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SIMMONS: Another shining toy for the remarkable, still young, Larry Tanenbaum

The purchase is being negotiated through his holding company, Kilmer Sports, not connected in any way to MLSE.

Published May 14, 2024 | Source: Toronto Sun

Larry Tanenbaum pays no attention to his birth certificate and has absolutely no interest in slowing down.

He doesn’t know how. He only know one speed — and that’s fast and occasionally faster. The most powerful man in Canadian sport is turning 80 next year and has been celebrating the milestone prematurely by adding more toys to his arsenal for him to play with.

The spending spree of sports just continues on for Tanenbaum.

He will pay $50 million U.S. individually for a WNBA expansion franchise recently after the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — of which he is chairman — went against his best wishes and decided not to go in the direction of women’s basketball.

He’s about to pay possibly more than that for the once-storied AS Saint-Étienne franchise, an historical French soccer team of previous acclaim, now playing second division, in need of funding. But a team that has been around longer than the chairman himself and one of them in need of new blood. The purchase is being negotiated through his holding company, Kilmer Sports, not connected in any way to MLSE.

For those keeping score at home, that means Tanenbaum owns a piece of the Maple Leafs, a piece of the Raptors, a piece of the Argos, a piece of Toronto FC, a piece of the American Hockey League Marlies, a piece of Scotiabank Arena, and majority ownership of a WNBA team and probably the same when the purchase of Saint-Etienne is accomplished in the coming days.

That’s a whole lot of pieces.

Why a European soccer team and why now? For starters, there’s not much for sale in North America that interests the normally private, Tanenbaum. He’s already involved in the NHL and the NBA in high ranking positions, where he serves as chairman of NBA’s board of directors, involved in just about every league he adores except one — the National Football League.

Tanenbaum’s dream – and yes people with this much still dream — is to bring an NFL team to Toronto. He’s never hidden that fact — although he doesn’t speak publicly about much of anything.

He once tried to purchase the New Orleans Saints. He later tried to purchase the Buffalo Bills after original owner, Ralph Wilson, passed away. He’s probably made attempts on other franchises that we don’t know about — because that’s the history of Tanenbaum. When he wants something, he goes for it.

Before there was a Raptors in Toronto, he tried to buy and move another NBA team to the city. It was probably one of the reasons why the NBA chose John Bitove and not Tanenbaum when doling out an expansion franchise. They didn’t want someone who worked outside the league, trying to get in the league as a partner.

Funny how that all would up working out. Tanenbaum wound up owning the Raptors after the Bitove-Allan Slaight partnership fell apart, and was central to the formation of MLSE, which brought the Raptors, Maple Leafs and then budding Air Canada Centre under one corporate entity.

Tanenbaum rose from owner the NBA didn’t want to their chairman of the board. And without majority ownership at any time of MLSE, he was been the face of the company, especially after the business rivals Bell and Rogers bought 75% of the company.

Rarely is a 25% owner in any sport chairman of that league’s board of directors or in any kind of power position.

The move into European soccer is really nothing new for North American franchise owners and in some cases, celebrities. Josh Harris and David Blitzer, who own parts of the Washington Commanders, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers, own Crystal Palace. Stan Kroenke, the Walmart husband who owns the Los Angeles Rams, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets, owns Arsenal. Bill Foley from the Vegas Golden Knights owns Bournemouth. The Glazer family of Tampa Bay Buccaneers fame still owns Manchester United.

And the Ryan Reynolds-Rob McElhenney story at Wrexham has made for fine television watching when not watching Ted Lasso. Not to mention athletes like that Tom Brady, J.J. Watt, Steve Kerr, Steve Nash, Victor Hedman, all have stakes in international teams.

“I know what Saint-Etienne represents for its community and for French football,” Tanenbaum said in the statement. He called the team “the beating heart of a city and its region.”

It sounds a little like the Maple Leafs in a different sport,  and a smaller region.

And who knows what comes after French soccer? Every piece of business and financial logic tells you it can’t be the NFL. Not here, not ever. That ship has sailed.

You just can’t convince Larry Tanenbaum, still young of mind, still vibrant at age 79, still loving sports and buying teams, still ever the optimist, that he can’t do something. That he can’t do more.