December 9, 2011
Nothing in MLSE deal for Toronto fans
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
The largest transaction in Canadian sports history may be terrific for the seller, wonderful for the buyers, but in the end it may mean absolutely nothing for the long suffering sports fans of Toronto.
Yes, the nameless, faceless, blameless, Teachers’ Pension Plan is out, gone from the sports landscape of this city after 17 years of profit and frustration. But instead of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment being owned by an investor, the teams under its umbrella will be owned by corporate giants, motivated not by Stanley Cups or Larry O’Brien Trophies, but by distribution of content.
In fact, when the subject was broached Friday — in various ways at Friday’s mammoth announcement that Bell and Rogers have purchased majority interest in MLSE — there wasn’t anything a fan of the Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC could clearly take as a path to future greatness for Toronto teams.
That has been the problem for too long, really. MLSE is one amazing company. It’s more amazing when you consider what it started as and where it is now. But as an investment, it was remarkable for the buy. And today, it’s the latest group of toys in the empire of Bell and Rogers, more content, more customers, for more platforms.
This is a wonderful deal if you happen to be a shareholder in Bell. So says the CEO, George Cope, who promised the “shareholders will make more money.” That is nice and rich, which was pretty much the theme at Friday’s announcement. Nice. Rich. Iconic. Content. Distribution. You pick the terms. Juggle them all up and start your sentences again. If you care about all that in a multi-platformed world, well, this sale was for you.
If you care about how many games the Maple Leafs will win, today, tomorrow, next year, then, you have to suspend just a little belief for now and probably for the future.
Listening to Rogers’ CEO Nadir Mohamed come across as a starry-eyed sports fans was endearing until, of course, he referred to the Raptors as an “iconic brand.” That was before he called them an “iconic franchise.” The key word for the day, between Mohamed gushes, was “iconic.”
Exactly what make the downtrodden, irrelevant, starless, basketball franchise in this town “iconic” is something Mohamed will have to explain on another day. Mohamed also claimed to know nothing of the disenchantment with his company over the ownership of the Blue Jays and their unwillingness to spend on the team. “We love the Jays,” he said. “We see this as a great team on the rise.”
These are your new owners of the Maple Leafs et al. One is promising yield. That is honest. The other just happy to be here and have all that Rogers capital behind him. He should have been the one wearing rose-coloured glasses.
“It’s the perfect marriage of content and distribution,” Mohamed said of the sporting purchase. “Our goal is to leverage content and distribution. This is having access to iconic content.”
At least, between gleeful smiles, he was honest. “The one thing we know about is passion,” said Mohamed. “We’re absolutely passionate about sports ... We know what’s required on and off the field.”
Rogers has owned the Blue Jays for 11 years: In 11 years, they have never been close to being a playoff team.
Throughout the history of MLSE, there has been one giant disconnect. The business of the company has been plentiful. The wins on the field have been limited. In fact, in recent years, the history of the Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC has bordered on the pathetic. No one wanted to talk about that much on this billion dollar day. In fact, when the question was asked, three different ways, each time it was greeted with an unhappy face from board chairman, Larry Tanenbaum.
Tanenbaum, a terrific man, has not had terrific success as a sporting owner, unless you determine success
by balance sheet. His stake in MLSE has increased as of Friday to around $433 million. The Leafs haven’t made the playoffs since prior to the lockout. The Raptors have won one playoff series in their entire history, which is more than can be said for the soccer team. Losing is part of what MLSE does — although they do have the best sports bar in the world.
“These two companies know how to win,” Cope said of Bell and Rogers, adding that with Tanenbaum’s guidance they can’t lose. Just wish somebody had said something relevant about culture change. Without that, there will be new owners, and same old defeats.
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