Maple Leaf Sports deal gets OK
OTTAWA — The CRTC gave its approval Thursday for the sale of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and its sports television channels to two of Canada’s biggest media companies, BCE and Rogers Communications.
As part of the approval, BCE and Rogers will be required to spend $7.5 million over the next seven years on new sports-themed programming by Canadian independent producers.
The federal broadcast regulator also repeated its assertion that companies are prohibited from offering television programs on an exclusive basis to their mobile or Internet subscribers.
“When deciding whether or not to approve a proposed ownership transaction, the commission must be persuaded, in light of the application and the public record that an approval is in the public interest,” CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said.
“In this case, we have been convinced that the transaction benefits Canadians as it will lead to the creation of new home-grown sports programming.”
MLSE owns the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team as well as the Toronto Raptors basketball team and Toronto FC soccer team. It also owns Leafs TV, Gol TV and NBA TV Canada, as well as two services that have not yet launched.
Critics of the deal, which is expected to close this summer, have raised questions about the effect of putting so much content in the hands of some of Canada’s largest companies, fearing consumers will ultimately pay more.
BCE already owns CTV Inc. and the TSN specialty sports channels and Rogers owns the Sportsnet TV channels. Both have extensive telecom networks and other media holdings that could benefit from tie-ins to the MLSE teams.
Bell spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis said the Montreal-based company has now received all the required regulatory approvals.
“Bell looks forward to delivering more of MLSE’s top-tier pro sports content to consumers across all screens,” said Michelis, who added the deal is expected to close soon.
Toronto-based Rogers expressed similar sentiments.
“We’re proud to be investing in this iconic asset and look forward to bringing sports fans across the country more content, on more screens, than ever before,” Rogers spokeswoman Patricia Trott said.
Rogers and BCE’s Bell Canada signed a deal late last year to buy a controlling stake in MLSE, the country’s biggest sports franchise company, from the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan for $1.07 billion.
The approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission follows an announcement in May that the federal Competition Bureau would not challenge the deal.