Handful of parties interested in MLSE

CHRIS DOUCETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:39 PM ET

If majority ownership of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is up for grabs, expect a frenzy of potential suitors to be tripping over each other as they vie for Canada's most storied and valuable sports franchise.

But which potential buyers will be left standing when the final buzzer sounds on the sale of the country's largest sports group?

That's the $1.5 billion question.

Reports the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, or Teachers, was considering selling its 66% majority stake in MLSE after 17 years in the game first surfaced in December.

But interest from Rogers, BCE and reportedly two U.S. companies never went beyond informal discussions.

The issue resurfaced over the weekend with Teachers fanning the flames of possibility by confirming an advisor had been hired to test the waters for interest.

Who knows how many prospective buyers from outside Canada will step up. But at least four homegrown possibilities spring to mind.

Obviously the other two current minority owners of MLSE have to be considered.

Larry Tanenbaum, who owns 20.5%, and TD Capital Group, which owns 13.5%, have first right of refusal.

Tanenbaum has shown interest in growing his stake in the past when other owners have offered up their piece.

But the price tag might be too steep this time, unless he can find a backer to bankroll him.

And he may not even be interested under the current economic conditions.

Teachers, which according to some reports has spent $180 million growing its stake in MLSE since 1994, is expecting a $1.5 billion return on its investment.

On top of the four sports franchises, MLSE also owns the ACC, BMO Field, the Ricoh Centre, the Maple Leaf Square condo development, Leafs TV and Raptors TV.

TD Capital Group has yet to express any interest and it's not expected to.

A dark horse might be Jim Balsillie, CEO of Research in Motion. But sources say the BlackBerry tycoon has burned too many bridges during two unsuccessful bids to buy NHL clubs and move them to Hamilton.

The most likely candidate is Rogers, which would have no trouble finding the cash and already owns the Blue Jays and the baseball club's domed stadium.

Only the Argos and lacrosse's Rock would remain outside the Rogers umbrella.

Add Sportsnet and its other specialty channels to the mix and Rogers would have unmatched sports programming.


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