Top Canadian TV Sports Property on Auction

Teachers union puts controlling stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment up for sale.

TORONTO – Control of Canada’s biggest pro sports team and broadcaster is up for sale, and the country’s broadcast and online giants are lining up to make bids.

The Ontario Teacher's Pension Fund has signaled it will unload its 66 percent stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), which includes the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors pro sport teams. Possible suitors include cable and mobile phone giant Rogers Communications, which held informal talks with Teachers on the MLSE property late last year.

Other North American players with interest in MLSE are understood to have surfaced last year, prompting Teachers to launch a formal auction for the TV sports property. Rogers already owns and runs the Toronto Blue Jays pro baseball club, and the Rogers Sportsnet regional cable sports channel. Other possible bidders for the controlling MLSE stake include phone giant Telus Corp., the only major domestic carrier not to own major broadcast assets after rival Bell Canada picked up the CTV network and cabler Shaw Communications acquired Global Television and a string of cable channels.

A bid could also come from a consortium led by MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum, who already has a 20.5% stake in the Canadian TV sports property and a right to match the highest auction bid to come.

Besides the Maple Leafs and the Raptors teams, MLSE includes the Toronto FC soccer club and the Toronto Marlies, the Maple Leafs' farm team. In addition, MLSE has a stable of digital TV properties, including LeafsTV, NBA TV Canada and Golf TV Canada. The Ontario Teachers Pension Fund last year boosted its stake in MLSE to two-thirds control by acquiring a 7.7 percent stake from Canadian broadcaster CTVglobemedia as it looked to pay down debt. CTVglobemedia runs TSN, which already airs Maple Leafs and Raptors games on its schedule.