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Maple Leafs and Raptors sold to Rogers and BCE

Fri, 12/09/2011 - 2:56pm
The Associated Press

Canada's largest telecommunication companies announced Friday they have agreed to buy the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and NBA's Toronto Raptors in a deal worth about $1.3 billion as the fierce telecom rivals seek live content for their sports channels, digital properties and smartphones.

Rogers Communications and BCE have purchased a majority stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment from the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan in one of the richest sports deals in North American history.

Rogers and BCE, major competitors in wireless, Internet and cable, will each own 37.5 percent, while Toronto businessman Larry Tanenbaum upped his minority stake to 25 percent and will remain chairman.

The storied Maple Leafs have long been the most followed hockey team in Canada. In all, the Leafs have won 11 Stanley Cups, but none since 1967. MLSE also owns the Air Canada Centre, the home of the Maple Leafs and Raptors and a major concert venue in Canada's largest city.

The deal also includes the Toronto FC of Major League Soccer, a minor league hockey team, and the Leafs and Raptors TV stations.

Rogers already owns the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team and their stadium, the Rogers Centre, as well as the Canadian sports channel Sportsnet.

Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed said he was thrilled to be a part owner of the iconic Maple Leaf brand. BCE and Rogers are the largest wireless, Internet and cable companies in Canada. They will share the sports content.

Mohamed noted that Rogers and BCE worked together as broadcast partners at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. BCE controls the TSN sports channel.

"Go figure," Mohamed joked. "It is the Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC, and we're in it together."

Mohamed said it will bolster their sports channel and their digital, print, mobile and radio properties. Mohamed said more people have wireless devices like smartphones and tablets, and they want to watch live sports. Advertisers pay a premium for such viewers.

"Sports content is king. Let's face it: Nobody wants to watch a game two days later," Mohamed said. "Between the two organizations, I can't think of anybody that can bring live sports to Canadians wherever they are, without missing a second."

George Cope, the president and CEO of BCE, said it delivers on their goal to deliver the best content to what he calls the "new four screen world that we live in."

"We believe, increasingly, that live content is going to be more and more important in the technology world, and there is no better live content than the professional sports that we are talking about today," Cope said.

The deal will require regulatory approval and approval by each of the leagues.

The pension plan, which represents 300,000 current and retired teachers, said the deal came a few weeks after they announced it had given up trying to sell the stake. Shortly after that, BCE and Rogers stepped forward with a bid that met all of its original terms and conditions, Teachers' said.

Tanenbaum said bringing the companies together will give MLSE the resources to build championship teams.

"It really means we're moving for those championship teams, the Stanley Cup, that NBA championship," Tanenbaum said.

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