Rogers Communications Inc. is considering selling some of its stake in the Toronto Blue Jays and the team’s stadium, as the telecom and media company puts a priority on paying down debt under its new interim chief executive, Tony Staffieri.
In early November, then-CEO Joe Natale told investors that Rogers was looking at ways to “monetize” its stake in the Major League Baseball team and its home, the Rogers Centre.
Mr. Staffieri, who was the company’s chief financial officer, took over Mr. Natale’s role on Tuesday after a two-month leadership battle. Two sources at Rogers said Mr. Staffieri is continuing the review of the Blue Jays and their stadium, which are worth an estimated $2-billion.
The Globe and Mail is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Rogers executives have talked about raising money by selling all or part of the baseball club for many years. At an investor conference in 2017, Mr. Staffieri said the company was “looking at ways to better surface the value of the Blue Jays.” The concept is now on the front burner as Rogers moves to close its $26-billion takeover of Shaw Communications Inc., an acquisition funded with $20-billion of debt.
Options under consideration for the Blue Jays and Rogers Centre include selling a minority stake in the ball club, spinning off the team or raising money by selling “tracking shares,” according to one company source and a source in banking. Tracking shares, a type of specialized equity offering that would mirror the value of the team, are already used by the owner of at least one other Major League Baseball franchise, the Atlanta Braves.
Rogers also owns a 37.5-per-cent stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., parent of the Raptors, Maple Leafs, Argos, and Toronto FC. This holding is not part of the current review, according to the company and banking sources.
If Rogers did decide to sell a portion of the Blue Jays to an individual, the sources said company chair Edward Rogers is a potential buyer. The vast majority of professional sports franchises are owned by wealthy individuals, rather than public companies.
Blue Jays executives already report to Mr. Rogers, and the 52-year-old is chair of the team. He is also its representative on Major League Baseball’s board. At Blue Jays spring training games in Dunedin, Fla., Mr. Rogers sits in the stands watching his sons serve as bat boys.
The Shaw takeover is expected to close next spring. Winning approval for the transaction from federal regulators is the top priority for Mr. Staffieri. In interviews last week, he said preparing Rogers’s balance sheet for the acquisition is also a priority. A spokesperson for Rogers declined to comment on the company’s plans for its baseball franchise.
The sources said they expect a decision on whether to sell the Blue Jays to be made after the end of negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement for Major League Baseball players. The current agreement expires on December 1.
If Rogers, which broadcasts Blue Jays games on its Sportsnet television and radio networks, does spin out its baseball team, the company and the franchise will face issues around related-party transactions. Sources said those potential conflicts are part of the reason the company has kept all its sports and media properties under one roof.
Separately, Rogers and Brookfield Asset Management Inc. are working on a project to redevelop the Rogers Centre, which opened in 1989, and the surrounding property.
Rogers Communications founder Ted Rogers acquired the Blue Jays 21 years ago for $165-million. As the company considers options for its baseball team, it can look to family-owned rivals in the cable industry for inspiration.
California-based Liberty Media Corp., controlled by billionaire John Malone, acquired the Atlanta Braves in 2007 for US$400-million. Five years ago, Liberty began selling tracking shares, NASDAQ-listed equities that track the value of the team and the real estate surrounding its home field.
After dropping sharply in the spring of 2019, when the pandemic restricted game attendance, Atlanta Braves tracking shares doubled in value over the last 18 months as the team blazed a winning streak that ended in a World Series victory. The franchise is now worth US$2.4-billion.
Last year, the New York-based Dolan family, which made its fortune in cable, tried to increase the valuation of their sports and real estate holdings. They spun out a public company that owns Madison Square Gardens, Radio City Music Hall and other properties, separating it from a second public company that owns the NBA’s Knicks and the NHL’s Rangers.
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