The Montreal Canadiens are for sale. Well, maybe. If the price is right and owner George Gillett Jr. decides he really does need the money. Gillett is reportedly opening up the books to about 10 prospective buyers. If they like what they see, there could be a nice bidding war for the team and its arena, Bell Centre.
Would-be sports moguls couldnt land a better property for the price. Forbes valued the Canadiens at US$334 million last fall, but Gillett only holds 80.1% of the team, so his stake was valued at about US$267 million. The selling price would likely have a nice little premium built on top of that. The Canadiens are the third most valuable hockey team, behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers. But neither of those teams has the rich history and tradition, nor as rabid a following.
Forbes reported that the Canadiens earned an operating profit of US$39.6 million on revenue of US$139 million last season. Both figures are the second highest in the NHL. And since costs are pretty much fixed because player salaries are directly tied to about 55% of the average teams hockey-related revenues, the Canadiens could make a very nice investment at a time when no one seems to know which way the financial markets are heading.
There may be more historic franchises in other sportsthe New York Yankees and Manchester United spring to mindbut the Canadiens are one of the most successful teams of all time at both the arena and the box office. Besides, both the Yankees and United would cost $1-billion-plus to take over.
Gillett also owns half of Englands Liverpool FC and NASCARs Richard Petty Motorsports, as well as an event promoter, ski resorts, car dealerships and agricultural companies. He has been seeking advice from BMO Capital Markets and others on ways to maximize his holdings.
Those looking at the Canadiens books, according to the CBC, include the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, the provinces pension-fund manager that loaned Gillett money to buy the team in the first place, Cirque du Soleil owner Guy Laliberte, dairy heir Joey Saputo and the Molson family, whose brewery sold a majority stake in the team to Gillett for US$181 million in 2001 (it still retains a 20% share). Celine Dion and her husband/manager Rene Angelil are also apparently having a look-see, which would be pretty embarrassing for testosterone-heavy NHL fans.
The sentimental choice would have to be Serge Savard, the former Canadiens player and general manager, who has said he and a group of partners wouldnt mind getting their hands on the team if the team goes on the open market. Potential buyers have until 5 pm Thursday to make a bid.