The Toronto Argonauts could be sold within a matter of weeks, either to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment or its chairman, Larry Tanenbaum, according to multiple sources.
Talks between David Braley and MLSE have heated up in recent months to the point that the MLSE board, which includes Tanenbaum as well as representatives from Bell and Rogers, was asked to vote during December on acquiring the CFL team.
While the board could not agree on the matter, there remains the possibility that MLSE could revisit buying the team or that Tanenbaum himself may purchase it.
An Argo purchase by MLSE or Tanenbaum makes potential sense from both ends of the deal.
From the Argos perspective, the team is in desperate need of a new practice facility, having been told by the University of Toronto that its Mississauga campus can no longer house the football team. With three months until the opening of CFL training camps, a sale would presumably open the door to the Argos taking up residence at the KIA Training Ground, the practice home of Toronto FC which includes three full-size grass fields, four artificial fields and a 40,000 square foot field house in Downsview.
Being sold to Tanenbaum or MLSE would make the Argos part of the plan for a redesigned BMO Field, thus solving their need to build a new home from scratch when they vacate Rogers Centre after the 2017 season. MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke has stated several times in recent months that the Argos could factor into future plans at BMO, a position in stark contrast to that of his predecessors, who saw the facility as soccer-only.
From the perspective of Tanenbaum or MLSE, owning the Argos could be a chip towards the goal of securing a National Football League team, based on the NFL wanting assurance that moving a team to Toronto would not kill the Argos or the CFL.
"(Tanenbaum) has always had an affection for them," said former MLSE president and CEO Richard Peddie. "Everything I'm hearing is that that the NFL is telling them that if you want an NFL team, you better make sure the Argos are okay. I don't think it's out of the realm that he may do it."
As well, having the Argos as a second tenant at BMO Field could help MLSE's drive to secure investment from government to redevelop the stadium, which is a publicly-owned facility operated by MLSE exclusively for soccer at this time.
"I've got to believe that they're thinking of the Argos in that facility," said Peddie. "Can you design a stadium with moveable sections and not lose the intimacy? Yes, you probably can."
The Argonauts are currently owned by Hamilton businessman David Braley, who has been exploring options for a new stadium in the Greater Toronto Area in recent months.
Though the Argonauts have consistently lost money at Rogers Centre, it is believed their business model could continue to improve with the right arrangement at BMO, combined with increased revenues from the CFL's new television deal which kicks in this season.
This isn't the first time MLSE has looked at a potential Argo purchase. The Argos had been offered up to MLSE when the team was owned by David Cynamon and Howard Sololowski, who sold to David Braley in February of 2010.
However, the ownership of MLSE and many of the dynamics within the city's professional sports scene have changed since those days, most notably with Lieweke's arrival and the notion of trying to land an NFL team.
In November, reports surfaced of Tanenbaum, Lieweke and rock star Jon Bon Jovi teaming up to pursue a future relocation of the Buffalo Bills to Toronto.