December 11, 2011
MLSE's unholy alliance
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Fear of losing access to the television juggernaut that is Maple Leafs hockey brought two media giants together to purchase majority interest in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Telecommunications giants Rogers and Bell were worried either company would gain control of MLSE, thus shutting out the other, or worse, that another purchaser would take the content of the company and remove it from the major sports networks in Canada.
Bell owns TSN. Rogers owns Sportsnet. Both have been hugely successful financially. But remove the 50 Leaf games from both networks and the equation changes significantly.
That fear, when combined with the rare deal-making ability of lawyer Dale Lastman, along with the leverage held by minority owner Larry Tanenbaum, brought the unlikely and unholy alliance of Rogers and Bell together in what is easily the largest sale in Canadian sports history: A sale that centres around the Leafs first, with everything else playing the part of character actors.
Neither Rogers nor Bell appeared comfortable enough to take the billion-dollar plunge themselves into MLSE so instead the companies held their noses and now hope this strange partnership will work out.
As for the Leafs and other teams under the giant umbrella, little changes aside from presentation. That and the natural concern that the pair of communications giants will find new and creative ways to remove dollars from your pockets.
THIS AND THAT
Too bad he’s not younger. Otherwise, Paul Beeston would be the perfect candidate to replace Richard Peddie as the new CEO of the brand new configuration that is MLSE ... Tom Anselmi remains the in-house favourite. Longtime Rogers friend John Tory is rumoured from the outside and there are at least two other candidates considered for the big job. If Rogers Communications boss Keith Pelley wants the position, and he might, it’s probably his to lose. At least he can say he’s won a championship ... If MLSE is as pro-Canadian as it claims to be, why not buy the Toronto Argonauts from David Braley? They could pick up the team for pocket change or lunch money and use their marketing expertise to breath some life into the moribund franchise ... Have to repeat this: Rogers boss Nadir Mohamed called the Raptors iconic. And that was before they added Rasual Butler and Aaron Gray on Saturday ... Word is that Rogers and Bell will have a draft of sorts, just like groups of season ticket holders do, to determine which non Hockey Night In Canada Leaf games will be on which network next season. And wouldn’t that make for a terrific television show? Instead of Phil Kessel going last in the draft, Columbus would be the choice.
HEAR AND THERE
The timing of the publication of the Patrick Chan — I don’t feel appreciated in Canada — interview couldn’t have been worse. The Lou Marsh Award, as Canada’s athlete of the year, will be determined Tuesday. Chan may end up as athlete of the year — in China ... Kessel, no longer leading the NHL in scoring, is still on a 50-goal, 100-point pace. Interesting, though, his linemate Joffrey Lupul is outpointing Kessel on the road ... For the record, the Leafs haven’t had two scorers finish in the Top 10 in the NHL since Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk managed to do so in 1993-94.
What’s the over-under on the date of internal strife between Bell and Rogers on the MLSE board? ... Go figure: Dale Tallon went garage sale shopping in the summer and overspent to put together his Florida Panthers. And under rookie coach Kevin Dineen, they’re winning. Please explain? ... Yes, upon examination, the late Derek Boogaard’s brain proved to be badly damaged. But here’s the question: Did the damage come from blows to the head or alchohol consumed? ... No one was more excited about the selection of the Sun’s Bob Elliott to the Baseball Hall of Fame than fellow hall of famer Pat Gillick. “I cried,” Gillick told me. “And then he cried.” Better not tell Christie Blatchford.
SCENE AND HEARD
The timing couldn’t be better for the Blue Jays. Albert Pujols and the worst named team in sports, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, make their one trip to Toronto on the July 1 long weekend ... The Angels, by the way, aren’t just on the hook for all that Pujols money. They’ll be overpaying Vernon Wells all of his $21 million this season ... Love the line from Andrew Zimbalist, professor of sports economics: “I think baseball needs a steroid testing policy for its owners.” ... What Ron Wilson doesn’t seem to get: He’s funny, bright and engaging. But too often he shows the public snarky, sarcastic and combative ... Is the training camp roster of the Raptors the absolute thinnest in the NBA? Can you say tanking without tanking? ... Here’s hoping the popular Matthew Barnaby gets help. He clearly needs it ... Michael Buffer, who has made a living from “Let’s get ready to rumble” is being inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame ... Bet you didn’t know that UFC champ Jon (Bones) Jones has one brother, Arthur, playing defensive line for the Baltimore Ravens and another, Chandler, playing defensive end for Syracuse University.
AND ANOTHER THING
David Stern made the right call in disallowing the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers. But his timing and his methods couldn’t have been worse. Stern has never been less popular in his time in office ... Best reason to worry about the Leafs: They’ve given up the most power play goals in the NHL, way ahead of second worst. They’re at an awful 74.3% after three previous terrible Wilson years shorthanded. Pat Quinn’s teams were never below 80% when coaching the Leafs ... On paper, NHL realignment looks great. But talk to me after three of Leafs, Habs, Senators, Sabres, Bruins and the two Florida teams have to miss the playoffs ... Tomas Kaberle’s first point as a Canadien came on the power play, which is slightly unusual considering his recent history. For the past five years, in Toronto, Boston and Carolina, he was part of many of the least productive power plays in the league ... Why does the NHL list Claude Giroux as a winger and Lupul as a right winger on their otherwise impressive website? ... Who wins the NHL scoring title: a) Giroux; b) Kessel; c) someone named Sedin; d) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with a huge second half ... Happy birthday to Carolyn Waldo (47), Pierre Pilote (80), Jean Paul Parise (70), Daniel Alfredsson (39), Shareef Abdur-Raheem (35) and Willie Canate (40) ... And hey, whatever became of Claude Lamoureux?
WILD TIMES IN MINNY
Off the top of my head, I could easily name five players from the 1981 Stanley Cup final losing Minnesota North Stars team. Probably more if I concentrate. Bobby Smith, Dino Ciccarelli, Craig Hartsburg, Tom McCarthy, Neal Broten, Don Beaupre. OK, that’s six. If I continue ... Curt Giles, Steve Payne, Paul Shmyr and Gilles Meloche, that’s 10, and that’s without clicking on hockeydb.com. The point of this: the Minnesota Wild have the best record in the NHL. I wish I could tell you why but I don’t watch Wild games. Can’t stand the uniforms. They have — I had to look this up — Mikko Koivu, the 31st leading scorer in hockey, and Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi and excellent goaltenders and a rookie coach in Mike Yeo and Cliff’s son, Chuck Fletcher, in charge. But really, who saw this coming? How anonymous is this? And you have to wonder: Can it last?
SEE NO EVIL
Gary Bettman’s silence and his unwillingness to comment after the sale of majority shares in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is indeed curious. It takes me back to a time, pre-Bettman, when the inside joke around the NHL was, there were two sets of rules in the league. One for the Montreal Canadiens. And one for every other team. The fact that BCE (Bell) will own 37.5% of the Maple Leafs when the deal is completed and wants to continue with its 18% ownership of the Montreal Canadiens is awkward, especially considering the teams involved. It’s one thing for billionaire Ken Thomson to maintain his small percentage of the Habs and significant ownership in the Winnipeg Jets. It’s another when it involves two of hockey’s signature teams. As commissioner, Bettman should at least explain the process of dual ownership to confused fans. Hiding doesn’t serve anyone at this point.
The Blue Jays are caught in the oldest Catch-22 in sports. They won’t spend more until they draw more fans. And they won’t draw more fans until they spend more. General manager Alex Anthopoulos got in trouble and had his words twisted slightly the other day when he attempted to make that point at the Winter Meetings. Like all GMs, he’s hamstrung by a budget and with the promise there will be more to spend when the time is right. Problem is, the time never seems right. This is reminiscent of one of Harry Neale’s many great lines. You can’t play more if you don’t play better, and you can’t play better if you don’t play more. The truth on the relationship between the Blue Jays and Toronto: Spending won’t solve their attendance woes. J.P. Ricciardi spent all kinds of money on B.J. Ryan, A.J. Burnett and Frank Thomas. Winning will bring people back. And even that, not the winning, but the larger crowds, will take time. People will want to believe it’s real.