It was reported yesterday that the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund was looking to sell its 66 percent share in Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. MLSE is the parent company that owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC and the Toronto Marlies. In addition to these sports franchises, MLSE also owns Leafs-TV, NBA TV Canada and GolTV as well as the Air Canada Centre, where the Leafs and Raptors play.
In total, the OTPF shares are worth an estimated $1.3 billion to $1.8 billion in Canadian funds.
This news may come as an unexpected but pleasant surprise to many Leafs fans. There have been many arguments over the years that the Leafs ownership has not been focused on winning.
From Harold Ballard to the OTPF, many fans and those in the media have wondered if better ownership might not be the answer to Toronto’s Stanley Cup drought.
During Ballard’s time (1961 to 1990) it got so bad that the Toronto Star would publish news articles every time Ballard would become ill or be admitted to the hospital. These stories did not wish him well or hope that he had a speedy recovery. On the contrary, they were more about his chances of survival and the possibility that a change in ownership for the Leafs might finally be forthcoming.
Now, with the OTPF, the knock against ownership was that they were an organization and not an individual. Being an organization whose main focus was to earn income for retired teachers meant that winning a cup would always be a secondary concern.
It has been hoped that a new, single owner, might buy the Leafs and turn the franchise around once and for all.
Perhaps that time is at hand.
So who might step up and buy a 51 percent stake in MLSE?
There are several possibilities.
Larry Tananbaum, who is the current chairman of MLSE and owns 20.5 percent, could be looking to increase his stake. Though, it is thought that he would need additional backers to acquire a full 51 percent.
David Thomson has been trying to bring an NHL franchise to Winnipeg for a couple of years, but has yet to do so. He is the richest man in Canada and if he had an interest in MLSE, he could be a perfect fit as the new owner.
Then there is Research in Motion’s Jim Balsillie, who was unsuccessful in buying the troubled Phoenix Coyotes and moving them to Hamilton. Balsillie has been very vocal in his desire to bring a new hockey team to Ontario; perhaps he might settle on taking over the Leafs.
Another possibility would be for another organization to acquire the shares.
TD Capital Group currently own 13.5 percent of MLSE and could be looking to add to their stake. Then there is Rodgers Sportsnet, who owns the Toronto Blue Jays. They have made it very clear that they are an interested party.
Regardless of who emerges as the new majority owner, the Leafs will not immediately become a cup contender again. The situation is not like it was in the past. There are several teams packaged together, playing in several disparate professional leagues, and they will all need equal attention, not just the Leafs. It will still be up to Brian Burke and any future general managers to turn our beloved Maple Leafs into a contender.