Habs' sale to Molson family approved

MONTREAL -- With their 100th anniversary only days away, the Montreal Canadiens are under new ownership, led by a familiar name with city roots more than twice the team's age.

The Molson family won approval of their purchase of the storied franchise from the NHL board of governors Tuesday, becoming the fourth group of Molsons to own the club since the 1950s.

Geoff Molson and brothers Andrew and Justin are the lead investors in a partnership group that reportedly paid $575 million for the Canadiens, the Bell Centre -- the team's 21,273-seat downtown arena -- and the Gillett Entertainment Group, a concert promotion company.

"We're really proud to be here today as the new owners," said Geoff Molson, who will be the chairman and chief executive officer. "We're part of the seventh generation of the Molson family that has been in this city for 223 years. We're young and we're ambitious and we're really looking forward to being part of this."

George Gillett Jr., who bought the team and the arena for $275 million in 2001, put the team up for sale in the spring. The Colorado-based businessman co-owns Liverpool of the English Premier League and he and his partner, Tom Hicks, are looking for investors to inject new capital in order to reduce the soccer club's debt load.

When the Molson company put the Canadiens up for sale eight years ago, no local buyer was willing to risk what was deemed a steep price for a team that paid most of its expenses in U.S. dollars but took in what were then weak Canadian dollars at the gate.

The opportunity to regain control of the team proved compelling to a new generation of Molsons.

"It's been five decades we've been involved with this team," Molson said. "It's in our soul, it's in our blood, and we always wanted to once again become the owners of this team."

The Canadiens have won a record 24 Stanley Cups since they were founded on Dec. 4, 1909, including their first in 1916 as an original member of the National Hockey Association, the NHL's predecessor. They will celebrate their 100th anniversary on Friday when they host the Boston Bruins.

"As owners, we will be right there with management and the team, building and battling toward our next Stanley Cup," Molson said.

The Molson group also bought the 19.9 percent held by the Molson-Coors brewery, which will remain a sponsor.

Molson said the decision to invest family money directly in the team was a popular one within the clan.

"The support system has been great," Molson said. "We have a big family, as you can imagine. We've been in Canada for a long time and I've been well surrounded by all of my family members."

The ownership group includes Bell, Canada's largest communications company, and the Woodbridge Company, owned by the Thomson family, which controls Thompson Reuters. Both have large stakes in CTVglobemedia (Bell 15 percent, Woodbridge 40 percent), whose television holdings include TSN and its French-language cousin RDS, which broadcasts Canadiens games.

Others in the group are the Quebec Labour Federation solidarity fund; Michael Andlauer, a French-born, Montreal-raised businessman who owns the Canadiens' top farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs; and Luc Bertrand, former head of the Montreal Stock Exchange. Two-thirds of the partnership is based in Quebec.

The National Bank Financial Group is a participant and is leading the banking syndicate, which includes the Desjardins Group and Scotiabank.