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Rogers Communications Inc., Canada's largest cable company, bought an 80-per-cent stake in Major League Baseball's Toronto Blue Jays Friday for $165-million.

Rogers bought the majority stake in a cash and stock deal from Belgian brewer Interbrew SA. Interbrew will retain a 20-per-cent holding.

"We've seen a trend in North America, of entertainment and communications companies being more and more involved in sports and I think that's a good trend because I think those companies can help sports and sports can help those companies," said Ted Rogers, president and chief executive officer of Rogers Communications. "We've seen that with Time Warner, with Newscorp and Disney and it's probably time that there be a Canadian company in that league. I don't know about you but I'm tired of always reading about everything happening south of the border.

"The city and the country love sports and we love sports and that's why we're here."

The deal still requires the approval of Major League Baseball.

Former Toronto-area politician and Sun Media executive Paul Godfrey was named the club's new chief executive officer. Mr. Godfrey, then a councillor for North York, was part of the contingent that acquired an expansion franchise for Toronto in the 1970s. The resulting Blue Jays began play in April 1977.

One of Mr. Godfrey's first orders of business will be increasing attendance at SkyDome, which has waned this year despite the team's success on the field.

"There is no doubt we are a long way from when we used to fill SkyDome in 1992, 1993 and even into '94," said Mr. Godfrey. "And the fact is, you can build towards that again but there's a lot more competition... we have to win back fans for baseball one at a time. And that means going out into the community and selling this great game of baseball all over again."

Interbrew, gained a 90-per-cent stake in the team when it bought Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. in 1995. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce had a 10-per-cent stake, but will sell off its holding as part of the Rogers deal.

Mr. Rogers talked about the possibilities for combining the company's telecommunications properties with the baseball club.

"We want to have the wireless be a part of this project. Do you know that in a couple of years, on your wireless phone, you're going to be able to have... the Blue Jays," Mr. Rogers said. "You're going to be able to see them on video... that is possible and that will come.

Mr. Rogers also hinted that bolstered by the acquisition of the Jays, Rogers Communications would pursue a National Football League franchise for the city of Toronto. He also picked up on a question Mr. Godfrey wouldn't answer, when he suggested that, under new ownership, the team would receive an injection of cash to compete with other baseball teams' bigger payrolls. "We didn't buy the team to skimp on replacing the lightbulbs," he said.



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