SBD/March 20, 2014/Franchises

IMG World Congress Of Sports: Leiweke Bullish, Defiant On MLS Toronto FC's Future

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Leiweke expects the value of Toronto FC to grow to $250M in the coming years
Toronto FC faced criticism after it spent more than $100M on players during the offseason, but Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment CEO Tim Leiweke said the signings will help the club’s revenue double in the next year. The increases will come from ticket, sponsorship and media revenue that will follow better play on the field and an increase in interest in the club as a result of new players like Michael Bradley and Jermaine Defoe, he said. Leiweke, who was speaking on the opening panel of the '14 IMG World Congress of Sports, said that total revenue at Toronto FC will increase to more than $75M and the value of Toronto FC will grow from the $10M MLSE paid for it in '05 to $250M in the coming years. “These guys will end up paying for themselves,” Leiweke said of the new players. “We currently lose money. We’ll lose money again this year, but it’s a price our owners are willing to pay to be where we want to be. We have a shot of making that team one of the two or three most relevant brands in all of Canada.” The signings were controversial in MLS, which is a single-entity league. Philadelphia Union President Nick Sakiewicz said Leiweke was “breaking the bank” and that he was “frustrated” by the signings. MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who was on the panel with Leiweke, acknowledged that the signings had been controversial, but said that they were important for the league as it looks to become one of the top leagues in the world. Sounders and Seahawks President Peter McLoughlin said that the value of signing those players was on display when Toronto FC beat the Sounders 2-1 last weekend. But he said that the way that the Sounders looked at their biggest signing in recent history, Clint Dempsey, was different. "What keeps me up at night is losing money. We made a big investment with Clint Dempsey, and the impact it has on your bottom line is something that has to be considered smartly and objectively. I’m sure Tim did. I know we did in Seattle.”

NOT SORRY FOR HIS COMMENTS: Leiweke generated controversy when he took over the job and called the MLSE teams “losers,” but he said he has no regrets. “Our teams, our players, our coaches, our fans are now talking about winning,” he said. The comment "provoked a conversation and a mindset they were afraid to have in the past.” Leiweke noted that Toronto FC now has its first winning record in history. “It’s good we set the tone,” he said. While the former AEG exec's move from L.A. to Toronto has not been without its hiccups, he joked that the biggest learning curve had been the weather. Outside of that, he said that he failed to fully appreciate how large the Toronto market was before he took the job. He underestimated it. “It’s the third largest market in North America,” he said. “It’s a uniquely poised capital market to do some remarkable things going forward. I had no idea it was that big, that dynamic, a marketplace” (Tripp Mickle, Staff Writer).

LEVEL WITH THE LEAFS?
In Toronto, Steve Buffery asks now that TFC "seems to be on the verge of decency, how much bigger will the fan support become?" Team MF Jonathan Osorio indicated that if the club "lives up to expectations, and maintains a winning tradition, TFC will someday rival the Maple Leafs in terms of support in this town." Buffery notes the city of Toronto "is ever-changing, and many of the newcomers in this city originate from places where soccer is king." On top of that, "more and more kids are playing the game." Soccer has, "in fact, surpassed hockey in terms of overall participation numbers." But, no matter how much MLS "grows, the league will likely never have what the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL have, which is they are the very best leagues in their respective sport." The fact that the NFL and MLB "are so ingrained in terms of their fan base will always make it tough for MLS to reach its potential" (TORONTO SUN, 3/20).
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