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Toronto sports fans unsure what to make of telecom giants buying MLSE @NHLdotcom

TORONTO - Jaspreet Brar wants to believe a new owner will bring about brighter days for his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.

But like many sports fans Friday, he wasn't entirely sure what to make of the surprise US$1.32-billion sale that will see telecom giants Rogers and Bell Canada assume controlling interest in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

"I don't know if it will help them," Brar said outside the Air Canada Centre. "I hope it does because I've been a diehard Leafs fan as long as I can remember. I support them until the end. And every year I tell everyone: `They're going to win it this year.' I'm hoping somehow this helps.

"I'm hoping somehow they get out of this drought and they win the Cup."

The prospective owners offered very few hints to fans about how they plan to reverse the sagging fortunes of most of their sports teams during an hourlong introductory news conference Friday morning. In fact, there was virtually no reference to winning championships or fielding competitive teams.

Instead, Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed and BCE counterpart George Cope spoke enthusiastically about their plans to distribute content across a variety of platforms.

While that holds some appeal to fans ? Brar says he looks forward to the day when he can watch games on his cellphone ? it does little to address their desire to see the Maple Leafs, Raptors or Toronto FC compete for a title.

None of those franchises has been particularly close to reaching the pinnacle of their sport during the liftetimes of Brar or friend Manvir Poonia, a pair of twentysomethings who attended the weigh-in for UFC 140 at the ACC.

Poonia sported a Maple Leafs tuque on a day when the city experienced one of its first snowfalls of the season and expressed hope that Rogers and Bell might bring out the best in one another after the purchase for MLSE goes through next summer.

"When you're working together like that, you don't want to be in conflict with one another," he said. "They have more power combined. If they do it right, they can do big things rather than what they can do alone.

"I think they know that."

An ownership stake in MLSE has rarely come with good public relations. The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, which is selling its 80 per cent stake to Rogers, Bell and Kilmer Sports boss Larry Tanenbaum, was often held up as the primary reason the teams struggled.

During OTPP's 15-year stint in the ownership group, the Leafs and Raptors missed the playoffs more often than they qualified for them. Toronto FC has yet to play a post-season game in its five seasons in Major League Soccer.

Many viewed the pension plan as a faceless entity more concerned with growing its bottom line than building a winner.

"Maybe now that the teachers don't own the leafs we will go far!" wrote one fan on Twitter after Friday's announcement.

Others were less convinced. Many online commenters fretted over what changes Rogers and Bell might make to the way games are broadcast ??? and how wide they'll ask consumers to open their wallets.

"Say goodbye to free telecasts of Hockey games," one person wrote on The Globe and Mail's website. "These two corporate thieves will find ways to bleed canadians who want to watch their national sport."

Added another: "The axis of evil is complete: Rogers, Bell and TML. Selling mediocre entertainment for top dollar."

One man who was shopping at the Real Sports merchandise store adjacent to the ACC on Friday indicated that his experience with one of the new owners has been less than stellar.

"Does anyone really like Bell? I don't know too many people that like Bell," said the man, who identified himself as Adam. "Hopefully, they'll be a little bit better with their team than they are with their phones and Internet systems."

Of course, all will be forgotten if better results on the ice, court and pitch come once the new owners take up office in the executive suites.

"To me it doesn't matter who owns (MLSE) as long as the Leafs do well," said Brar.

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