Canadiens for sale?
George Gillett may be looking to sell the Montreal Canadiens.
The American businessman, who owns 80.1 per cent of the NHL team and its arena, the Bell Centre, has retained the services of financial firms in Canada and around the world to examine his options for selling his assets.
"The Gillett family has retained the services of financial advisers to assess various strategic alternatives to optimize the value of its corporate assets," Canadiens president Pierre Boivin said in a statement Monday. "In Canada, the family has retained the services of BMO Capital Markets and the process is underway."
Gillett, 70, also has a 50 per cent stake in English Premier League soccer club Liverpool FC, and owns the Gillett Evernham NASCAR team.
His holdings also include Gillett Entertainment Group, ski resorts, car dealerships and agricultural companies.
Montreal's La Presse quoted Boivin as saying that among the options being considered are financial restructuring, bringing in new investors or selling assets outright.
John Thompson, sports editor of the Liverpool Echo in Liverpool, England, told CBC News that he suspects Gillett needs to raise cash after he borrowed more than $600 million US last year with Dallas Stars owner Tom Hicks to buy Liverpool FC.
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"George Gillett and Tom Hicks have to repay that loan in July. It's unlikely in most people's eyes that they'll get an extension or find a loan from somewhere else. So maybe the chickens are coming home to roost," said Thompson.
"Equally it could be a strategic move by George Gillett in terms of refinancing some of his assets and all the rest of it."
The Canadiens, who are celebrating their centennial season, were valued by Forbes in October at $334 million US — third highest in the NHL behind the Toronto Maple Leafs ($448 million) and New York Rangers ($411 million).
Gillett bought his stakes in the Canadiens and the Bell Centre in 2001 for $181 million with the help of $140 million in loans from two banks and the Quebec pension fund, the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec.
A La Presse report in November quoted Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie as saying the Canadiens were for sale.
The story was quickly denied by both Gillett and Balsillie, the co-CEO of Research in Motion, the Waterloo, Ont.-based maker of the BlackBerry.
Balsillie has made several attempts to buy an NHL team, including the Nashville Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins, raising speculation that he would then move it to the southern Ontario region.