Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Bell are the mystery parties who are negotiating to buy the Toronto Argonauts from David Braley, two sources have told the Toronto Star.
As part of the deal, the new owners would strike a condition with the Canadian Football League to have BMO Field — home of MLSE’s Toronto FC — host the Grey Cup twice in the next 10 years.
The story was first reported by TSN on Monday.
In a statement, the CFL said the league is aware that discussions are taking place but, “out of respect to all parties involved”, it would not comment while negotiations are going on.
Bell (TSN’s parent company), Rogers Communications Inc. and Tanenbaum are all partners in the ownership of MLSE. The two communications giants each own a 37.5 per cent stake. Tanenbaum owns one quarter through his holding company, Kilmer Sports Inc.
The potential deal exists in a complicated landscape. TSN is the broadcast partner for the CFL, while Rogers owns the Rogers Centre, where the Argos currently play. The Argos’ lease runs out at the end of 2017 and the team will be without a home.
Rogers, which also owns the Toronto Blue Jays, has given the baseball team priority on any scheduling conflicts and the Argos are often left with less than desirable dates and times.
Events have been moving quickly in the past week to have the team moved into BMO Field for either 2016 or 2017.
On Friday, outgoing MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke told the board at Exhibition Place (where BMO Field is located) that a deal to move the Argos is just days away. The deal includes the sale of the team, but no potential buyers were identified.
MLSE spokesman Dave Haggith told the Star on Friday that the “potential new Argos ownership group” is in talks to contribute $10 million to the expansion of BMO Field. But MLSE is being tight-lipped about the yet-to-be-named group and had no further comment Monday.
The total cost of expanding the field to accommodate end zones and other upgrades such as CFL-sized locker rooms is $20 million. MLSE has committed to paying half.
Braley, 73, is also owner of the B.C. Lions, which is a money-maker. Although that team is not up for sale, he has several interested buyers.
Braley has said he wants to sell one team before he turns 75. The CFL does not want one owner with more than one team in the league. It would prefer Braley sell the Argos.
The Argos have been losing money for years, but projections suggest the team can turn a profit at BMO Field by attracting 20,000 fans for each home game.
It’s believed the first step will be arranging a lease at BMO prior to completion of the sale. The pressure to get a deal done has increased in the past few days.
The $120-million makeover of the field started last year with a $10-million commitment from the city.
MLSE put in $90 million, while the province has yet to say whether it will match the city’s buy-in. Although it was hoped federal money would also be up for grabs, the Conservative government has said it would not fund the project.
Jim Lawson, interim CFL commissioner, told the Star the league would likely accept a condition of Toronto hosting two Grey Cup games in 10 years to ensure the BMO expansion plans go ahead.
Tanenbaum — a giant of industry, philanthropist and devoted family man — has been an ownership fixture and minority partner with various groups for almost two decades.
- With files from Jennifer Pagliaro and Doug Smith