Bell and Larry Tanenbaum, two of three parties involved in ownership of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, are negotiating to buy the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts from David Braley and aiming to secure a lease that would see the team move to BMO Field in time for the 2016 CFL season, TSN has learned.
Toronto city councillor Mark Grimes, chair of Exhibition Place, where BMO Field is located, said he spoke to CFL interim commissioner Jim Lawson on Monday morning and understands the sale is nearing completion.
Completing the complex transaction has been difficult, according to several sources, because the third partner in MLSE's ownership, Rogers Communications, has declined to take on a stake in the Argos.
Tanenbaum and Bell have been negotiating a BMO Field lease with MLSE, which includes representatives from Rogers who want to ensure its partners pay market value for the stadium that is currently home to Toronto FC.
Sorting out Rogers' role in the deal has been a stumbling block for months, according to sources, with the CFL still holding out hope that Rogers can be convinced to join its MLSE partners in owning the Argos.
However, with a deadline to complete a deal looming in a matter of days in order for BMO Field to be CFL ready by next summer, there is pressure on all parties to get a deal done.
Bell, TSN's parent company, Rogers and Tanenbaum are all partners in the ownership of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, with the two communications companies each owning a 37.5 per cent share through a deal struck in December, 2011.
The Argos and Rogers have a business relationship through the CFL team being a tenant at the Rogers-owned Rogers Centre. However, the Argos have had trouble securing desirable dates for home games at the stadium. For example, the Argos have just two home games this season between the opening of the CFL season in late June and the second week of September. And this year's Argo 'home opener' is being played June 27 in Fort McMurray, Alta.
Getting into a smaller, more suitable facility, with the ability to secure a more fan-friendly schedule, is considered the key to turning around the Argos' economic fortunes.
As part of the deal to buy the Argonauts, Bell and Tanenbaum have secured the right to host two Grey Cup championships at BMO Field over 10 years. The revenue from hosting the CFL's premier event will help offset the purchase price of the team and some of the costs associated with converting the field for CFL use, three sources familiar with the matter told TSN.
The CFL has blessed the prospective takeover because it wants a successful franchise in the country's largest media market.
The Argos' struggles in recent years have been well documented. While Braley initially demanded roughly $10 million for the Argos from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment when he opened negotiations to sell the Argos more than a year ago, his bargaining position was limited by the team's dwindling fan base as it plays out its final few seasons in the cavernous Rogers Centre.
Rogers, which owns the Toronto Blue Jays, put the Argos on notice several years ago that the team is expected to vacate after the 2017 season, at which time the company plans to install grass for baseball.
The Argos' paid attendance ranks last in the CFL and has fallen below 10,000 per game, according to sources, with some corporate sponsors ending their association with the team.
Those within the CFL believe a new owner and new stadium could rejuvenate the team, create demand for tickets and make it more attractive to potential sponsors.