OTTAWA - The CRTC gave its approval Thursday for the sale of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and its sports television channels to two of Canada's biggest media companies, BCE (TSX:BCE) and Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B).
As part of the approval, BCE and Rogers will be required to spend $7.5 million over the next seven years on new sports-themed programming by Canadian independent producers.
The federal broadcast regulator also repeated its assertion that companies are prohibited from offering television programs on an exclusive basis to their mobile or Internet subscribers.
"When deciding whether or not to approve a proposed ownership transaction, the Commission must be persuaded, in light of the application and the public record that an approval is in the public interest," CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais said.
"In this case, we have been convinced that the transaction benefits Canadians as it will lead to the creation of new home-grown sports programming."
MLSE owns the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team as well as the Toronto Raptors basketball team and Toronto FC soccer team. It also owns Leafs TV, Gol TV and NBA TV Canada, as well as two services that have not yet launched.
Critics of the deal, which is expected to close this summer, have raised questions about the effect of putting so much content in the hands of some of Canada's largest companies, fearing consumers will ultimately pay more.
BCE already owns CTV Inc. and the TSN specialty sports channels and Rogers owns the Sportsnet TV channels. Both have extensive telecom networks and other media holdings that could benefit from tie-ins to the MLSE teams.
Bell spokeswoman Jacqueline Michelis said the Montreal-based company has now received all the required regulatory approvals.
"Bell looks forward to delivering more of MLSE???s top-tier pro sports content to consumers across all screens," said Michelis, who added the deal is expected to close soon.
Toronto-based Rogers expressed similar sentiments.
"We're proud to be investing in this iconic asset and look forward to bringing sports fans across the country more content, on more screens, than ever before," Rogers spokeswoman Patricia Trott said.
Rogers and BCE's Bell Canada signed a deal late last year to buy a controlling stake in MLSE, the country's biggest sports franchise company, from the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan for $1.07 billion.
The approval by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission follows an announcement in May that the federal Competition Bureau would not challenge the deal.
The Competition Bureau said it was actively reviewing those concerns and won't hesitate to take action if it determines the Competition Act has been violated.
The legislation provides the bureau with a one-year period following the deal's closure to bring a challenge to the Competition Tribunal.
The National Hockey League has also given its approval for the MLSE deal.
Rogers already owns the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team and their stadium, the Rogers Centre, as well as Sportsnet.
Bell owns the CTV television network and specialty cable channels such as TSN sports channel and French-language cable channel RDS. Bell also has a minority ownership stake in the NHL's Montreal Canadiens, who compete against the Leafs.
Under terms of the deal, Rogers and Bell will pay the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan about $533 million apiece for their respective 37.5 per cent chunks of MLSE. Minority owner Larry Tannenbaum, through his company Kilmer Sports, will boost his current stake in MLSE by five per cent to 25 per cent.