UPDATE 3-OTPP seeks bigger stake in Maple Leaf Sports, for now

Tue May 10, 2011 6:17pm EDT

* Ontario Teachers' aims to sell entire stake eventually

* Seeks to streamline process by adding TD's 13.46 pct

* Deal would give Teachers' nearly 80 pct of MLSE

* MLSE owns NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, NBA's Raptors

(Adds detail)

By Pav Jordan

TORONTO, May 10 (Reuters) - Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is ready to enlarge its controlling stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as part of a strategy that may lead to the sale of the company that owns Toronto's NHL and NBA teams.

Teachers', one of Canada's largest pension fund managers, said on Tuesday it was close to a deal to buy TD Capital's (TD.TO) minority stake for an undisclosed sum.

The acquisition would boost Teachers' interest to nearly 80 percent from about two-thirds while improving its chances of completing a sale of the entire holding.

"The more people involved, the more complex," Teachers' Chief Executive Jim Leech said, explaining that the addition of TD's stake would simplify any negotiations on selling MLSE.

Teachers' might make a final decision on whether to sell its MLSE stake this summer, he said.

MLSE owns the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, the Raptors basketball team and the Air Canada Centre, the downtown arena in which the two teams play. It also has other sporting franchises, and related broadcasting assets and property. [ID:nN14180886]

Leech said the pension fund, which put its stake on the block in March, had invested heavily in the company over the years, building it into a sports empire.

The Leafs consistently rank as the most profitable hockey franchise in the National Hockey League and the owners have poured $500 million into sport-related restaurants and shops around its home at the ACC.

"We'll see now if we've created sufficient value that it's time to turn it over to someone else and move on," Leech said.

In December, the Toronto Star newspaper reported that Rogers Communications (RCIb.TO), Canada's biggest wireless company and owner of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club, was in talks to buy Teachers' stake in MLSE for C$1.3 billion ($1.36 billion).

Rogers declined to comment on whether it had any interest in buying the enlarged stake.

Buying TD's 13.46 percent stake in MLSE would increase Teachers' ownership position to between 76.35 percent and 79.53 percent. The exact size depends on whether the remaining stakeholder - MLSE Chairman Larry Tanenbaum and his Kilmer Sports holding company - exercises a right to buy a portion of TD's stake.

Tanenbaum, who could also bid to buy the controlling stake, was not available to comment.

TD and Teachers' have reached an understanding on the principal financial terms, said Wojtek Dabrowski, a spokesman for Toronto-Dominion Bank. TD Capital is one of its units.

"As with any financial investment, we are prepared to exit at the right time and on the right terms. We believe this proposed transaction affords us that opportunity," he said. ($1=$0.96 Canadian) (Additional reporting by Euan Rocha and Alastair Sharp; Editing by Frank McGurty)

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