Maple Leafs are for sale

Rumour has it that the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan are interested in selling their share in the...

Rumour has it that the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan are interested in selling their share in the Maple Leafs. (Jack Boland/QMI AGENCY)

DAN ILIKA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:47 PM ET

TORONTO - The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is looking into selling its part of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the financial juggernaut said in a statement Saturday.

The Wall St. firm of Morgan Stanley has been hired to find potential suitors for its shares in MLSE, according to Quebec newspaper La Presse. Teachers, as it’s more commonly known, confirmed the potential sale in a release Saturday night.

“The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan today stated that it will explore the possibility of selling its 66% majority share of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, and will be making no further public comment on the matter,” the statement said.

The La Presse report cites a source involved in preliminary discussions regarding the sale worth a reported $1.3 billion. MLSE, the largest sporting group in Canada, owns the Leafs, Raptors, Marlies and Toronto FC. The group also owns the Air Canada Centre, BMO Field and Ricoh Coliseum, and Leafs TV and NBA TV Canada.

If completed, the sale would the largest in Canadian professional sports history. The potential sale does not affect the 20.5% share of MLSE held by real-estate mogul Larry Tanenbaum, who has the right of first refusal on the pension fund’s share, along with TD Capital, which has a 13% stake in the sports giant.

The hiring of Morgan Stanley will now allow the group to come up with the highest possible bids before approaching Tanenbaum and TD Capital.

Tanenbaum has long been interested in becoming sole owner of MLSE, but whether he can match the potential bids remains to be seen.

Got go-ahead from NHL?

If Teachers did indeed hire Morgan Stanley, it would mean it got the go-ahead from the NHL, which must be consulted before any possible sale discussions can take place.

Watching the Leafs on the giant screen outside the ACC as they found a way to beat the Sabres in Buffalo Saturday night, Mike Campbell said it makes sense the Teachers would be trying to sell.

“They’re probably at a point where they’ve maximized their investment and it’s time to move on to something else,” the Mississauga man said. “It’s just smart business, from their point of view.”

Campbell said he has never taken issue with the teacher’s involvement in the Leafs.

“But I’d really like the next owner to be someone who has a real love for the game,” he said.

Teachers has been a shareholder of the Maple Leafs since 1994, when it purchased a 49% stake in the club for $50 million.

If the sale goes through for an estimated $1.3 billion, the pension plan would see more than a 1,600% return on the initial investment. The battle for sports franchise ownership between telecommunication companies has been heating up as of late as it could spell exclusive coverage of games.

It has been reported that the pension fund and Rogers were close to settling on a deal for Teachers shares in MLSE. Rogers owns the Toronto Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre, worth a reported $326 million.

Peter Morrison, who also took in the Maple Leafs big win from outside the ACC, said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman would likely relish the idea of the media giant buying the Teachers’ shares.

But he’s not so sure.

“I think Rogers controls enough,” the Beach resident said. “But who else could afford the shares?”

— With files from Chris Doucette


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