Partnership links Jays, MLSEL

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Will cyber dating lead to a sports marriage between Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. and Rogers Communications Inc.?

Rogers neared the threshold with its sports and business rival yesterday, in a marketing partnership that links MLSEL's hockey, basketball and soccer properties with the baseball Blue Jays' principal owner. It heightened months of intrigue that owner Ted Rogers and MLSEL chairman Larry Tanenbaum are positioning themselves for life on Bay St. should the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan cash out its 58% majority ownership of the multi-sport empire.

Midtown Toronto neighbours Rogers and Tanenbaum have been seen this summer at a Jays game and have continuing interest in luring a National Football League franchise here. A joint trip to an NFL game in Cleveland is in the offing and Rogers, through Sportsnet, will be a bidder for more Leafs games when the Hockey Night In Canada contract is through at the end of this season.

"Larry and I have been successful in getting our groups together for this venture and I hope there will be opportunities to do joint ventures in the future," Rogers said yesterday. "But as far as I'm concerned, there are no (joint ownership) discussions and I don't contemplate there will be."

Tanenbaum has the right of first refusal on the Teachers' share should they look for other investments to add to their estimated $100 billion assets. There are whispers Teachers wishes to get out of the local professional sports picture as its name gets more associated with the Leafs' continued failure to win a Cup. Both the Leafs and Raptors missed the playoffs last year, despite being money makers.

"At some point the Teachers or TD Capital (14% minority owners) might sell," MLSEL president and CEO Richard Peddie said. "But I have not been part of any discussions of that kind. I think Teachers sees this as a good way of doing business as a long-term hold. I can say that Teachers has never said no to a Leafs general manager's request (namely increasing the payroll) and has not taken a dollar out unless it was to re-invest."

The multi-year Rogers deal will see it become the preferred supplier for telecom services, including wireless voice and data, land line telephone, cable television and internet access. It also bumps Bell from signature signage at the Air Canada Centre, despite parent company Bell Globemedia also being a 15% MLSEL shareholder.

BELL BUMPED

"I don't think it was (a slight), as Bell was a bidder and so was Telus," said Tom Anselmi, executive vice-president and COO of MLSEL. "The previous agreement came up for negotiation and we went back to market."


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