Rogers wires into Leafs

Friends Ted Rogers (left) and Larry Tanenbaum could have more deals in the works in the coming...

Friends Ted Rogers (left) and Larry Tanenbaum could have more deals in the works in the coming years. (Toronto Sun/Greg Henkenhaf)

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

Ted Rogers wants to put the rumours to rest -- he isn't about to become an owner of the Maple Leafs or a shareholder in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

Not today, anyhow.

"As far as ownership is concerned, we've never had any discussions. I don't anticipate we will," Mr. Rogers said yesterday as he became a business partner of MLSEL, just not the kind of business partner many had been anticipating.

Rogers made his rather strong declaration of keeping his hands off the Maple Leafs and then, just minutes later, contradicted himself yesterday.

When asked if we could put the Leafs ownership rumours to rest, he answered: "I wouldn't put anything to rest. I would say our purpose is, if something great comes along, you look at it."

In Rogers' mind -- and maybe he hasn't been watching that closely -- the Maple Leafs are that something great.

Translation: He's not buying in, not just yet, even though his foot is suddenly well positioned in the doorway. Today, he's a sponsor. By next summer, or thereabouts, Rogers may be first in line to end up with the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plans shares of MLSEL.

You see, Rogers and Leafs chairman Larry Tanenbaum aren't just friends and neighbours, they're now partners of sorts. The deal to bring Rogers into MLSEL, even as a sponsor, was brokered by Tanenbaum. It's not much of a secret that Tanenbaum would like to be more than just chairman of the MLSEL, he'd like a stronger say in how the company operates.

Tanenbaum, whose title sounds more powerful than it actually is, requires an ally with clout to maneuver into the position he aspires to with MLSEL. Enter Mr. Rogers, the communications giant, whose company can benefit greatly from the new sponsorship arrangement with Maple Leaf Sports and benefit even more so with an ownership stake.

Tanenbaum says the partnership with Rogers isn't happening and Rogers says the same, but then business people aren't in the habit of revealing their next step.

Which is why both Rogers and Tanenbaum were spreading a bunch of National Football League bafflegab yesterday. Bring out the story that won't go away and see how many people bite.

And some bit.

For as long as anyone can remember, Paul Godfrey has been trumpeting a Toronto franchise in the NFL. It forever sounds fascinating and improbable, but every year around Super Bowl time -- and sometimes in between -- the subject comes up and every year it becomes a one-day topic of little substance but much banter.

When you put enough wealthy guys in a room they can't help but dream large and somewhat silly. This is, in a way, how they got to be what they are. They pushed the envelope, gambled on the seemingly impossible, marched against conventional wisdom and more often than not, found a way to make it work.

This is what keeps Rogers and Tanenbaum and Godfrey and Rogers executive Phil Lind on the NFL trail.

They go to games -- they're going to Cleveland soon to apparently schmooze NFL owners. They've already forget a relationship with the new commissioner, Roger Goodell.

All that may get them tickets to the commissioner's ball during Super Bowl week, but not a franchise.

"Phil (Lind) is a conniver," Rogers said. "He wants to bring a team here ... We all know it's a very expensive undertaking."

When asked if he has a billion dollars for a franchise, Rogers said: "No, I haven't got that kind of money ... Rogers Communications is certainly not prepared to spend a billion dollars on the NFL coming to Toronto ... We don't want to do any harem-scarem things."

The ownership of the Maple Leafs isn't harem scarem. It's a sure-thing. One look at Ted Rogers' face as he held up the Maple Leafs jersey and posed for pictures saw the love in his eyes.

One day it will happen. The Teachers have made their money, it's time for them to get out of this investment. It's time for Rogers to get in and Tanenbaum to have more than a cursory say.

Unlike the NFL talk, all of that is likely to happen. It's only a matter of when.


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