Friday, December 09, 2011

Five Thoughts on the Sale of the Leafs

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) selling their 80% stake of MLSE is certainly interesting, but it doesn’t strike me as much of a game changer in terms of on-ice product. That said, there are a few parts of this sale that I’m eager to find out about.

1. Larry Tanenbaum

Tanenbaum increases his ownership stake to 25% and, as I understand it, remains Chairman of the MSLE Board. I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly, he’s a visible part of the community and a face for an often faceless organization. He also really wants this team to win and is passionate about sports. The downside to Tanenbaum’s increasing ownership is that he likes to meddle. Many people have pinned bad contract decisions on Tanenbaum (exhibit A:Tie Domi's last deal). I'm not saying his increased stake means increased meddling, but the impact of Tanenbaum on the culture of the organization is something to keep an eye on.

2. The myth of ownership structure = success

Single owners can be successful like Mike Ilitch in Detroit, they can be ruinous like the Fords of the Detroit Lions and Donald Sterling with the Clippers, or they can be highly comedic like Eugene Melnyk.

More complex ownership structures can be fantastic, Green Bay Packers come to mind; or they can be incompetent MLSE, Calgary Flames LP, and so on…

When it comes to ownership,there is no magic bullet or single way to success. Teams need competence, if not excellence, from all aspects of their organization. Committed owners with deep pockets, GMs with smarts, coaches who excel, and on-ice talent that’s skilled and deep. Take any one of those elements away and the odds of finding success become much longer.

This deal confirms that the Leafs will still have deep pocketed owners. What remains to be seen is if the new owners have a strong commitment to winning and whether they stay out of hockey operations.

3. Richard Peddie

Peddie, the man who gave Toronto John Ferguson Junior and Rob Babcock, was set to resign later this month. Peddie is like King Midas when it comes to making money and King Richard II when it comes to achieving any other sort of success.

I’m hopeful (hey, I’m a Leafs fan) that the incoming President is as skilled at producing on-ice results as Peddie was at wringing every last dollar out of the fans.

Whomever is hired as the new President of MLSE will be the first “tell” of the new ownership regime.

4. The Composition of the new board / Blame the fans

I’d like to think that Leaf fans take a lot of heat due to the lack of a visible, accountable owner. A faceless board means there’s nowhere else to channel the blame.

Rogers and Bell will likely each appoint two members to the MLSE board in 2012. I can’t wait to see who gets the appointments – will they be high profile, well-known people with ties to the companies or will it be more of the OTPPs low profile near invisible membership? More importantly, will a high profile posting slow down the "blame the fans" meme?

5. Does this deal mean the end of HNiC on CBC?

CBC’s NHL rights expire at the end of the 2013-14 season. CBC’s past-president said the network would likely be unable to retain the rights as the expected costs would be stratospheric.

With TSN and Sportsnet’s parent companies now owning 75% of MLSE, I have to conclude they’ll soon own all the Leafs’ broadcast rights.

Part of me is saddened that Saturday night hockey on CBC may be no more. It’s a Canadian institution and their production values are second to none. That said, the program has stagnated for years, the on-air “talent” is an embarrassment, and more often than not I watch the games on mute so I don’t have to hear Jim Hughson’s affectations and Glen Healy’s horrific combination of smug, snark and stupid.

If one of the outcomes of this deal is never hearing Glen Healy again, I’m fully 100% on board with the death of CBC's HNiC, a program the CBC actually killed years ago.


  1. Agree on all 5 points. Nicely done.

  2. Paul Steckley11:25 am

    HNIC simply moves to TSN. They already have the theme song.

    Tannenbaum's influence now becomes greater as he is going to be the tie-breaker whenever Bell and Rogers disagree.

    I would bet that this deals eliminates live games on LeafsTV.

  3. The potential elimination of Healy and Hughson is reason enough to give this sale two thumbs up...

  4. LeafsTV simply becomes national subscription if the regulatory boards allow. why mess with a money making thing with Bell and Rogers at the helm, and at least it's a "neutral" station.

    HNIC to TSN could make sense. substituting taxpayers for shareholders ;)

  5. daoust12:42 pm

    Pretty much exactly how I feel about all of this. Great summary MF.

  6. All good points. I really don't want to see any ownership meddling, that is a scary, scary thing.

  7. Paul Steckley2:20 pm

    Can't see LeafsTV going national, since the live game broadcasts would be blocked due to regional restrictions in the areas owned by the other Canadian NHL teams. This would reduce the desirability of a subscription for anyone outside the Leafs' broadcast region.

    I guarantee that both Healy and Hughson would be hired by one of Rogers or TSN if they were let go by CBC. For whatever reason, some people like them.

  8. LeafsTV likely becomes an RSN in the vein of YES or NESN which make the Yankees and Red Sox a pile of money, respectively.

  9. Anonymous6:03 pm

    NO PLEASE do not kill CBC HNIC - it is the only Canadian hockey feed we get here in Michigan.

    Our local Red Wings broadcasts are great, but if we want any other games we will be in exile - having to watch American broadcasts on VS or NBC.

    AAAaaahh. torture worse than waterboarding.

  10. good call on Glen Healy. He gets worse and worse each game it seems.