium content to feature on its Sportsnet media stable. BCE locks up more sports programming for its TSN channel.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Competition Bureau said it heard a number of serious concerns from market participants about the negative impact that the deal could have on both the broadcasting industry and consumers.   Continued...