Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Maple Leaf Sports sale approved

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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 homegrown sports programming."

MLSE owns the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, 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 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 the TSN specialty sports channels and Rogers owns the Sportsnet specialty TV channels. Both have extensive telecommunications networks and other media holdings that could benefit from tie-ins to the MLSE teams.

Bell spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis said the company has now received all the required regulatory approvals.

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.

Rogers already owns the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team and their stadium, the Rogers Centre, as well as Sportsnet.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2012 B6

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