SBD/April 29, 2013/Franchises

Leiweke Points To Focus On NBA And MLS, But Could NFL Be MLSE's New Ambition?

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Leiweke said MLSE would be interested in the NFL, but it's not a priority
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).
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