Hockey great Wayne Gretzky no stranger to interest from ownership groups

TORONTO – A spokesman for Wayne Gretzky is disputing a report that The Great One has been asked to join a potential bid for the parent company of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sportsnet reported an American private equity firm had reached out to Gretzky to be part of the group vying for a large slice of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Darren Blake, Gretzky’s business manager, called it a “non-story.”

“Ownership groups in various cities reach out to Wayne regularly and this is no different,” he told The Canadian Press.

“We haven’t had any recent conversations with anyone involved in buying the Leafs.”

The report came just days after the Toronto Star said U.S. private equity firm Providence Equity Partners—the company behind the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network—had expressed an interest in buying the 80 per cent MLSE stake owned by the Ontario Teacher’s Pension plan.

Sportsnet reports that two independent sources said Gretzky has been approached by multiple groups interested in buying the stake.

The network says that when asked about the interest from the Providence group, Gretzky said he’d been approached by “multiple firms considering the purchase of MLSE.”

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Gretzky, 50, has been out of hockey since September 2009 when he stepped down as head coach and head of hockey operations of the Phoenix Coyotes.

In addition to the Leafs, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment also owns the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC of Major League Soccer, the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the Air Canada Centre and several media assets including Leafs TV and NBA TV.

Teachers’ raised its stake in MLSE to roughly 80 per cent this year when it acquired a stake previously held by TD Capital Group. Terms of the deal for the bank’s roughly 13.5 per cent stake were not available.

Reports have pegged the Teachers’ stake at $1.5 billion.

Kilmer Sports, which is controlled by Toronto businessman Larry Tanenbaum, owns the remaining stake and holds a right of first refusal to match any sale offer under a shareholder agreement.