The sale of the Montreal Canadiens to the Molson family continues to raise questions, with many believing the sale process happened too quickly.
Quebec’s Argent news agency has learned that the speed at which Gillett wanted to sell the team didn’t impress NHL brass, notably league commissioner Gary Bettman.
“Bettman wasn’t pleased with the first few steps in the selling (process),” a source said.
Sources close to the sale suggest Bettman put a halt to the whole process at one point in April to attempt to re-organize the situation. On May 4, Bettman is said to have invited prospective buyers of the team to New York to try and find out exactly what Gillett was seeking.
Frank Brown, the NHL’s vice-president of communications, told the news agency that the Habs followed proper “policies and procedures” and refused to comment on whether the May 4 meeting took place.
This isn’t the first time Bettman hasn’t seen eye-to-eye with Gillett. During a press conference during the Stanley Cup finals at the end of May, Bettman said that Gillett needed to decide whether he would keep the team because there was plenty of interest from prospective buyers.
Bettman could not be reached for comment.
It seems as though Gillett’s hurry to unload the team has to do with the soccer team FC Liverpool, a team he is co-owner of in England. Gillett and co-owner Tom Hicks have to come up with a refinancing plan for the club before July 24 that will satisfy creditors including the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia.
Sources with knowledge of the refinancing — which involves close to $650 million — said Gillett signed a deal with a consortium led by Wachovia bank promising that he would sell the Habs. Thus the rush to find a buyer.
“George Gillett had no other choice,” a source said. “He had signed a document.”
Sources with knowledge of the Habs sale said Gillett had already started planning the refinancing of the soccer club at the end of 2008. It is likely he wanted to unload some of his assets in order to pay off debt related to the soccer franchise, the first instalment of which was due Jan. 25.
Initially, the plan is believed to have been to sell off 20 % of his ownership in the Canadiens, 20 % of his stake in NASCAR`s Gillett Evernham Racing and another 20 % stake in FC Liverpool.
Gillett is also believed to have approached several influential business men — primarily in Montreal — to find buyers, but was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, The Woodbridge Company Limited, a private investment company owned by the Thomson family, will support the Molson family in their purchase of the Montreal Canadiens, Woodbridge spokesman David Binet said.
Woodbridge will not publicly announce how much money that support includes, Binet said, adding that it was up to the NHL to release those figures if necessary.
The Thomson family is the richest in Canada, with an estimated fortune of US $13 billion, placing them 24th among the world’s billionaires, according to Forbes Magazine.
Woodbridge owns 40% of CTVglobemedia, whose French-language affiliate RDS holds exclusive rights to broadcast Canadiens games in French until the end of the 2012-2013 season.
CTVglobemedia also owns a 7.7 % stake in Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, as well as the Air Canada Centre in Toronto where both teams play.
David Thomson is the president of media conglomerate Thomson Reuters, of which the family owns 55 %. He is the head of the Woodbridge Company Limited with his brother, Peter, since their father died in June 2006.
On Monday, the Globe and Mail cited sources saying that the Molsons were borrowing about $200 million to buy the Habs and that they were benefiting from the support of telecommunications firm BCE and David Thomson.