Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

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Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd.
Formerly called Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd.
Type Private
Industry Sports, property management
Founded Toronto, Ontario (1931 (1931))
Renamed MLSE (1998 (1998))
Founder(s) Conn Smythe
Headquarters Air Canada Centre
50 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario
, Canada
Area served Toronto
Key people Larry Tanenbaum, Chairman
Tim Leiweke, President and CEO
Products Professional sports teams, sports venues, sports channels, commercial real estate
Total equity $1.66 billion (2011)[1]
Owner(s) Rogers Communications – 37.5%
BCE – 37.5%
     BCE Inc. – 28%
     BCE Master Trust Fund – 9.5%
Kilmer Sports – 25%
Subsidiaries Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Raptors
Toronto FC
Toronto Marlies

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. (MLSE) is a professional sports company based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Among its properties are the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League, the Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association, Toronto FC of Major League Soccer, and the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. MLSE is also involved in property management, including ownership of the Air Canada Centre, the home arena of the Maple Leafs and Raptors.


Maple Leaf Gardens, after which the company was named.

The corporation's roots can be traced back to 1927, when Conn Smythe organized a group of investors to purchase Toronto's premier hockey franchise, the Toronto St. Patricks of the National Hockey League, which had earned Stanley Cup championships in 1918 (as the Toronto Arenas) and 1922, from a group headed by Charles Querrie. The club was playing poorly and minority partner Jack Bickell contacted Smythe about becoming coach of the team. However, Smythe told Bickell that he was more interested in buying a stake in the team. Not long after, with the team in trouble financially due to majority owner Querrie having lost a lawsuit to former Toronto Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone, Querrie put the St. Pats up for sale and agreed in principle to sell them for $200,000 to a group that would move the team to Philadelphia.[2] After Bickell contacted Smythe to inform him of the sale, Smythe persuaded Querrie that civic pride was more important than money and put together a syndicate that bought the St. Pats. Smythe himself invested $10,000 of his own money and his group contributed $75,000 up front and a further $75,000 due 30 days later, with Bickell retaining his $40,000 share in the team.[3][2] The deal was finalized on Valentine’s Day,[3] and the new owners quickly renamed the team the Toronto Maple Leafs.[4] Later that year, Smythe bought the junior hockey Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey Association to serve as a developmental team for Maple Leafs.[5][6]

The Toronto Maple Leafs play a game at the Gardens in 1994.

In 1929, Smythe decided, in the midst of the Great Depression, that the Maple Leafs needed a new arena. Their then home, the Arena Gardens, which they shared with the Marlboros,[5] had been built in 1912 and seated just 8,000, which the Maple Leafs were regularly filling. After considering various locations, the site at the corner of Carlton and Church was purchased from The T. Eaton Co. Ltd. for $350,000,[7] a price said to be $150,000 below market value. A new 12,473 seat (14,550 including standing room) arena was designed by the architectural firm of Ross and Macdonald. To finance construction, Smythe got backing from Sun Life for half of the expected $1 million cost[8] and launched Maple Leaf Gardens Limited (MLGL), a management company that would own both the Maple Leafs and the new arena, which was named Maple Leaf Gardens (MLG).[9] A public offering of shares in MLGL was made at C$10 each ($150.00 in 2014 dollars),[10] with a free common share for each five preferred shares purchased.[11] Ownership of the hockey team was transferred to MLGL in return for shares. To fund construction of the building, workers were paid 20% of their salary in MLG stock.[12][13] Construction started on June 1, 1931,[14] and in what is to this day considered to be an unparalleled accomplishment, MLG was opened five months and two weeks later, on November 12, 1931, at a cost of C$1.5 million[15][16] ($22.5 million in 2014 dollars).[10] The Marlboros also moved to the new arena.[5]

Ruby Richman, the former coach of Canada's national basketball team, working with MLGL, pursued a number of existing National Basketball Association (NBA) and American Basketball Association ABA teams to relocate to Toronto in the 1970s.[17][18][19] Richman had a tentative agreement to purchase both the Miami Floridians and Pittsburgh Condors of the ABA with the plan to merge them into a single Toronto based team, but the deal fell through.[17] Later Richman held negotiations with the Detroit Pistons, which were seeking $5 million for the franchise, but pulled out when the price was raised to $8.25 million.[17] MLGL attempted to purchase and relocate the Buffalo Braves, which had played a number of regular season games at MLG over the years, to Toronto in 1974 for $8.5 million,[20][21] and again several times later,[22][23][24][17] but the owners eventually chose to move the team to San Diego.[25][26] When Toronto was awarded an expansion NBA franchise in 1974 for the 1975-76 season[18][27][28] MLGL was one of three groups to bid for the rights to the team,[29][30][27][18] but the club never materialized since no group was able to secure funding for the expansion fee of at least $6.15 million.[20][31][32] MLGL attempted to purchase and relocate the Houston Rockets in 1975, which were seeking $8 million for the team, but the teams lease ultimately prevented a relocation.[19][33][17] In 1976 MLGL attempted to buy the Atlanta Hawks.[22][28] In 1979 a Toronto group which included then MLGL owner Harold Ballard again pushed for an expansion franchise, but lost out to the Dallas Mavericks.[34][35] A Toronto group, which included Bill Ballard, son of Harold, and Basketball Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain submitted an application and $100,000 deposit for a NBA expansion franchise for MLG in 1986, but of the six cities to apply[36][37] Toronto was not one of the four which were successful.[38] It wasn't until the NBA awarded an expansion franchise to John Bitove, over a group led by future MLSE minority partner Larry Tanenbaum which had partnered with the Maple Leafs,[39] and the Toronto Raptors joined the NBA for the 1995–96 season that the city would once again have a team of its own.

The company has owned numerous minor league hockey teams over the years which have acted as developmental farm teams for the Maple Leafs. A group backed by Smythe and Frank Selke of the Montreal Canadiens was awarded an American Hockey league franchise for Rochester, New York in July 1956, after a local group could not come up with the $150,000 in capital required by the league.[40][41][42] The Leafs and Canadiens would each own 27.5% of the team, with the balance sold to Rochester interests.[40][43] The team was named the Rochester Americans. The Amerks were a joint affiliate of both the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs,[41] though the club was operated by the Canadiens.[44] In the summer of 1959 the Maple Leafs bought out the Canadiens ownership share of the club, giving them a 55% controlling interest, due to concerns that with Montreal operating the club they were giving their prospects priority over those of the Leafs.[42][44] They would purchase most of the remaining 45% in 1963,[42][45][46] boosting their ownership share to 98% by November 1964.[47] In July of 1966 the Maple Leafs sold the team to a group which included their then General Manager Punch Imlach for a reported $400,000.[42][46][48][49][50]

In June 1963 the Spokane Comets Western Hockey League franchise was purchased by a group lead by the Maple Leafs which relocated them to become the Denver Invaders and act as their farm team.[51][52][53][54] Though the league did not acknowledge that the Maple Leafs had an ownership stake in the team,[54][55] they held a majority position with the Denver partners only owning roughly 36%.[56][57][58] Following reported losses of $150,000 in their first season,[59] Smythe announced that the team would be relocated after the city failed to reach a 2,000 season ticket target before the June 19 deadline the league had imposed.[54][56][57][58][60] The team became the Victoria Maple Leafs for the following season.[61] In June 1967, MLGL sold the team for $500,000 to a group from Phoenix[48][54][62][63] which relocated it to become the Phoenix Roadrunners.[64][65][66]

The Marlboros served as a farm team for the Maple Leafs for 40 years until direct NHL sponsorship of junior teams ended in 1967 when the NHL made the Entry Draft universal.[5][67] In October 1988, with the team losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, MLGL reached an agreement to sell the Marlboros for a reported $500,000, severing their ties with the Maple Leafs.[67][68][69][70][71] However, the Leafs retained the rights to the Marlies name.[68][69][70] The OHL team moved to Hamilton for the 1989-90 season, becoming the Dukes of Hamilton.[6][70]

In 1964, MLGL launched the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Professional Hockey League, which they owned and operated as a developmental team for the Maple Leafs.[47] In the spring of 1973 MLGL announced that they would relocate the team to become the Oklahoma City Blazers.[72][73] Prior to the 1976-77 season the Maple Leafs decided to share the Dallas Black Hawks of the CHL with the Chicago Black Hawks as their affiliate, in an attempt to reduce costs,[74][75] and pulled out of the Blazers. In 1878 the New Brunswick Hawks of the American Hockey League (AHL) were established[76] and were jointly operated by the Chicago Black Hawks and the Toronto Maple Leafs as their farm team.[76][77][78][79][80][81][82] MLGL and the Black Hawks each owned half of the franchise.[83][84][85][86] However, by 1980 Ballard had decided that the Leafs needed a farm team of their own,[84] with a spokesperson citing the limited number of roster spots as the rational for the move.[77][78] In 1981, the MLGL owned and operated Cincinnati Tigers of the old Central Hockey League were launched,[77][78][83][87] but the team averaged only 1,500 fans and lost $750,000 in their first season, leading the Leafs to fold the Tigers the following spring.[79][88][89] Shortly thereafter, with Chicago having pulled out of New Brunswick in favour of affiliating with the Springfield Indians on their own,[79][89] the Leafs relocated the New Brunswick Hawks to St. Catharines, Ontario to establish the St. Catharines Saints as their farm team.[87][90][91] The team played in St. Catharines until 1986, and after stops in Newmarket, Ontario as the Newmarket Saints (1986-1991) and St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador as the St. John's Maple Leafs (1991-2005), the team moved to Toronto as the Toronto Marlies, named after the company's former junior team, where they have been playing ever since.[92][93]

Ivor Wynne Stadium, home of the Tiger-Cats.

In the early 1970s, MLGL announced plans to apply for a second Canadian Football League team to be based in Toronto, in addition to the Toronto Argonauts, which would play at Varsity Stadium, but the proposal never went anywhere.[94][95][96] In 1974, when his former partner John Bassett put the Argonauts up for sale for $3.3 million, Ballard expressed interest in buying the team, but it was ultimately sold to another group.[96][97][98][99][100][101] Shortly after, Ballard tried to buy the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL from owner Michael DeGroote, but that offer was also rejected. Three money-losing seasons later, in February 1978, DeGroote sold the team to MLGL for $1.3 million.[67][102][103][104][105] Federal Labour Minister John Munro of Hamilton led an unsuccessful campaign against the deal. Later that year, Ballard helped block Bassett's attempt to repurchase the Argos. During his tenure as owner of the Tiger-Cats, Ballard repeatedly threatened to move the franchise to Toronto's Varsity Stadium,[106] which was vetoed by the Argos,[107] and claimed to have lost roughly $20 million over 11 seasons.[108] MLGL sold the team in March 1989 to David Braley for $2.[105][108][109][110]

In 1967, MLGL entered into negotiations to purchase the Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team of the minor AAA International League, which were facing mounting losses.[111][112][113][114] The asking price was $60,000.[112] The deal ultimately fell apart due to concerns about the team's stadium, Maple Leaf Stadium, which needed up to $250,000 in repairs and whose owner wanted $4 million to purchase it,[112][113] and the team was sold and relocated to become the Louisville Colonels for the following season. Ballard said that the company's interest was due in part to help position themselves to go after a Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise for Toronto.[112][113] In the 1970s, Ballard bankrolled a group, headed by Hiram Walker Distillers vice-president Lorne Duguid, intent on bringing MLB to Toronto.[115] According to Duguid, Ballard had been willing to pay as much as $15 million for the San Francisco Giants, even though the franchise was only worth around $8 million.[116] However, in the end, it was a partnership of the Labatt Brewing Company, Howard Webster, and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) that brought baseball to Toronto, as they were awarded an expansion team in the American League for $7 million that became the Toronto Blue Jays.[117]

Air Canada Centre, home to the Maple Leafs and Raptors since 1999.

Following years of acrimonious negotiations on jointly constructing a new arena for the Maple Leafs to replace the aging MLG with the Toronto Raptors of the NBA, MLGL purchased 100% of the Raptors and the arena they had started constructing, Air Canada Centre, from Allan Slaight and the Bank of Nova Scotia on 12 February 1998.[118][119] MLGL paid a reported $467 million, made up of $179 million for the team and $288 million for the arena.[120][121][122] That July the company adopted its present name, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE).[123] MLSE subsequently ordered major modifications to the original design of the ACC, which was basketball-specific, to make it more suitable for hockey. Originally planned to cost $217 million, the budget was increased to $265 million after MLSE took control.[124] MLG was subsequently sold to Loblaw Companies, Canada's largest food retailer, in 2004 for $12 million under the condition that it not be used as a sports and entertainment facility, though MLSE eventually consented to allowing a small arena to be restored in the building to house Ryerson University's Rams.[125][126]

A Raptors game at the Air Canada Centre in 2006.

MLSE submitted an application for a Women's National Basketball Association franchise, but was rejected by the league due to concerns about their readiness.[127]

In 2000, MLSE was granted approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for two category 2 digital specialty channel licenses for Leafs TV and Raptors NBA TV, which launched on 7 September 2001. The channels were used by MLSE to broadcast live games for their teams in an attempt to increase competition for their rights and drive up the fees paid by other broadcasters.[127]

Ricoh Coliseum, home of the Marlies, after being renovated in 2005.

In August 2004, MLSE announced that they would relocate their AHL farm team from St. John's, Newfoundland to Toronto to play in the Ricoh Coliseum for the 2005-06 season,[128] after the arena was left without a hockey tenant following the termination of their lease with the Toronto Roadrunners, AHL affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers, for defaulting on their rent.[129][130] MLSE agreed to a 20 year lease for the Coliseum,[129] which had undergone a $38 million renovation in 2003,[131][132] that calls for rent to cover debt financing charges, property taxes and generate a return to the arena investors,[133] which exceeds $4 million annually.[127]

Condos at Maple Leaf Square.

In April 2005, MLSE announced that they would be working with Cadillac Fairview (a wholly owned subsidiary of Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan) and Lanterra Developments to build Maple Leaf Square, a major entertainment complex situated next to the Air Canada Centre in Downtown Toronto. The $500 million CAD 1,700,000 square feet (160,000 m2) complex is a mixed use facility including residential condo towers, office, retail and dining space.[134][135] The project was completed in 2010 and features many amenities including the Hotel St. Germain, e11ven restaurant, Real Sports Apparel, Real Sports Bar and Grill, Longo's grocery store, and condominium residences along with a connection to the neighbouring Air Canada Centre.[136][137] In conjunction with this was a two year, $48 million renovation of the ACC to connect it with the square, which added a new atrium that includes a High-Definition broadcast studio for Leafs TV, NBA TV Canada and GolTV Canada. The outside wall of the atrium features a 30 by 50-foot (15 m) video screen overlooking the plaza, which often broadcasts games taking place inside the arena.[138]

Toronto FC scores their first goal at BMO FIeld in 2007.

MLSE was awarded a Major League Soccer expansion team for Toronto, which would become known as Toronto FC, in 2005 for $10 million.[139] The organization also agreed to contribute $8 million (out of a total $62 million project) towards construction costs of BMO Field where Toronto FC would play, purchased the naming rights to the stadium for $10 million for 20 years (which they later resold to the Bank of Montreal for $27 million over the first 10 years)[140][141][142] and agreed to cover any construction cost overruns.[140][143] The governments of Canada, Ontario and Toronto contributed the rest of the funding, with the City of Toronto also providing the land.[140][144][145] In return, MLSE got the management rights for the stadium for 20 years.[146] Prior to the 2010 MLS season, MLSE spent $3.5 million to convert the stadium from Field Turf to natural grass,[144][147] and a further $2 million to expand the north end by 1,400 seats.[148][149] As part of the deal to convert the field to natural grass, MLSE spent $1.2 million adding a winter bubble to Lamport Stadium and $800,000 building a new artificial turf field to replace the community use hours lost at BMO.[150]

MLSE has contemplated purchasing the Argonauts of the CFL at least twice, with minority partner Tanenbaum keen to add the team to his list of franchises, but concluded that the cost and effort that would be required to make the team profitable was not worth the minimal financial upside.[127][151] In 2013 it was reported that the company was again considering purchasing the team and having them play at a renovated BMO Field.[152][151][153] Current owner David Braley has said that he is having discussions with potential buyers for the team and would like to sell it by his 75th birthday in 2016,[154] with the asking price reportedly $20 million.[154][155] A vote by MLSE's board on purchasing the team was called in December 2013, but they were unable to come to an agreement on the issue, leading to the possibility that Tanenbaum might purchase the team individually.[151][156] Leiweke has said that "on a stand-alone basis, we have no interest in the Argos. But because of the uniqueness of what we have to go through to get the stadium, we are certainly intertwined. The definition of intertwined is forthcoming."[153]

In 2008, MLSE considered bringing a National Football League team to Toronto and building them a new stadium, but abandoned the idea when they concluded that the project would not generate sufficient financial return to justify the significant cost of the project.[127] More recently, new MLSE president Tim Leiweke has said on an NFL team in Toronto: "We can’t own a team (per NFL rules), but we do have more expertise on how to build (stadiums) than anyone ... MLSE can play a role. We’re not the lead here. Our job is to augment whatever group may come together."[157] It has been reported that MLSE is interested in building and managing the proposed NFL stadium, with MLSE minority owner Tanenbaum and possibly board member Edward Rogers III part of the group which would own the team.[158] The company reportedly has already begun designing the stadium.[159] The potential acquisition of the Argos by MLSE is thought to enhance the likelihood of Toronto receiving an NFL franchise,[156] with former President of MLSE Richard Peddie saying "everything I'm hearing is that that the NFL is telling them that if you want an NFL team, you better make sure the Argos are okay."[151] Leiweke has said that moving into a renovated BMO field "will help turn [the Argos] around" and that "there's no way the NFL comes here without the CFL being unbelievably successful first.”[160]

MLSE also contemplated purchasing Sportsnet and the Toronto Blue Jays from Rogers Communications, but concerns about the viability of SkyDome as a baseball venue and the profitability of the team resulted in the company not pursuing the project.[127]

When the nearby city of Oshawa built their new arena, known as General Motors Centre, MLSE was chosen to manage the building. However, disappointing results in the first year and a half of operations following the arena's opening in November 2006 lead MLSE to request that its contract be terminated in March 2008.[161] The company had been attempting to get into the business of managing facilities beyond those where their teams play, but decided withdraw, with Bob Hunter, MLSE's Vice President of venues and entertainment, saying that managing the arena was "no longer a strategic focus for us".[161][162]

Toronto FC's KIA Training Grounds.

In 2008, MLSE launched the TFC Academy youth system to develop soccer players for Toronto FC[163] to take advantage of MLS' new homegrown player rule which allows clubs to retain the rights to players they develop without them being subject to the MLS SuperDraft. The senior academy team originally competed in the Canadian Soccer League until pulling out in early 2013 due to the CSL loosing its sanctioning from the Canadian Soccer Association.[164][165] The team played that year in the Ontario Soccer League before joining the League1 Ontario for the 2014 season.[166] In March 2011, Downsview Park was selected as the site of Toronto FC's new state-of-the-art Academy and Training Facility. Construction began on the KIA Training Grounds in May 2011, and the facility opened in June 2012. It includes three grass fields, one domed turf field and a field house. MLSE spent more than $21 million building the facility and pays rent for the land,[167] with an aim to becoming the epicentre of soccer development in Canada.[168] As of 2014, the company is considering expanding the facility to house a practice field for the Argonauts.[153]

It was announced on January 23, 2009, that MLSE would acquire Insight Sports' 80.1% interest in GolTV Canada, a digital cable channel devoted to soccer.[169][170] In November 2009, MLSE applied to the CRTC for a Category 2 digital TV license to operate a general interest sports service provisionally named Mainstream Sports,[171] which was granted in June 2010.[172] MLSE planned to use the channel to carry its teams' broadcasts, along the lines of team-owned regional sports networks in the United States such as YES Network and the New England Sports Network, with the tentative name "Real Sports" (in keeping with the branding of MLSE's sports bar and apparel store).[127][173][174] It was not clear whether the channel would have replaced, or been supplemental to, MLSE's existing digital channels. With the acquisition of ownership of MLSE by Rogers and Bell, owners of sports channels Sportsnet and TSN respectively, and associated agreements to divide the company's regional broadcast rights between those two entities, it was thought that Real Sports would not launch,[175] and the license expired after the three year deadline to launch the channel expired.[172][176] Peddie has credited the threat of the launch of Real Sports as a motivator for Rogers and Bell to purchase the company due to concerns about losing the rights to broadcast MLSE teams to the channel or having to pay huge fees for them.[127][177]

In September 2009, MLSE opened their new hockey practice facility, the MasterCard Centre.[178] The arena was a joint venture between the Maple Leafs, the City of Toronto and the Lakeshore Lions Club, and was built at a cost of $44 million, after cost overruns drove up the cost from $33.65 million,[179][180][181] to replace the nearby Lakeshore Lions Arena.[182] The Lions Club contributed $40 million to the project, with the city providing a $35.5 million loan guarantee.[180][181][183][184] The Toronto District School Board leased the land for the arena to the Lakeshore Lions for a 50 year term.[183] MLSE spent a further $5 million on training and medical facilities to make the building the practice rink of their two hockey teams, the Maple Leafs and Marlies.[178][182] MLSE pays $600,000 annually to rent the building.[178][182] The arena was originally operated by the Lakeshore Lions Club,[185] but in June 2011, with the arena unable to deal with its rising debt and on the verge of defaulting, the City of Toronto decided to take control and assume its $43.4 million debt,[180][181][183][186][187] with the intention to return it to private management within 2–3 years.[179][180][183][186][188] A city councillor has suggested that MLSE, which operates BMO Field and Ricoh Coliseum on behalf of the city, would be "the logical party" to take over the arena, and a spokesperson for the company said "while we don’t have any interest in purchasing the facility, we are open to discussing the possibility of managing the facility on behalf of the City of Toronto".[179] MLSE's executive vice president of venues and entertainment Bob Hunter said they would bid for the right to run the building.[184]

MLSE considered investing in an English association football (soccer) club,[127][189] and on May 29, 2012, after the Leeds United Supporters Trust put out a request for a takeover from majority shareholder Ken Bates, it was reported that MLSE were in talks to buy the team. However, MLSE later denied that it planned to purchase the club.[190]

Timeline of sports team ownership[edit]

Major League Soccer Major League Soccer Toronto FC National Basketball Association National Basketball Association Toronto Raptors Canadian Football League Canadian Football League Hamilton Tiger-Cats Cincinnati Tigers (ice hockey) Oklahoma City Blazers (1965–77) Central Professional Hockey League Central Professional Hockey League Tulsa Oilers (1964–84) Victoria Maple Leafs Western Hockey League (1952–74) Western Hockey League (1952–74) Denver Invaders Toronto Marlies St. John's Maple Leafs Newmarket Saints St. Catharines Saints New Brunswick Hawks American Hockey League American Hockey League Rochester Americans Ontario Hockey League Ontario Hockey League Toronto Marlboros National Hockey League National Hockey League Toronto Maple Leafs


Conn Smythe, founder of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

Although Smythe was the face of the Gardens from 1931 onward, he didn't acquire majority ownership until 1947, following a power struggle between directors who supported him as president and those who wanted him replaced with Frank J. Selke. With the help of a $300,000 loan from Toronto stockbroker and Gardens shareholder Percy Gardiner and the support of Bickell, Smythe was able to buy 30,000 shares interest in the Gardens from Gardiner.[191] He installed himself as president on November 19, 1947.[192][193] The loan was paid off in 1960.[194] In November 1961, Smythe sold 45,000 of his 50,000 shares, which combined with their own holdings gives them 87,000 shares representing 60% of the company, to a three-person partnership formed by his son, Stafford Smythe, Harold Ballard and John Bassett, who at the time owned part of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League and Toronto Telegram, for $2.3 million.[195][191][196][197][2] Ballard fronted Stafford Smythe most of the money for the purchase though a loan he obtained.[2][198] According to several sources, Smythe thought the sale was only to his son,[2] and was furious when he learned that Ballard and Bassett were partners. He had hoped that Stafford would eventually keep the Gardens for his son Tommy.[199] However, it is not likely that Stafford could have raised the millions needed for the deal on his own. Stafford Smythe became president of the Gardens and governor of the Maple Leafs, with Ballard as executive vice president and Bassett as vice-chairman of the board. Conn Smythe remained as non-executive chairman until 1962, when he passed that post to Bassett.

In March 1966, Conn Smythe sold his remaining shares and resigned from the board of directors after a Muhammad Ali boxing match was scheduled for the Gardens. He found Ali's refusal to serve in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War to be offensive.[200] He said that by accepting the fight, Gardens owners had "put cash ahead of class."[201] Within three years under the new owners, profits at the Gardens had tripled to just under $1 million. Ballard negotiated lucrative deals to place advertising throughout the building, and greatly increased the number of seats in the Gardens.[202]

Following an RCMP raid at the Gardens in 1968, Stafford Smythe was charged with income tax evasion and accused, along with Ballard, of illegally taking money from MLGL to pay for renovations of their houses and other personal expenses. Just before the charges were laid, Bassett argued to the board that Smythe and Ballard should be removed from their posts. Following an 8–7 vote of the board of directors on June 26, 1969; Smythe and Ballard were both fired, and Bassett was appointed president of the Gardens. However, Bassett did not force Smythe and Ballard to sell their shares, and both men remained on the board. This proved to be a serious strategic blunder; Smythe was the largest single shareholder in Maple Leaf Gardens, and he and Ballard controlled almost half the company's stock between them. They were thus able to stage a proxy war and regain control of the board in 1970. Smythe was once again appointed president.[191] Facing an untenable situation, Bassett sold the 196,200 shares in the Gardens he controlled to Smythe and Ballard for $5.4 million in September 1971, which he used to buy out his partners in the Argos.[195][197][198] Combined with their 306,295 jointly controlled shares, the transaction gave the Smythe-Ballard partnership 78% of the stock.[197][198] Ballard would be convicted of 47 charges[203] and sentenced to three years in a federal penitentiary, but Smythe died in October 1971 of a bleeding ulcer at the age of only 50 just before his trial was scheduled to begin.[195][191][204] Under terms of Smythe's will, of which Ballard was an executor,[204] each partner was allowed to buy the other's shares upon their death. Smythe's brother and son tried to keep the shares within the Smythe family,[205] but in February 1972 Ballard bought all 251,545 of Stafford's shares for $7.5 million, valuing the company at $22 million.[195][191][206][207][208] Smythe's brother Hugh also sold his shares to Ballard, ending the Smythe family's 45-year involvement in the company. Combined with Ballard's 262,162 shares, this gave him majority ownership of about 70%.[206][207][208]

In 1966, Ballard set up a family holding company, named Harold E. Ballard Ltd. (HEBL), for his assets including his shares in MLGL as part of an estate freeze.[209][210] Ballard distributed 103 common shares in HEBL, with his three children, Bill, Harold Jr., and Mary Elizabeth, each receiving 34 which were held in trust, and his wife Dorothy receiving 1, which Harold would inherit upon her death three years later.[209][211][191][212] Harold retained 308,000 preferred shares in HEBL.[210][213] While the equity of the company was vested in the common stock, both common and preferred shares each received a single vote, ensuring that Ballard retained control of the company.[210]

After getting into financial difficulty, Ballard reached an agreement with Molson in November 1980, which at the time owned the Montreal Canadiens, for the company to cover his debt financing charges on a loan of $8.8 million for 10 years in exchange for an option to purchase a 19.9% block of shares in MLGL from HEBL and a right of first refusal on the rest of HEBL's shares.[191][214][215] The NHL didn't learn of the deal until the late 1980s.[214] In 1982 he offered to sell the company for $50 million, with the arena alone reportedly valued at $11 million, though a stockholders' report the following year placed the value of MLGL at $23.5 million.[13][83] When Ballard transferred ownership of his personal real estate holdings, which were valued at $2.52 million, to HEBL in January 1989, he acquired 4 newly issued common shares in the company plus a promise of a further $896,472 rather than cash.[210][213][203] Mary Elizabeth sold her stake in HEBL to her father for $15.5 million in January 1989,[213][211] after originally having a deal to sell the stake to Don Giffin,[210] and Harold Jr. sold his back to HEBL for $21 million in June of the same year.[191][212][213][210] Harold Jr.'s shares were subsequently retired.[213] Shortly thereafter, HEBL issued Ballard 32 common shares and $125,216 in exchange for ownership of his 350,200 personally held MLGL shares and $125,000.[203][213] Two more new common shares would be granted to Ballard to repay the $911,000 debt HEBL owed him from his two transactions with the company.[203] This gave Ballard, who feared that Bill was positioning himself to take over the holding company, control of HEBL.[191] Ballard did not want his bickering children to inherit MLGL because he was concerned that they would destroy it.[203] Ballard secured a loan from Molson for the full amount of his buyout of Mary Elizabeth, using the 34 acquired shares in HEBL as security.[212] Bill sued his father for $170 million over the acquisition of Harold Jr.'s shares,[213][209] claiming that he and partner Michael Cohl had acquired a right of first refusal to purchase Harold Jr's shares in HEBL for $20 million that February.[191][213]

Upon Ballard's death in April 1990,[195][204] most of his estate, which was worth less than $50 million, was left to charitable organizations.[216] The executors of Ballard's will were supermarket tycoon Steve Stavro, Giffin and Don Crump. In November 1990 Molson exercised their option on 19.9% of the company, paying $10,000 for 735,575 of HEBL's MLGL shares, which at the time were valued at $20 million.[214] Due to restrictions against cross-ownership in the NHL, the company set up a trust to hold their stake,[214][215][217] and the league instructed them to sell the shares with an "adequate amount of time".[212][218][219] Shortly after Ballard's estate, which still owned TD Bank $15.8 on its loan to acquire Harold Jr's HEBL stock, missed a January 1991 deadline to repay its $20 million loan (including interest) from Molson,[212][218] Stavro loaned the estate the funds to pay off the debt.[195][2][220] In exchange he received an option to purchase the estate's MLGL shares before January 1996.[195][2][219][216][216] Bill Ballard challenged the transaction, but it was approved by the court.[221] In early 1991 Molson offered to buy the estate's shares for $40 each.[221] In September 1991 Bill sold his HEBL stock to his father's estate for $21 million, giving it ownership of the entire company.[219] Shortly thereafter it was announced that Stavro had reached a deal with Molson on an option to purchase their MLGL shares until April 1994 and for Molson to waive their option on the estate's shares.[219][216]

Stavro founded MLG Ventures (MLGV) in 1994 with partners Toronto-Dominion Bank and Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan.[195][222][204] MLG Holdings Ltd. (MLGH), which Stavro owned 80% of and TD Bank controlled the remaining 20%, held a 51% ownership stake in MLGV, with the remaining 49% owned by Teachers'.[223][224][225] The following month, MLGV announced that they had an agreement to purchase the 60.3% of MLGL held by the Ballard estate for $34 a share or $75 million total, valuing the company at $125 million.[195][226][227][228][229][204] Molson also sold its 19.9% shares in MLGL to MLGV in April 1994 for $25 million.[204][195][226][229][204] MLGV subsequently purchased all the remaining shares and took MLGL private in 1998, after acquiring more than the 90% of the stock necessary to force objecting shareholders out,[224][228][229] and MLGL and MLGV amalgamated.[195][222] The purchase was the subject of a Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) review, due to concerns that MLGV had engaged in insider trading by failing to disclose that broadcast revenue was expected to increase substantially,[222][230][231][204][232][233][234] and a $50 million lawsuit from Bill Ballard who claimed that Stavro and others devalued the company and withheld information on the value of MLGL prior to the sale of his stock.[221] Ontario's Office of the Public Trustee, which was charged with representing the charities named by Ballard's will as beneficiaries, argued that Stavro had a conflict of interest as both executor of the will and buyer and hadn't paid market value because there was no public bidding process for the shares.[226][229][231][204][221] Several minority owners, including Harry Ornest, who held 3.5% of the company, and Jim Devellano, also objected to MLGV's attempts to take the company private without an auction.[226][228][204] The new owners reached a settlement in 1996 to pay an additional $23.5 million plus interest to the charities as well as $2.5 million more to the minority shareholders who had sued,[195][224][231][204][2] clearing the way for Stavro and his partners in MLGV became the majority owner of MLGL. They also settled with the OSC in 1999 for $1.6 million, which included a fine and costs.[231][232][234] Teachers' invested $44.3 million and TD $9.75 million in the deal.[223][235]

Larry Tanenbaum's company Kilmer Sports purchased a 25% share of MLGH from Stavro in 1996 for a reported $21 million.[195][223][224][236][237] Following the merger, the ownership structure of the now defunct MLGV was retained for MLGL. The majority owner of MLGL, MLGH which held 51% of the company, was controlled by Stavro (55%), with minority shareholders Tanenbaum (25%) and TD Capital Group (20%).[224][236] The remaining 49% of MLGL was owned by Teachers'.[224][235][236] This tiered ownership structure gave Stavro effective control of the company with only a 29% stake of MLSE.[235] Teachers' invested a further $50 million in the company in the form of a convertible bond in 1998 to finance the purchase of the Raptors and ACC and complete construction of the arena.[225][230]

In 2003, an agreement was reached to restructure the company with Stavro selling his stake to Bell Globemedia for a reported $120–150-million after debt repayments,[235] the other partners converting their debts into equity and each partner getting a direct ownership stake in MLSE, with MLG Holdings being dissolved.[223][230][235] This left Teachers' as controlling majority owners of MLSE with 58.4%, Bell Globemedia 15.4%, TD Capital with 13.5% and Tanenbaum, who took over as non-executive chairman, with 13%.[223][230][235][2] Each owner of MLSE had first right of refusal on any shares sold, in proportion to their ownership share.[235][238] The same year, MLSE was internally valued at over $1 billion CAD by the Teachers' in its annual report. In 2008, the Toronto Star reported that a valuation commissioned by the company concluded that MLSE was worth $1.5 billion USD.[239] On December 5, 2008, CTVglobemedia (the renamed Bell Globemedia) sold 7.7% of its 15.4% stake to Tanenbaum for $100 million, making Tanenbaum the second-largest stakeholder with 20.7%.[223][235] The transaction valued the company at $1.2 billion. On August 20, 2009, Teachers' announced that it had agreed to purchase the remaining 7.7% stake in MLSE owned by CTVglobemedia, bumping their stake to 66%.[223][235][240]

On December 1, 2010, it was reported that Rogers Communications was in negotiations to purchase the Teachers' 66% stake in MLSE, with the asking price set at $1.3 billion,[241][242] and in March 2011 Teachers' confirmed that their share in the company was for up for sale.[238][243] Tanenbaum's right of first refusal on the shares gave him control over any sale by Teachers'.[235][238] In May 2011, Teachers' announced that they had reached an agreement to purchase TD Capital's 13.5% ownership share, giving them 79.5% of the company and leaving Tanenbaum as the only minority partner with 20.5%, simplifying the sale of their shares.[223][238] In November 2011, Teachers' announced that they were taking the company off the market.[243] However, only a couple of weeks later, on December 9, 2011, Teachers' announced the sale of its 79.53% majority stake in MLSE to Bell Canada and Rogers Communications, in a deal valued at $1.32 billion,[223][244] giving the company an equity value of $1.66 billion and an enterprise value of $2 billion.[245][1] As part of the deal, Larry Tanenbaum increased his stake in the company to 25%.[244][246][247] The deal required the approval of Canada's Competition Bureau, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (with regards to MLSE's TV channels), as well as the NHL, the AHL, the NBA, and MLS (with regards to each of MLSE's main sports franchises).

The Competition Bureau announced on May 2, 2012 that it would not challenge the transaction at this time, but that it will "actively review" the situation in light of "serious concerns" expressed by various parties, reserving the right to take action at a later date.[248] The NHL Board of Governors approved the sale at a meeting in Las Vegas on June 19, 2012.[249] The final approval, that of the CRTC, was granted on August 16, with the commission noting that it only had jurisdiction over the TV channels owned by MLSE (the transfer of ownership of which, it decided, posed no major concerns), and not the broadcast rights associated with MLSE's teams.[250] The transaction closed on August 22, 2012.[251]

Current ownership structure of MLSE
Rogers/Bell joint holding company
Kilmer Sports
Rogers Communication
Bell holding company
Larry Tanenbaum
BCE Master Trust Fund

Following the transaction, the ownership structure of MLSE became divided as follows:[250]

  • 8047286 Canada Inc. (Rogers/Bell joint holding company) – 75%
    • Rogers Communications – 50% (net ownership 37.5%)
    • 7680147 Canada Inc. (Bell holding company) – 50%
      • BCE Inc. – 74.67% (net ownership 28%)
      • BCE Master Trust Fund (investment fund of Bell's pension plan) – 25.33% (net ownership 9.5%)[252]
  • Kilmer Sports (holding company of Larry Tanenbaum) – 25%

This ownership structure means that, at the shareholder level, Rogers and Bell vote their overall 75% interest in the company together and thus must jointly agree on decisions affecting the company. (If Rogers and Bell owned their interests directly, either Rogers or Bell could be overruled by its competitor in combination with Tanenbaum.) Similarly, Rogers and Bell have agreed that their four (of six) directors on the MLSE board will always vote together, and thus that any disagreements between those two companies will be settled privately without the involvement of Tanenbaum.[253]

Bell has indicated that the involvement of Bell's pension fund is, at least in part, intended to ensure Bell can retain its existing 18% interest in the Montreal Canadiens, as NHL rules prevent any shareholder that owns more than 30% of a team from being involved in the ownership of any other team.[254]


Edward Rogers III, Deputy Chairman of Rogers Communications and member of the Board of Directors of MLSE.
Brendan Shanahan, President and Alternate Governor, Toronto Maple Leafs.

Board of Directors[edit]

Executive team[edit]


Sports teams[edit]

Note that the valuations done by Forbes are estimates and are not based on numbers provided by MLSE.

Facilities and properties[edit]

  • Air Canada Centre, a multi-purpose indoor arena in Downtown Toronto, home arena of the Maple Leafs and Raptors. ($265 Million CAD)
  • Maple Leaf Square (37.5%[243]), a real estate development in Downtown Toronto, adjacent to Air Canada Centre, developed in partnership with fellow OTPP subsidiary Cadillac Fairview. The development includes, among other tenants, the following businesses operated by MLSE:
    • Real Sports Bar & Grill, a sports-themed restaurant
    • Real Sports Apparel, a sports clothing store
    • e11even, an upscale restaurant on the corner of Bremner and York streets.[264]
Invested in and operates (owned by the City of Toronto)
Invested in

Television channels[edit]

  • Leafs TV, a specialty television channel devoted to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies
  • NBA TV Canada, a local version of NBA TV which also devotes part of its schedule to specific coverage of the Toronto Raptors
  • GolTV Canada (80.1% holding), a local version of GolTV, broadcasts selected Toronto FC games and other team coverage, along with various international soccer games.

Proposed projects[edit]

BMO Field renovation[edit]

BMO FIeld in 2009.

With the early financial success of Toronto FC, expansion of BMO Field has been discussed. Following Tim Leiweke taking over as president of MLSE in June 2013, he began discussing the company's plans for a major renovation of the stadium.[156][265][266] As the stadium is owned by the City of Toronto, their consent is required for any modifications.[267] The City has insisted that any renovations includes making the pitch longer to fit Canadian football field, as planned in the original stadium agreement, so it can house the Argonauts, who must vacate their current home Rogers Centre by the end of 2017 season.[268][269][153][270] Preliminary plans were released to the public on March 5.[271][272]

In addition making the field compatible for CFL games, the $115–120 million upgrades would add a roof over most permanent seating areas[269][270][271][273] and a new upper deck on the east side, raising capacity from 21,566 seats to 30,000 for soccer, with 25,000 seats in CFL configuration, which would be temporarily expandable with additional endzone seating to 40,000 for big events.[268][153][269][270][271][273] The new $30 million endzone seating would be retractable to ensure that fans aren't farther from the playing surface in soccer configuration due to the longer CFL field.[153][269][271] Leiweke has promised that playing surface will remain natural grass,[274] and a reinforced hybrid playing surface such as Desso GrassMaster is under consideration.[153][271][272][274] Under a two-phase construction process, the field would be lengthened and the capacity of the stadium increased for $77 million by the 1 May 2015, with the roof added by the 1 May 2016 for $43 million.[153][270][273][273]

MLSE is seeking $10 million in public funding from each of the City, Provincial Government, and Federal Government to top up their $90 million contribution, plus any cost overruns, to the project.[268][270][273][275][276] The company has agreed to pay a fixed annual rental fee of $865,000 to the City for the upgraded stadium, rather than the variable revenue sharing model under the present agreement with has returned an average of $397,000 to the city over the previous five years, to help ensure that the city recoups its investment.[270][273] The new arrangement would guarantee the city $25.4 million, and with the projected $6 million in parking revenues the $31 million in revenue over the term of the lease would be $19 million more than under the current agreement.[277] As manager of the stadium, MLSE will get any profit turned by the stadium, and be responsible for any losses.[273] MLSE's management and naming rights agreement for the stadium, which was set to expire in 2027, will be extended by 10 years under the proposal.[270][273] The agreement requires MLSE to reach a "long-term use (i.e. 20 years)" lease with the Argos for usage of the stadium starting in 2015.[268][270][273] The proposed renovations were approved by City of Toronto's Council on April 3,[278][279][280] and the agreement is planned to be finalized by 15 June.[273] If approved, excavation is scheduled to begin in September.[272][273] The designs are expected to be finalized by April.[144][153][270]

Raptors practice facility[edit]

In November 2013, MLSE announced that they had contracted an architect to design a new $20 to $40 million practice facility for the Raptors.[281] The team has trained on a practice court in the ACC since its opening in 1999, and a new facility would allow for this space to be turned into a restaurant or nightclub.[281][282] No location for the facility has yet been selected.[281] MLSE is investigating partnering with Canada Basketball on the project.[281] Leiweke has said that the company expects to announce plans for the facility by May 2014, with completion by the end of 2015 in time for the team's hosting of the 2016 NBA All-Star Game.[282]

See also[edit]


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