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Pedestrians walk past the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment offices in Toronto on March 13, 2011. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Pedestrians walk past the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment offices in Toronto on March 13, 2011. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Analysis

MLSE deal is bad news for sports fans Add to ...

What does a deal between BCE Inc., Rogers Communications and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment mean to the ticket-buying customer? It means that the competition for the sports dollar is reduced and Toronto fans may not see a winning team for a long time.

In a major announcement this morning, BCE and Rogers have struck a deal to buy 75 per cent of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, giving the telecommunications giants a lucrative sports empire.

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Bell and Rogers are buying into a business -- and notwithstanding enthusiastic comments from Bell Canada president and CEO George Cope and president and CEO of Rogers Communication Nadir Mohamed, that doesn’t automatically mean success on the field or ice or court. Championships are not part of the equation. They’re in the business of selling tickets, selling TV packages, selling mobile phone access. They bought a lot of content that they can peddle for the new wireless high-tech toys.

There’s no imperative to put a winner on the field of play locally as long as the new owners have access to a winner – and they do if they have broadcast rights to the major sport franchises in town. One was left with the impression that content is more important than winning with this ownership.

Cope said he was “100 per cent convinced” Bell investors will make money. He talked about the deal being a win for fans, owners, management and players. But the news release talked of Bell’s promise “to deliver the best content to Canadians across every screen.”

Mohamed said he knows passion is needed both on and off the field. He talked of building a winner with MLSE. “What it [the ownership stake]means is that it allows us to have the resources to build championship teams” and “championship teams drive our business.”

But having the resources and spending money to get key personnel are two different things. Rogers has shown that in its baseball ownership. There is only one major league baseball team in Canada, and it belongs to Rogers. The communications company has owned the Blue Jays since 2000 and the team hasn’t made it to the playoffs once under Rogers’ tenure.

There is only one major league baseball team in Canada, and it belongs to Rogers. There is only one major pro basketball franchise, and it belongs to MLSE. So do hockey’s Maple Leafs and soccer’s Toronto FC. So, the new owners could have the sports market – and the customer – cornered.

It might be a wise move from a business perspective, to eliminate competition for the sports fan’s dollar by going together in a deal. It’s not necessarily good news for the consumer.

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