Quebecor wants partners in NHL team bid

An architect's rendering of what the new Quebec City arena was to look like. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

Quebecor Inc. says it’s recruiting partners for its bid to bring the Nordiques back to Quebec City.

The media and telecom company said Thursday it has opened talks with some sponsors and signed contracts but has yet to secure another investor willing to help foot the US$500 bill it costs to launch an NHL expansion franchise.

“Submitting this application is one more step towards our ultimate objective of making sports an additional growth segment,” president and CEO Pierre Dion told analysts on a conference call after the company posted its latest financial results.

“We will soon be approaching potential partners, which we believe will attract high interest levels.”

The Montreal-based company has been putting more money and resources into growing its sports business. Last week it announced it submitted a bid to the National Hockey League that would bring a team back to Quebec City for the first time in 20 years.

Hockey has become a major focus for the company, which already owns the national French-language broadcast rights to NHL games for 12 years and launched specialty channel TVA Sports to carry most of those games.

Quebecor (TSX:QBR.B) is also the manager of the Videotron Centre in Quebec City.

The bigger investment in sports has cost Quebecor.

On Thursday, the company reported it earned $72.1 million in the second quarter, or 59 cents per share, compared with a year earlier when it booked a loss of $54.8 million or 45 cents per share on discontinued operations.

However, Quebecor’s sports and entertainment division posted an operating loss of $4.1 million as the company made what Dion called “major investments required for the pursuit of our business plan,” which included the launch of TVA Sports and management of the Videotron arena.

Adjusted profit from continuing operations increased to $66.5 million or 54 cents per share for the quarter, from $55.9 million or 45 cents per share a year ago.

Growth was driven by its wireless division as Videotron added 40,800 wireless subscribers in the period, bringing its total to 700,000 customers.

Average wireless revenue per user increased more than 13 per cent to $47.03.

Chief financial officer Jean-Francois Pruneau said Quebecor would want to maintain a majority stake in an NHL team.

“The reason for that is really related to how this content, how this asset would contribute with all the other properties that we own, and especially TVA Sports,” he said.

“In terms of profitability and cash over the future, we’re currently working on updating our financial projections because we now know more than what we knew in the past.”

A scenario where Quebecor would have to pay the $500 million bill alone doesn’t seem to be in the company’s plans.

“I can’t comment on being alone because the initial discussions that we had with some partners indicate that there would be interest levels,” Pruneau said.

Quebecor has been getting out of some longtime businesses and refocusing efforts on new growth areas.

During the quarter, Quebecor Media closed the sale of its English-language newspaper businesses in Canada to Postmedia and announced the sale of its Archambault Group retail operations to Renaud-Bray.

The company also announced that Erik Peladeau is rejoining the board of directors. The eldest son of Quebecor founder Pierre Peladeau served as a director from 1988 to 2010.

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