Rogers responds to MLSE deal reports

ROB LONGLEY, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:56 AM ET

TORONTO - If Rogers has an interest in buying the controlling share of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Canadian communications giant is not tipping its hand just yet.

In a release responding to reports that Rogers is about to make a play to buy the 66 per cent share of MLSE owned by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, the company didn’t deny interest but refused to acknowledge it as well.

“Sports is an important part of Rogers and we’re always in discussions with companies to enhance the sports content we offer,” the statement, said. “There’s no change to our current relationship with MLSE.”

There is little doubt that Rogers would have great interest in the Leafs and Raptors, however, if for no other reason than to provide some firepower in its battle with TSN, Canada’s runaway leader in sports broadcasting.

Rogers Sportsnet, a regional string of sports channels, has long played second fiddle to TSN but if its parent company were to own the Leafs, the gap would immediately begin to narrow. Sportsnet currently pays in the neighbourhood of $800,000 for each regional telecast of a Leafs game.

Even when the team is struggling, ratings for the Leafs continue to remain strong no matter what network the games air on. Rogers has the rights to more games this season than any other network at 28 followed by CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada (24), TSN (17) and Leafs TV, an MLSE property at 13.

“It wouldn’t be a death blow to TSN, nothing would at this point,” said an executive familiar with the Canadian sports broadcasting landscape. “But having the Leafs brand under the same roof would be a huge dent to the competition. The power of the Leafs brand is second to none in this country and rivalled by very few sports companies in the world.”

The Rogers statement issued Wednesday morning also pointed out that the company has “a successful, long-standing sponsorship and broadcasting arrangement with MLSE” and that it does not comment on rumours or speculation.

That long-standing relationship includes regional rights to Leafs games as well as broadcast arrangements with both the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and Toronto FC soccer club.


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