MLSE strikes deal to buy Toronto Argos

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment has struck a deal to buy the CFL's Toronto Argonauts. The deal still needs to be approved by the CFL's board of governors.

Bell and MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum previously bought team in 2015

MLSE has a deal in place to buy the Toronto Argonauts. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which already owns the Maple Leafs, Marlies, Raptors and Toronto FC, is adding the CFL's Argonauts to its portfolio.

MLSE announced Wednesday it has an agreement to buy the Grey Cup champions.

There was already some cross-ownership. The Argos are currently owned by two-thirds of the MLSE triumvirate — chairman Larry Tanenbaum's holding company, the Kilmer Group, and Bell Canada.

In bringing the Argos fully into the MLSE fold, Rogers Communications will officially join its two MLSE partners as part of the CFL team's ownership.

League approval expected

"Under its current ownership, a transformed Argonauts football club enhanced its presence and fan base in Canada's largest sports market and ultimately marched to the CFL championship," MLSE president and CEO Michael Friisdahl said in a statement. "We look forward to building on the Argos' strong momentum as we welcome the team to the leading provider of sports and entertainment experiences in Canada."

The sale is expected to close in January 2018, according to MLSE.

Rogers owns the Blue Jays, the city's other major sports franchise, although there have been reports recently that the team may be available for the right price.

Rogers shot down that suggestion Wednesday when asked about why the change of interest in the CFL team.

"As we have said there are no plans to sell the Jays," a Rogers spokeswoman said. "We continue to look for the best way to get credit for our incredible sports portfolio in our overall company valuation."

Approval from the CFL board of governors would not seem to be a problem.

"On the heels of a stunning Grey Cup showdown with the Calgary Stampeders that highlighted the sheer excitement of Canadian football, we're thrilled that the Argonauts will be joining the MLSE roster," CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, said in a statement. "We welcome MLSE to the CFL and look forward to working with them to further enhance the experience for Canadian football fans."

The Argos play at MLSE-operated BMO Field, home to the newly crowned MLS champion Toronto FC. While the lakefront stadium has more character than the domed Rogers Centre, fans have taken a while to warm up to it.

The Argos drew just 11,219 spectators to a June 30 home loss to the B.C. Lions. But attendance grew as Toronto mounted its playoff push with the Eastern final against Saskatchewan drawing 24,929.

Rogers not involved in 2015 sale

Bell and Tanenbaum bought the Argos from David Braley in May 2015 after nearly a year of talks. Braley, who also owns the B.C. Lions, took control of the Argos in February 2010 from Toronto businessmen David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski.

Rogers did not get involved at the time of the 2015 sale, with speculation that it was not interested in the franchise because the CFL was tied to Bell, through its broadcast affiliate TSN.

Founded in 1873, the Toronto Argonauts are North America's oldest continuously operated professional football club.

The club has had its ups and downs both on and off the field.

Cynamon and Sokolowski bought the team after the CFL took over the franchise in 2003 from New York businessman Sherwood Schwarz, who had become the franchise's ninth owner in 2000.

The team has had some star power in the front office.

In 1991, Harry Ornest sold the Argonauts to a group spearheaded by L.A. Kings owner Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky and comedian/actor John Candy.