Here We Go Again
It was Dec. 1, 2010 when the story first broke in The Star that Rogers Communications was going to buy a majority share in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Everyone immediately downplayed the story, and when it didn't immediately happen for months the tale went in many different directions, even including Wayne Gretzky at one point, and has now come full circle.
It's Rogers again, and maybe now for real. But not alone.
The two companies, Rogers and BCE, that in the last few months couldn't come to a relatively simple agreement on Olympic coverage after 2012, may join forces and in one sensational, unconventional move buy the 79 per cent stake in MLSE currently controlled by the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund.
Yes, the same pension fund that said just a matter of days ago it had decided to take the Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC, the Air Canada Centre, Leafs TV, Raptors TV and the rest of the giant company off the market.
At any rate, multiple media reports late Thursday night had Rogers and BCE, which own Sportsnet and TSN, respectively, set to jointly buy out the pension fund in a $1.3-$1.4 billion deal that would, if it comes together, drastically alter the local sports landscape.
Rogers would own the Blue Jays, the Rogers Centre (home of the Jays and CFL Argonauts) and a portion of the Leafs, Raptors and the ACC. In other words, Rogers would have a stake (nobody's saying what the percentages are yet) in every major sports franchise in the city plus it's two largest sports and entertainment venues.
That's unprecedented. Some will argue it's not even healthy in a town where the Argos are the only team to have won a championship in the last 18 years. Or even played for one.
Under this reported deal, BCE would have a piece of the Leafs, Raps and the ACC, and the biggest result of all of this could be the formation of a new entity, some kind of new sports broadcast network for southern Ontario. Or not. Maybe this deal blocks that from ever happening. Right now, the Jays are exclusive to Rogers, while both TSN and Sportsnet carry Leaf and Raptor games. TSN has exclusive rights to the CFL, while Rogers has an agreement with the NFL's Buffalo Bills to play regular season games in Toronto.
How, exactly, Rogers and BCE would split this up will be fascinating. Larry Tanenbaum, it's being reported, would maintain his 20 per cent share, and likely remain chairman. But the inability of Rogers and Bell to solve that puzzle of sharing MLSE and all its broadcast/internet tentacles was, according to a Globe and Mail report, apparently part of what killed their $1.4 billion offer for MLSE in late November. The two have worked together as partners in the Olympic consortium that broadcast the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and will also broadcast next summer's Summer Olympics in London.
Several major rights deals are coming up in the next few years, and with Rogers and Bell together on this deal, if it happens, the bidding for those rights - NHL, CFL - becomes fascinating. As it stands, nothing would change on local hockey rights until 2015, and nothing on national hockey rights until 2014. There are already suggestions that along with BCE having to sell it's 18 per cent share in the Montreal Canadiens, part of this deal might see the two companies form some kind of independent company to maintain an arms length relationship between the teams and the broadcasters.
It always made sense to many that one of these broadcast giants would bid on MLSE because they could value the programming element like no other entity.
Now it may happen. Or more rumours and speculation may happen. Who knows, maybe more Gretzky. Not the worst idea, and apparently he's in town. Totally coincidental, surely.
But this proposed (rumoured? imminent?) deal would be like none other in pro sports. It's outlandish. Utterly sensational. Certainly better, one would imagine, than having some U.S. equity fund buy MLSE. People seem reasonably happy with Rogers' ownership of the Blue Jays. It would keep all these teams in Canadian hands.
But how the hell it would all work? Well, that's gonna take some explaining.