SBD/August 22, 2014/Franchises

Despite Short Tenure, Leiweke's Fingerprints All Over Toronto FC, Raptors Turnarounds

Leiweke (l) said TFC had to commit "financial suicide" to sign Bradley and Defoe
In MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke's "relatively short tenure" with the organization, one of the "most significant moments will be his handling of a resurgence" for Toronto FC, according to Doug Smith of the TORONTO STAR. TFC made the "splashiest move imaginable under Leiweke’s guidance and at his insistence" this offseason when the team signed F Jermain Defoe and MF Michael Bradley. Bradley and Defoe are the "backbone of a resurgent franchise that spent the money necessary to turn things around" (TORONTO STAR, 8/22). TSN's Luke Wileman wrote Leiweke "started the job of dragging the club off its knees and giving it relevance again in the country's biggest media market." He has "made big progress, but the task is nowhere near finished, and the departure of Leiweke will raise questions about Toronto's future ability to compete as one of the top two or three power brokers" in MLS. With Leiweke in charge, the goal "wasn't just to be good in MLS, it was to become a 'super club.'" He made "big, bold promises, and he certainly delivered." The Bradley and Defoe signings "saved the club from obscurity." TFC "had to commit what Leiweke called 'financial suicide' to make the signings, but it was the only option at the time." It was Leiweke's "contacts, negotiating skills and sales charm that made those moves a possibility" (TSN.ca, 8/21). In Toronto, Kurtis Larson notes some of the names "floating around at this point" to replace Leiweke are "downright scary in terms of TFC fans hoping they’ll still be respected once Leiweke finally leaves." TFC GM Tim Bezbatchenko said, “People on the board now understand soccer and understand the passion and what it can be ... The board is on board.” But Larwon writes either way, TFC is "worse off without a powerful voice drumming up support for soccer in this city" (TORONTO SUN, 8/22).

HATCHING DINOSAUR EGGS: In Toronto, Ryan Wolstat writes it is "hard to imagine the Raptors not being worse off" in the post-Leiweke era, as they "took major steps forward" with him at the helm. At the "micro level, Leiweke headed a full-court press" to land President of Basketball Operations & GM Masai Ujiri, and he also was "all over the successful bid" to bring the '16 NBA All-Star Game to Toronto. Leiweke "focused and cared about making the Raptors a long-term factor and contender in the NBA world." He did "not treat the Raptors as a poor cousin to the Maple Leafs or an afterthought" (TORONTO SUN, 8/22). The TORONTO STAR's Smith writes hiring Ujiri was Leiweke's "most significant move." It was his "biggest and his first, one that should resonate for years." Leiweke's "aggressive nature" gave Ujiri "the feeling he could do whatever was necessary to get the franchise headed in the right direction" (TORONTO STAR, 8/22).

THE NEXT ICE AGE: In Toronto, Mike Zeisberger writes under the header, "Leiweke's Legacy With Maple Leafs Can't Be Determined Yet." Zeisberger: "Fans truly will not know the footprint Leiweke left on the Leafs’ topsy-turvy history" until the era of new President Brendan Shanahan "has either produced heroes or zeroes" (TORONTO SUN, 8/22). Also in Toronto, Mark Zwolinski writes, "Of all the MLSE sports team properties the Leafs are the least affected by Leiweke’s departure" (TORONTO STAR, 8/22). Meanwhile, CFL Argonauts Owner David Braley said that Leiweke's departure doesn't mean the end of negotiations" to sell the team or move it to BMO Field (TORONTO STAR, 8/22).
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