SBD/September 4, 2013/People and Pop Culture

MLSE's Leiweke Discusses Departure From AEG, Farmers Field, Plans To Return To L.A.

Leiweke says the transition from L.A. to Toronto has not been an easy one

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment President & CEO TIM LEIWEKE, who "lost an estimated 50 pounds" since leaving AEG in March, recently returned to L.A. for his daughter FRANCESCA’s wedding to Maple Leafs RW TROY BODIE. During his return, Leiweke sat down for an extensive interview with Giselle Fernandez of L.A. MAGAZINE. Leiweke, whom Fernandez called the “powerhouse driving force that helped diversify and build AEG into the sports and entertainment giant it is today,” discussed his departure from the company, his relationship with AEG Chair PHIL ANSCHUTZ and the whether the NFL has a future in L.A., among other topics. Watch the video here.

PARTING WAYS: Leiweke said the attempted sale of AEG made his departure “predictable because of the process we were going through as a company.” Leiweke: “We tried to sell the company (and) I knew the minute we got in to that process, if it didn’t end well that I’d want to move on, and that’s what happened.” However, he said his leaving L.A. is “not a permanent goodbye.”

ROLE PLAYING: Fernandez asked whether Leiweke, in trying to build AEG, “forgot” Anschutz was the boss. Leiweke: “People say that, and to his credit, we never had any problems about our roles. I always understood it was his company and his money. He always understood, in order to grow a company, you needed a CEO that was out front and public. In our business -- we were in the entertainment business, the sports business, the development business -- so we had to be aggressive, and it was a role he never wanted to play.” Leiweke disputed the notion that there was a falling out between him and Anschutz. Leiweke said, “He’s not a harsh words kind of guy. We’ve done this for 20 years. People who think at the end of the day we got into a shouting match and declared nuclear war, that’s not true.” Leiweke was asked whether he and Anschutz stay in contact, and he said they only "see each other at board meetings." Pressed further on how he feels about seeing Anschutz at those meetings, Leiweke said, “I just move on. So I don’t talk about it, don’t think about it.” He said of whether Anschutz was a father figure, “I don’t talk about him. I just move on. I respect what he’s trying to do and have great respect for AEG and have nothing but the best to wish them, to hope they accomplish. ... I hope they can get football.”

UPWARD AND ONWARD: Fernandez cited Anschutz as saying that Leiweke was “trying to push” upward the value of AEG by pursuing an NFL deal. She also cited Anschutz as saying that he “wasn't as into the NFL” as Leiweke. In response, Leiweke said, “I don’t think the final chapter in that story has been written yet. And so I think he understands the value of bringing the NFL back to L.A. I think he has respect for the league and I think he does enjoy that idea. It’s a great idea; and I think he shares that. And I think he is still uniquely positioned to still finish that dream and I hope he does.” Leiweke said of whether he was too aggressive in pushing for a stadium deal: “I don’t think so. I don’t think we would have accomplished everything that we accomplished as a company if you weren't driven and focused and at times maybe making the river run upstream a little bit. So it’s not a style that everyone loved and occasionally we stepped on some toes. For that I’m not apologetic, but I do get that style is not one that everyone loves.” He said of his regrets during his time at AEG: “Not getting the NFL. A lot of people put their necks on the line for that vision. ... More importantly, it’s the right thing for Los Angeles.” He added, “Clearly being in a situation where we didn’t finish everything that you wanted to finish in L.A. humbles you because you feel like you let some people down, and I do feel like I let some people down.”

DEAL BREAKER? It had been reported the NFL was not keen on AEG developing and owning Farmers Field. Leiweke said of the league’s approach: “What I think you always have to remember about the NFL is the last time I checked, they are doing extremely well without L.A. So it had to be the perfect solution for everyone involved. It had to make sense for the league, it had to make sense for the other 31 owners that weren't coming here, it really had to make sense for the one team that was coming here, it obviously had to make sense for the private developer who was taking on risk on the stadium, and it had to make sense for the rest of the campus. It had to fit in with the uniqueness of L.A. Live.”

CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT: Leiweke also discussed reaching out to L.A.’s Hispanic population. He said, “It always amazed me with the Lakers, they did a pretty good job with the Hispanic community. When you saw the championship parades, what you began to understand is they were the favorite team at the time with the Hispanic community. The Dodgers have always done a very good job of that. So we tried to emulate that because we knew where the future of this community was going.”

NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Noting his transition from L.A. to Toronto, Leiweke said the process is “still not easy.” Leiweke: “As it relates to the Maple Leafs, and I got into a little trouble when I said this -- they didn't read the rest of the statement. If they understood what I was talking about, when the Maple Leafs made the playoffs, a third of the entire country watched the games. (Hockey) is not a sport there, it is a culture there and it’s part of their lifestyle and it’s unique.” He added, “I hope the Kings can get to that point here, but I will tell you, it is unique there. So you walk into the tradition and history, on one hand I probably didn’t understand how deep it was, and on the other hand what I understand is we had to change the culture a little bit because we haven’t won a Stanley Cup in Toronto since 1967.” Leiweke: “So we have to stop celebrating our past and start focusing on our opportunity to create the history today. ... I probably didn’t do a very good job of communicating that when I first went there.”

PAST AND FUTURE: Leiweke said his top three accomplishments in L.A. are the Kings winning the ’12 Stanley Cup, getting Staples Center built and “trying to create a heart” for the city. But when asked whether he had any regrets other than not securing an NFL stadium, he said he intends to return to the city. Leiweke: “Well, I think I’ll be back one day. I don’t think I’m done here. My family and I love it here; all of our friends are here. We spent 20 years here; we’re engrained in the community. ... I don’t have any regrets yet because I still have a chance to make sure the report card looks good at the end of the day” (LAMAG.com, 8/28).

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