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Report: Ottawa Senators bidding race sees ‘The Rock’ join Neko Sparks-led consortium

High-profile group reportedly willing to pay US$950 million for the franchise.

27 March 2023 Josh Sim

Getty Images

  • Sparks bidding to become the NHL’s first black team owner
  • Bid also backed by UK-based billionaires in the Reuben brothers

Hollywood star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has joined the consortium led by Los Angeles-based businessman Neko Sparks in its bid for the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Ottawa Senators, according to the team-focused Coming In Hot podcast.

The Senators were placed on the market last year by the family of Eugene Melnyk, following his passing. A recent deadline for first-round bids saw a reported nine offers for the franchise, with Sparks among those to have made a formal approach. His consortium, which is reportedly willing to pay US$950 million for the NHL outfit, is said to include between 13 and 15 North American investors, with about 75 per cent of the group made up of people of colour. Should Sparks be successful in his bid, he would become the NHL’s first black team owner.

Coming in Hot podcast co-host Brett Wallace said on the latest show that Johnson, a co-owner of the XFL spring football reboot, has become a part of Sparks’ group, while actor and Wrexham co-owner Ryan Reynolds could also be enticed to join Sparks’ bid. Reynolds is said to be close with Johnson, with the pair co-starring recently in the film ‘Red Notice.’ Reynolds was previously reported by the Ottawa Sun to have teamed up with the Remington Group in making a bid for the Senators.

According to Wallace, Sparks’ bid is also being powered by the UK-based billionaire duo of David and Simon Reuben. The brothers co-own Premier League side Newcastle United and were previously reported to have been interested in buying Major League Baseball’s (MLB) New York Mets. Forbes estimates that the duo have a combined net worth of US$6.6 billion.

Last December, Forbes estimated the Senators’ valuation to be at US$800 million, making them the 24th most valuable franchise. Should Sparks’ group buy the team for the US$950 million it is reportedly willing to pay, the deal would set a new record for any deal involving a NHL team, with the current benchmark set by the Fenway Sports Group (FSG)’s purchase of the Pittsburgh Penguins for a reported US$900 million.

The Ottawa Sun has reported that several interested buyers are to visit the Senators’ facilities over the coming week. The Kimel family, who manage a multi-billion dollar real estate portfolio, are said to have already met the team’s hierarchy for insight on the franchise, with others expected to conduct similar visits soon.

Another report from the newspaper states that some of the bidding parties may try secure more land at the LeBreton Flats site where the Senators’ new rink is set to be located. Last June, the outfit signed a memorandum of understanding for the six-acre downtown site, which is considerably smaller than the Canadian Tire Centre where they currently play their home games.

It is thought that several interested buyers are keen to develop the area around the new rink to include shops, bars, restaurants and potentially housing. Three of the bidders are real-estate developers, while another party is said to be partnered with a property developer.

The outlet reports that the winning bidders for the Senators would then need to negotiate a deal for more land as part of the lease agreement with the National Capital Commission (NCC), with there said to be some room for flexibility. Despite the uncertainty around the franchise’s ownership, the NCC’s chief executive Tobi Nussbaum said in January that the crown corporation remains confident of finalising a lease deal in the second half of this year.

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