Rogers and MLSE; Not About Championships
It's a story that hit the city like a tidal wave this morning.
That Rogers is looking to buy the 66 per cent stake in the Maple Leafs sports empire currently owned by the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund constituted a huge scoop, certainly big enough to drown out water cooler conversation about last night's cruel Leaf loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But then, this is truly a business story more than a sports story. Really, it has nothing to do with wins or losses or championships.
It's about TV. And content. And hand-held wireless.
But not about Stanley Cups or any other trophies, for that matter.
It's a mind-boggling transaction, one that would theoretically put Rogers in charge of the Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays and Toronto FC, a spectacular and unprecedented concentration of sports properties in North America. Where it would leave Larry Tanenbaum, owner of just under 21 per cent of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, is unclear.
It would be a powerful collective, yet some would also fear such a gigantic sports conglomerate just as Teddy Roosevelt once fought against combines and railroads. Moreover, it's fair to say both Rogers, as owner of the Jays, and MLSE, as owner of the Leafs, Raps and Toronto FC, have more than their share of critics in a city in which none of those teams have won a championship since the early 1990s.
The Jays had a surprisingly good 2010, so maybe fans are feeling better about the ownership of that ball club. Certainly the ascension to power within Rogers of Keith Pelley is a positive sign given the good reviews Pelley received for running the CFL's Toronto Argonauts several years ago.
But then, of course, all of this is a totally different animal.
If Rogers were to be successful in its play for the MLSE sports properties as outlined first today in The Star by reporters Rob Cribb and Tony Van Alphen, the entire dynamic of the Leafs et al would change as the new organization would be built around a media content company, rather than a business increasingly into condominium construction and arena management.
But would sports fans get more? Or would this quasi-monopoly leave the supporters of each team dissatisfied?
Would the Leafs be king? Or would the Jays, Rogers' first love, be at the top of the pyramid?
Rumours of a monster transaction involving the Teachers pension fund's share of MLSE have been percolating on the street for a while now, along with the rumours of Richard Peddie's departure, which came to fruition on Tuesday. Nobody is denying this story, but if MLSE or the Teacher's fund tries to even play it down, it will ring hollow after the Peddie story was reported weeks ago and, after initial denials, proved to be true.
Now that the Rogers play is public knowledge, it could also bring out other bidders, possibly driving the price up.
It certainly adds a new wrinkle to NHL board of governors meetings scheduled for West Palm Beach on Monday, although the league was generally aware that Rogers had interest in MLSE's properties. Already this week, hot rumours about a sale of the Buffalo Sabres hit the headlines, and the NHL is already trying to conclude a sale of the Phoenix Coyotes by the end of the month.
Right now, Dallas and Atlanta are also on the market, so NHL owners will have a boatload of issues to deal with down in Florida next week.
As far as the potential sale of the Leafs and Raptors go, it seems unlikely that falling under the Rogers umbrella would dramatically alter their competitiveness, with both clubs again unlikely to be playoff teams this year. It's not as if some Mark Cuban-like tycoon wants to buy them, with an eye on stroking his ego by basking in the glow of championship success. Moroever, both play in leagues with salary caps, and Rogers has already demonstrated in cap-less Major League Baseball it cannot or will not spend with the big market clubs.
Really, this is a business deal that just happens to involve sports. It's as much about condos and TV programming as it is about pucks and balls.
That said, it could alter the contours of the Toronto sports landscape for years, possibly decades, to come.