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(Chris Young)
(Chris Young)

MLSE Sale

Teachers: Good riddance Add to ...

If a memo were being composed to one Glen Silvestri, Esq., who manages the MLSE file on behalf of the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, It would get to the point pretty quickly, something like:

Shut your pie hole Glen.

But there is no memo and no phone call. Nothing at all but this wee blog post.

Because among the range of sins you can pin on Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., the parent company that owns losing teams and winning sports bars, by far the most egregious is the anonymity of the OTPP's majority ownership; a lack of accountability that has allowed their executives to roll like big money without ever having to risk leaving their day job.



The average sports fan can identify by name or face Larry Tanenbaum, the only private investor in MLSE; the only person whose has ever actually put their own wealth at risk (though let's face it, it hasn't been that risky, with annual revenues in the $500-million range) for the right of calling MLSE his own.

But though he's the chairman of the MLSE board, he's just a minority partner, with a 20.6 per cent stake, though word is he's trying to increase that to a majority position.

The majority owners - until they do manage to unload their 66-per-cent stake in MLSE for something north of $1.5-billion is the best guess - are the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, who have always had half the seats on the board and retained majority control through Richard Peddie, the MLSE president, who has the swing vote that never swings: whatever way Teachers votes, so does Peddie.

The presence of Teachers has always provided those looking for reasons for MLSE's unblemished championship record and long-standing playoff allergy an easy target:

As long as the money rolled in and they got the good seats, the Teachers folks didn't really seem to take that much of an active role in how things were done on the ice or the floor or the field.

Which sucked, frankly, because it if had; if there was someone in charge (apologies to Tanenbaum) who actually cared then maybe the Leafs would have been innovators coming out of the lockout and gone young, cheap and fast instead of old, slow and expensive. The pleasing, youth driven surge Leafs fans are watching now could have happened five years ago; perhaps a championship core would be in place today.

If someone was in position to be bold and decisive, perhaps Chris Bosh would have been traded instead of Jermaine O'Neal in 2009. That and some aggressive tanking could have yielded the Raptors some good young assets, a high pick or two and salary cap space and again accelerated the program.

And the careful, calibrated approach of the Vancouver Whitecaps in comparison to the TFC gong show is yet more proof that an engaged ownership group can make the difference.

So it is with maddening irony that on the eve of an apparent auction for the Teachers stake in MLSE come reports that it has been a suddenly sharp-eyed representative of the pension plan who is standing in the way of Raptors president Bryan Colangelo's new contract.

Glen Silvestri, who manages the file for Teachers, has suddenly been going through Colangelo's record and - like your average Real GM message board devotee - has found some holes; this is a man, afterall, who signed Hedo Turkoglu to a $53-million contract.

But you know what? At least Joe Fan, or Johnny Message board, at least they care; at least they've spent time and energy of their own on the subject. At least fans have paid money to sit in judgment. Fans at home have paid cable.

Silvestri has paid nothing and in fact is paid to take an interest. If it was Larry Tanenbaum who'd had enough of Colangelo's tall collars and steep expense accounts, that'd be one thing; he actually stands to lose or gain.

But Silvestri? He's paid to ask Richard Peddie one question: did MLSE make plan this quarter. If they did, the meeting is over. If they didn't he should fire Peddie.

But once a functionary for a pension plan finds Draftexpress.com, that's can only spell trouble. The sports business is not business; it's not even science. It's positioning, planning, maneuvering and a good measure of luck.

Should Colangelo be back? Maybe. He at least deserves credit for putting together a good bad team - one with some developing young pieces devoid of any constricting contracts. Mistakes have been made, recognized and quickly jettisoned. There are only a handful of teams definitively better managed than the Raptors in the NBA and a whole swath that are worse. Expect someone new to come in and turn the tide faster at your peril.

Should Colangelo be cut loose? You can make a case for that too.

But it shouldn't be Glen Silvestri making it; not without any skin in the game; not unless he's willing to stand up and be counted when he's wrong.

Teacher's passive ownership style didn't do much for MLSE; which doesn't bode well for its new brand of apparent shareholder activism.

Here's hoping for a quick sale of their stake and that they don't let the door hit them on the spreadsheet on their way out.

 

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