SBD/September 6, 2013/Franchises

Leiweke Says Firing Of MLS Toronto FC's Payne Was Due To Differing Plans For Future

Leiweke said parting ways with Payne has been his hardest decision at MLSE
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment President & CEO Tim Leiweke has "cleaned house" recently at MLS Toronto FC, while "hitching his wagon to rookie manager Ryan Nelsen," according to Neil Davidson of the CP. The "path at the beleaguered" franchise is now "crystal clear -- it’s Leiweke’s way or the highway." Gone are President & GM Kevin Payne and Dir of Team & Player Operations Earl Cochrane, who was "Payne's right-hand man." The next GM will "have to get in step with Leiweke and Nelsen on planned high-profile player acquisitions in the January transfer window." Not being "in lockstep" with Leiweke "proved to be Payne’s demise." Leiweke said that it had "become clear that he and Payne had differences." Leiweke: "Philosophically there was no difference of opinion on the four building points (the academy, draft, trading within MLS, and designated players) but there was a difference of opinion on implementation. And I had to get everybody on the same page." The team's "dismal showing in 2012 prompted MLSE to roll back 2013 season-ticket prices to that of the club’s inaugural year" in '07. Leiweke said that in light of the poor season, season-ticket holders "won’t have to commit to their tickets until January -- instead of later this month -- so they can make up their mind on the team’s moves." Leiweke now has "axed two presidents at MLSE, having parted ways" with former Raptors President Bryan Colangelo earlier this summer (CP, 9/5).

FORK IN THE ROAD: Leiweke said, "We have not been afraid of making some tough and difficult decisions. This one was the hardest one so far, simply because not only was Kevin fairly new here, but Kevin and I go back a long way." He confirmed that a search for a new GM has "already begun, and whoever replaces Payne will have to have MLS experience and know how to be able to exploit and master the intricacies of the league’s salary-cap system." Leiweke added, "We’ll steal a page from the NBA book here, and whoever we bring in, one of the disciplines and the scope they’ll have is (being) a capologist." SPORTSNET.ca's John Molinaro noted Payne, who was hired in November, leaves Toronto "with the fan base even angrier than when he arrived" (SPORTSNET.ca, 9/5).

CFL AT BMO FIELD? Leiweke said that MLSE is "looking at whether BMO Field can be refitted to accommodate" a CFL game. He said the project currently was at an "information-only stage." He added that the idea is "part of a larger plan to see how the lakefront stadium can be improved." Leiweke: "To me it's not a debate of whether you do football or not. It's a debate about if it's the CFL, can you design the stadium so that it grows for the CFL and shrinks back down to its current intimacy for soccer?" The CP's Davidson noted the Argonauts and Rogers Centre "agreed on a new lease" prior to the '13 season. Leiweke said that "no decision has been made on changing the BMO Field set-up but there is talk underway to see what could be accomplished" (CP, 9/5). Meanwhile, in Toronto, Bill Lankhof writes a possible MLSE purchase of the Argos "would bring the Argonauts benefits," as the organization "has money, connections and power in the corporate community." However, it also could "turn into corporate synergy run amok." Depending on MLSE's intentions, "it could make the Argonauts the jewel in the crown of the CFL -- or, alternatively, spell the demise of a league that has been part of the Canadian mosaic for more than a century." Sources said that MLSE's "ultimate goal is to bring an NFL team to Toronto." And there "could be no darker day than that for the CFL." The NFL in Toronto "is the CFL's death-knell" (TORONTO SUN, 9/6).
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