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SBD/April 29, 2013/FranchisesPrint All
When it comes to "sports-business free agents," Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment "landed the biggest of them all" by hiring former AEG President & CEO Tim Leiweke to the same position, according to David Shoalts of the GLOBE & MAIL. Leiweke said that the challenge of "bringing the Stanley Cup to Toronto for the first time since 1967 and turning around the perennially woeful Raptors was what attracted him to the job." Leiweke "came to be friends" with MLSE Chair Larry Tanenbaum and former MLSE President & CEO Richard Peddie "when they worked together in the NHL and MLS." Peddie said, "He has the amazing ability to keep a lot of balls up in the air. He only knows one gear, that’s the forward gear, a high-speed gear. He’s very innovative." Leiweke's arrival means a "step back" for MLSE President & COO Tom Anselmi, who was promoted to the position in September. Sources said that MLSE is hoping Anselmi will "stay with the company, although that is not certain." Leiweke has "spoken to Anselmi and expressed the same sentiment." He said that he is a "big-picture, visionary style of leader while Anselmi is skilled at the details of the day-to-day operations of a large company" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/27). Leiweke said that it was a "deliberate decision to put a long distance between his former job and his new one." Leiweke: "I don't want to do anything that harms (AEG). I feel strongly about the people that are here. I hired them all. I feel very strongly about the success of the hockey team and the soccer team, and I would do nothing to ultimately put them in a difficult situation. So my decision with Toronto was made in part because I don't mind competing for the Stanley Cup, but I don't want to be competing in L.A." (L.A. TIMES, 4/27). The CBC’s Kevin Weekes noted Leiweke is someone MLSE has been "targeting for a while." Weekes: "They want his creativity. He’s a player-first guy, which will be great for all the teams.” The CBC’s Glenn Healy said, “They have clearly hired the best guy” (“Hot Stove Tonight,” CBC, 4/27).
LET'S GET IT STARTED: Leiweke said of his new role, "I think for right now you cheer the Leafs on and try to stay out of their way. It’s more important, I think, from my standpoint, to jump into the Raptors, who have not had that success, and begin to help the board on the decision that they have now with the leadership of the Raptors, but also to begin to set a long-term focus and long-term course for that organization. ... That 36-million fan base is an amazing resource. But we haven’t tapped into it. That’s going to be a high priority" (NATIONAL POST, 4/27). In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote Leiweke listing the Raptors and Toronto FC, the two "biggest losers MLSE owns, as the two areas most requiring his attention, was enough to make a Leaf fan sigh with despair." Maybe it is "quaint to believe this is still a hockey-centric organization, because really, it stopped being that a long time ago." Leiweke's actual primary role will be to "play frontman and shield ownership from criticism" (TORONTO STAR, 4/27). The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Blair wrote, "You can blame MLSE for a number of things, but being cheap with their suits isn’t one of them." Leiweke is "known as a guy who can spin with the best of them" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/27). Tanenbaum said, "We decided to get the best in the sports and entertainment business, and that’s Tim Leiweke. Toronto is a well-kept secret in the sports world, and we should be attracting the biggest free agents in basketball and soccer." Meanwhile, the NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur wrote Tanenbaum has been "relegated to the sideline in the MLSE superstructure" (NATIONAL POST, 4/27). Leiweke said of departing AEG, "I didn’t want to be the maintainer. I like building things and achieving things" (TORONTO STAR, 4/27).
TIME TO PURSUE AN NFL TEAM? In Toronto, Kevin McGran wrote MLSE's addition of Leiweke "signals the already-giant sports empire is about to get bigger." Peddie said, "Tim didn’t come to Toronto to retire; he’s coming up to grow the company. There are growth ideas. The NFL is one. He knows (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell, he knows the people who are important. He’s got equity there." Leiweke said, "I failed miserably in getting a team in L.A. I’m a huge fan of the NFL and I happen to think Toronto deserves a team." But Leiweke "insisted bringing the NFL to Toronto is not his top priority." Leiweke: "What gives us more credibility as far as being involved eventually … in the NFL would be success with the existing assets. I know the owners in the NFL tend to put a lot of emphasis on success of a potential owner. The best thing we can do right now is stay focused on the assets we have" (TORONTO STAR, 4/27). Leiweke added, "If down the road there’s something I can do to help on the NFL, I will be prepared to use those relationships because now Toronto is my hometown" (TORONTO STAR, 4/27). Tanenbaum said, "Down the road there may be an NFL opportunity." S&E Sponsorship Group President & CEO Brian Cooper said, "If MLSE makes an NFL play, then Tim is the perfect guy. He’s got a reputation that is known worldwide in every area of sports and broadcast" (TORONTO STAR, 4/27). The NATIONAL POST's Arthur wrote attempting to land an NFL franchise is the "biggest play MLSE can make" (NATIONAL POST, 4/27).
CHEERS & JEERS: SPORTSNET's Michael Grange wrote there "is no downside" to MLSE hiring Leiweke. It is a "lottery ticket; scratch and win baby." The list of candidates that can "hold a candle to his resume in the world of sports and entertainment doesn’t exist." All the "leadership and vision in the world don’t equal a big, gifted No.1 centre for your hockey team; or a guy who can hoist an MVP award for your basketball team." If Leiweke can "figure out how to get some guys like that to Toronto, he’s better than even his resume suggests" (SPORTSNET.ca, 4/26). In Toronto, Steve Simmons asked "Was there not a single Canadian capable of being the chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd? Wonder if anyone will challenge the appointment of Tim Leiweke from an immigration perspective?" (TORONTO SUN, 4/28). ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote on his Twitter feed, “Tim Leiweke just got the Control Everything About Toronto Sports job - best job out there, big ripples in super-rich guy circles right now. ... Still waiting for real story about Leiweke's AEG departure. My take: I think Phil Anschutz got tired of everyone thinking Leiweke owned AEG" (TWITTER.com, 4/26).
ANOTHER L.A. IMPORT? In Toronto, Ryan Wolstat wrote MLSE hiring Leiweke "set the rumor mill in motion with one of the most stunning ideas imaginable," that Basketball HOFer Phil Jackson could be the next coach of the Raptors. Leiweke: "It’s too early to speculate, I’m not going to deny that Phil and I are friends and that we had an amazing run" (TORONTO SUN, 4/27).
The Stars today named longtime Red Wings exec Jim Nill GM, one day after parting ways with former GM Joe Nieuwendyk. Nill, who will begin his new role immediately, spent 15 seasons as Red Wings Assistant GM, and 19 seasons overall as a member of the club's management team (Stars). In Dallas, Mike Heika notes Nill previously "turned down" recent offers, including one from the Canadiens, because of "his appreciation of the Red Wings and the health of his wife, Bekki, who has been battling cancer." However, Stars President & CEO Jim Lites said that he "presented the positives of the Stars organization, and Nill decided it was the right time." Gaglardi said, "I had a list of candidates, and when it became clear that Jim Nill would be interested in leaving Detroit and coming here, I threw the list away. I think he is without a doubt the best candidate to take this job." Heika notes Nill is a former player "who came up in management as a scout." Nill is "well-versed in talent evaluation from the NHL to the AHL to junior hockey and European play." Gaglardi said that Nill will "decide the fate of coach Glen Gulutzan and his staff and the front office" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/29). In Detroit, Helene St. James noted Nill for nearly a decade, has been "one of the most coveted minds in the NHL, with numerous other clubs ... trying to lure him from Detroit." Nill turned down past offers "partly because he held a very lucrative and powerful position within the Wings organization." Nill has had "last say at the Wings’ table at the NHL draft" (FREEP.com, 4/28). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote hiring Nill "makes perfect sense," as he was with the Red Wings when Lites served as COO from '82-93. Nill has been "next to one of the best GM's in the business in long-time Red Wings GM Ken Holland" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 4/27).
RAW DEAL? In Dallas, Rick Gosselin writes, "I thought Nieuwendyk deserved one more year." The Stars "owed it to their general manager for the handcuffs that were placed on him during the first 29 months of his 46-month tenure." Nill will "need a greater financial commitment from ownership than the old one." It is "time to start spending." Gosselin: "Open the wallet and buy the missing pieces that wound up costing Nieuwendyk his job" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/29). The STAR-TELEGRAM's Engel wrote Nieuwendyk's "reign in the Stars front office was hamstrung mostly by the team's ownership problems from previous owner Tom Hicks." For three of the four years of Nieuwendyk's tenure, he was "limited in his ability to make moves because at first Hicks didn't want to spend money, and when the team went into bankruptcy the banks that were signing the checks didn't want to do anything big" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 4/27). Nieuwendyk yesterday said, "Tom could have let me go when he bought the team, but he didn't, he gave me an opportunity and I'm thankful for that. But I hint it's important for him to move forward with his guys and it's important for me to take a little time off and spend it with my family" (DALLASNEWS.com, 4/28).
The Avalanche yesterday fired coach Joe Sacco and confirmed that Dir of Hockey Operations Eric Lacroix -- the "son of team president Pierre Lacroix -- also has left the organization," according to Terry Frei of the DENVER POST. It is an "interesting, even intriguing development, but doesn't dramatically change the realities." Even if the Avalanche "follow up the firing of Sacco with the hiring of a high-profile and/or promising coach, any self-congratulation would be delusional if major changes don't come elsewhere, whether in terms of philosophy or personnel ... or both" (DENVER POST, 4/29). In Denver, Adrian Dater wrote some in the hockey industry "believe changes with the Avs are long overdue." Denver-based NHL player agent Kurt Overhardt said, "Unfortunately, the commitment to excellence that the Avalanche came to town with when the franchise moved here and won two Stanley Cups has waned significantly since 2004." Overhardt places the "blame for the franchise's decline on team ownership, led by Stan Kroenke." Kroenke and his son, team Governor Josh, have "always maintained that the Avs mean as much to them as any of their team properties." Overhardt said, "There are some great management people currently involved with the organization, but it all starts with ownership. In my opinion, there is not a commitment to excellence by the current owner." He added, "The commitment to the current owner seems only to be the Nuggets. The Avs seem to be another date on the calendar, to get parking, concessions and to put a couple people in the seat" (DENVER POST, 4/28).
Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Flip Saunders is "expected to return" as the T'Wolves President of Basketball Operations, a move that would "end David Kahn's controversial tenure after four seasons," according to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com. Sources said that Saunders' contract could run through the '17-18 season and could be worth more than $9M "over the full five years." T'Wolves Owner Glen Taylor and Saunders have been "meeting in recent weeks, with Taylor confirming a report in March that Saunders was representing a group of prospective buyers interested in purchasing the franchise." Taylor has been "seeking a minority investor or investors who eventually could take over majority control of the club" (NBA.com, 4/26). In Minneapolis, Jerry Zgoda wrote given Aschburner's "history with Flip, Taylor and the Wolves for more than a decade" as beat writer for the Star Tribune, and "given NBA.com's obvious ties to the league, no reason to believe it's not true." Especially "when such specifics" as a five-year, $9M contract are mentioned. The report of Kahn's impending departure "follows speculation that has been out there for more than a month, or all the way back to last summer" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 4/26). However, if Kahn's departure "is imminent, it is news to him" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 4/27). Kahn in a text message wrote, "Glen and I have an understanding that we will meet at an appropriate time to discuss my contractual status, but only after we have clarification on Coach [Rick] Adelman's status and Glen has all the information he needs" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 4/26).
ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION? In St. Paul, Bob Sansevere wrote under the header, "For Timberwolves, Getting Rid Of David Kahn Is A Start." Hiring Saunders would be a "good move if only to get rid of Kahn." Saunders "offers a lot more." All you "really need to know about Kahn" is that the T'Wolves have "lost 134 more games than they've won with him in charge" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 4/27). CBSSPORTS.com's Zach Harper wrote the hiring of Saunders will be "looked at as a weight being lifted off the shoulders of the Wolves' organization" (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/26).
Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross on Friday said that the grudge held by former coach Tony Sparano following the franchise's "surreptitious courting of [49ers coach] Jim Harbaugh in early 2011 'damaged the whole organization,'" according to Jackson & Beasley of the MIAMI HERALD. Ross said on WAXY-AM's Dan Le Batard Show, "He could never put it behind him. I don’t think he was the right head coach for the Miami Dolphins. I didn’t hire him. We’re a much better organization today than then.” Ross added, "This organization is functioning the best since the (Don) Shula days, (because) I picked the head coach with [GM] Jeff Ireland. People see this organization is really on the uptick.” He said of his first year as owner, "Everybody had me walking on eggshells." Meanwhile, he added that his "sales pitch to Peyton Manning during free agency in early 2012 included a role with the Dolphins after he retired." Ross: "I thought we had a shot at him. We went up to Indianapolis. I then flew him from Indianapolis to North Carolina, to Duke, and he and I spent some time together" (MIAMI HERALD, 4/27).
BEACH PARTY: In West Palm Beach, Brian Briggane reported nearly 15,000 Dolphins fans "turned out for Finfest to get a first look at the long, lanky" DE Dion Jordan, the team's first-round pick in last weekend's NFL Draft. The Jordan pick "seemed to temper the longtime criticism of Ireland" (PALM BEACH POST, 4/28). In Miami, Greg Cote wrote it was the Dolphins "dominating local conversation" last week -- the Dolphins, who "once owned the Miami sports market and are acting like they mean to win it back" (MIAMI HERALD, 4/28).
The 76ers have purchased the right to own and operate an NBA D-League that will begin play in the '13-14 season in Newark, Del. The team will be called the 87ers, in recognition of Delaware's history as the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1787. The rights to the D-League team were previously held by the Utah Flash, which went on hiatus two seasons ago. The 87ers will play their home games at the Bob Carpenter Center on the Univ. of Delaware campus. The team will be referred to as the "Sevens" as a nod to the parent team's nickname "Sixers" (NBA D-League). 76ers CEO Adam Aron said the team looked at dozens of communities in seven states "before deciding Delaware was perfect." NBA D-League President Dan Reed said that the average ticket prices for an 87ers game "will be about $15" (NEWARKPOSTONLINE.com, 4/27).
In Buffalo, Tim Graham cited sources as saying that this NFL Draft was Bills GM Buddy Nix’ “last,” and he will “step aside for heir apparent” Assistant GM & Player Personnel Dir Doug Whaley. But there was “no indication a transfer of power would happen any time soon” after the Bills made their eighth and final draft choice Saturday night. Bills President & CEO Russ Brandon said, “There’s a lot of speculation for whatever reason related to that. Buddy Nix is our general manager and will be for a long time. Doug is a vital cog to the process, but when it comes to football decisions in this organization, one person and one person only makes those decisions, and that’s Buddy Nix” (BUFFALO NEWS, 4/28).
BIRD ON A WIRE: SI.com’s Peter King cites a source as saying that the Cardinals “will randomly drug test” third-round draft pick S Tyrann Mathieu “as often as weekly after he signs his NFL contract.” Mathieu's contract reportedly “will not include any guaranteed money.” Rather, he will “earn bonus money in the form of roster bonuses, to ensure that the club is protected in the event that he lapses and the team chooses to cut him.” Cardinals GM Steve Keim said that he is “counting on one of the Cardinals' cornerstone players, Patrick Peterson, to be a mentor to Mathieu.” The two were teammates at LSU in ‘10 (SI.com, 4/29).
MR. BROWN: In Cleveland, Bud Shaw writes Browns CEO Joe Banner “upped the ante” for the NFL Draft, and is “betting big on himself.” There is “something to admire in his self-assuredness.” But fans would “feel better if the fingerprints on talent procurement" during his time as Eagles President were “more easily traceable to him," as opposed to former Eagles coach Andy Reid (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 4/29).
FLY LIKE AN EAGLE: In Philadelphia, Paul Domowitch writes the first NFL Draft for Eagles GM Howie Roseman and coach Chip Kelly was “nothing like that '89 slugfest" between former Giants coach Bill Parcells and GM George Young that saw the two strongly disagree with each other over a potential selection. While there “certainly were exchanges of opinions between the Eagles' general manager and head coach in the weeks and months leading up to the draft as they set up their board, they were in perfect sync during the seven-round selection process” (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 4/29).
CHARGING AHEAD: In San Diego, Kevin Acee wrote while Chargers fans “won’t know for a while exactly how much the Chargers gained" during the NFL Draft, the "excitement is tangible and the direction deliberate.” The Chargers’ new regime "will not be held down by the decisions of the old regime” (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 4/28).