The prospect that Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. is about to be sold is a new one to the people who own it.
In his first public comments since a news report said Rogers Communications Inc. made a bid to acquire a controlling stake in MLSE, Jim Leech, president and chief executive officer of Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, said no such thing has happened.
"We have not received an offer for Maple Leaf Sports" from Rogers or any other bidder, Leech told the Globe and Mail in an interview.
The Toronto Star reported on Wednesday that Rogers had offered $1.3 billion for Teachers 66-per-cent share of the business. The Globe reported on Thursday that Teachers asking price is $1.5 billion and that the fund, while open to offers, is not actively shopping its interest.
"We are not anxious to sell it -- and never have been," Mr. Leech said of MLSE, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, professional soccer's Toronto FC and the Air Canada Centre, among other assets.
The idea that Teachers' MLSE interest is for sale isn't outlandish. The massive pension fund is in the business of maximizing its returns, so if the price was right, a sale could be had. But that is true of any of Teachers' holdings, Leech said.
"With any asset....we'll go through an analysis of, are we better to hold? Do we see more value creation versus some other [investment] alternative?"
In the meantime MLSE, in the eyes of Teachers executives, is far from a spent asset offering little in the way of long-term growth, Leech suggested. There have been big gains in a business that Teachers first bought into in 1994.
"Maple Leaf Sports started with a hockey team and an old antique arena on Carlton Street and it's a much larger enterprise now, and that doesn't mean it can't continue to grow," he said.
"It's kind of irrelevant to us what the past returns are. What's relevant is what the future returns will be, and will they meet the obligations [to pay pensions] to teachers?"
Sources told the Globe and Mail earlier this week that Rogers inquired about Teachers stake "six to eight months ago" but backed away. They were skeptical that Rogers would be interested in buying more sports properties.
Edward Rogers, son of the company's late founder, Ted Rogers, is said to be more interested in acquiring MLSE than the company's president and chief executive officer, Nadir Mohamed, and several other directors.
Minority owners Larry Tanenbaum (20.5 per cent) and TD Capital (13 per cent) hold rights of first refusal to the Teachers shares in MLSE. When CTVglobemedia sold half of its 15-per-cent stake in MLSE in December, 2008, Tanenbaum bought it to increase his ownership percentage, a move that positioned him to buy a majority share of MLSE when Teachers sells.