Saputo interested in buying Habs

Danny Vear, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 5:01 PM ET

Joey Saputo, head of Montreal-based dairy empire Saputo Inc., is interested in buying the Montreal Canadiens. Saputo revealed that he is part of a consortium interested in buying the franchise, but chose not to reveal the names of his financial partners.

“I’m making my offer in my own name, not in the name of the Saputo group,” Saputo said. “I can’t say any more.”

A member of the wealthy Saputo family, Joey Saputo is the chairman of the Montreal Impact soccer club, one of only two Canadian teams in the USL First Division, and made the comments regarding the sale of the Canadiens on Wednesday at the Impact’s regular season opener.

Saputo said that for confidentiality reasons, he wouldn’t discuss any other details concerning the sale of the famed franchise, but noted that his offer wouldn’t force him to choose between hockey and soccer.

At this point, the search for a new owner for the Canadiens seems to be well underway.

With a major loan refinancing looming in July, current owner George Gillett gave the go-ahead to BMO Capital Markets to evaluate all possibilities for his companies, including the sale of his hockey club. On April 9, BMO representatives received preliminary offers from groups and individuals they’d approached in the weeks before.

Ten potential buyers are said to have signed confidentiality agreements with BMO in order to get a more detailed look at the team’s financial condition. Quebec communications giant Quebecor made its interest known just prior to the deadline for preliminary offers.

Other would-be buyers include Quebec pension fund Caisse de depot et placement, Cirque du Soleil owner Guy Laliberte, Les Productions Feeling (run by Celine Dion’s husband Rene Angelil), as well as investment firm Claridge. In addition to Saputo, former Habs GM Serge Savard announced that he and a group of partners were interested in buying the team.

Forbes magazine estimates the Canadiens and the Bell Centre are worth, as a package, about $415 million. The magazine also said the Habs generated profits of $55 million last year from $172 million in total revenue.

Because of the lower value of the Canadian dollar, experts say the club and Bell Centre’s current value is actually around $372 million. Gillett holds an 80% stake in the team, valued at approximately $300 million, while the rest is in the hands of the Molson family.

Habs owner under financial pressure

Time is running out for George Gillett. His partner in the English Premier League soccer team Liverpool FC, American businessman and Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks, is currently in serious financial trouble.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Hicks has defaulted on a US $525 million loan and is being hounded by his creditors. As he attempts to extricate himself from the situation, Hicks will try to retain control of his professional teams by finding new financial partners.

There’s also the matter of the $637 million loan taken out by Gillett and Hicks for their Liverpool purchase. It will be due this July after the deadline was pushed back six months last winter. In any case, Gillett could soon be in serious need of cash.


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