Toronto FC Fires Up Fans With Signings That Leiweke Calls "Payback" For Loyalty
MLS Toronto FC yesterday officially introduced F Jermain Defoe and MF Michael Bradley in "inarguably the most grandiose soccer press conference in the city’s history," as around 200 "jubilant supporters routinely broke into song," according to Paul Attfield of the GLOBE & MAIL. The "toll of seven consecutive losing seasons had left Canada’s original MLS franchise on the precipice of oblivion in Toronto’s crowded and competitive sports scene." Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment President & CEO Tim Leiweke "jokingly described the moves as 'financial suicide,'" as Defoe reportedly signed a four-year deal worth $8.3M (all figures U.S.) per year, Bradley received a six-year deal worth $6.5M per year, with the club having paid more than $20M in transfer fees. But Leiweke insisted that this was "a chance to reward the team’s fans for the years of heartbreaking on-field ineptitude." Leiweke said, "These fans for seven years have been unbelievable. They changed the fortunes of this league, they changed the value of these clubs, they changed the environment in this community." Leiweke is "convinced the market will reward MLSE’s financial commitment." Leiweke: "We’re going to be the first $50-million gross-revenue club in the history of soccer in North America." ESPN's Alexi Lalas, who was MLS Galaxy GM when David Beckham joined the team, said, "This has all the hallmarks of a Tim Leiweke production. It is big, it is bold, it is expensive and it is designed to grab attention and to titillate, but also with an additional and important element of success" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/14). In Toronto, Cathal Kelly writes Leiweke came to Toronto to "create occasions," and yesterday's press conference "was one of those -- maybe the most raucous in city history" (TORONTO STAR, 1/14).
CRAZY GENEROUS: Leiweke said of the club's signings, "I'd say some of our partners think we've lost our minds." He added, "We don't have enough seats to make economic sense out of this." The CP's Neil Davidson wrote Leiweke sees the club's first season under his control "as a loss-leader." He said that it "will take a year or two to get to the point 'where it makes financial sense.'" Leiweke: "We have our work cut out here to make economic sense out of this and we think we will." Included in the transactions are a "business relationship" with EPL club Tottenham Hotspur and a "player development deal" with Serie A club AS Roma. Both teams "will play exhibition games" with Toronto FC as part of the deals (CP, 1/13). In Toronto, Ryan Wolstat writes the "dollars look silly, but, in the end, all of this was an easy decision for MLSE. Get in the game. For once. For real" (TORONTO SUN, 1/14). MLSE Senior Dir of Communications Dave Haggith said that before the news of the signings leaked last week, "season ticket sales languished" at around 15%. Haggith: "This past week was that renewal period. As of [Monday], our ticket office reported they were at 92 per cent sold for season seats" (TORONTO STAR, 1/14).
FIELD OF DREAMS: In Toronto, Cathal Kelly writes "on a fiscal level," the splurge on new players "makes no sense." But it was "a big day for the soccer team" and "an even bigger day for fans of any one of MLSE's sports properties." Leiweke's plan involves risking "nothing but money," but it is "a whole lot of it." The spending is part of a larger MLSE plan, which includes "building revenues by expanding BMO Field, buying the [CFL Argonauts], luring the Winter Classic, [and] spinning money from three perennial contenders." It is "all best-case scenario stuff, but no one gets stupid rich hedging their bets" (TORONTO STAR, 1/14). Leiweke said of plans to improve BMO Field, "We’re committed to working with the city to try to find a vision that significantly enhances the stadium, significantly increases the number of seats in the stadium and gives our fans a European flavour to the stadium. I think you’ll hear something about that in the very near future" (TORONTO SUN, 1/14).
ESPNFC.com, 1/13). In N.Y., Andrew Keh writes Bradley's signing "further subverted the conventional definition of success for an American soccer player." With the World Cup six months away, it "invited speculation on what larger meaning it might have for the American team." That Bradley's move "could be regarded as merely shocking and not irrational" represents MLS' "continuing march toward respectability" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/14). Bradley said of Leiweke, "He's competitive, motivated, somebody who only thinks about the big picture" (SI.com, 1/13). In Toronto, Kurtis Larson reports Defoe before signing received calls from rapper Drake, David Beckham and Galaxy F Robbie Keane. Defoe said, “Leiweke just said to me he wanted me to be part of something special. When someone says that to you, it’s hard to turn it down. You want to look back at the end of your career and say you went to a club and made a difference" (TORONTO SUN, 1/14).
SPREADING THE WEALTH: In Philadelphia, John Smallwood writes MLS Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz is "well aware" of the notion his franchise "does not want to spend money necessary to take it to the next level of competition." Sakiewicz said, "I kind of chuckle at the idea. It's inconceivable that we wouldn't do anything, given all of the moves that we've made since the season has ended." He added, "We were on the forefront of trying to get [Bradley]. But the money got so crazy that, for our organization, it would have been very irresponsible to spend that kind of money on one player when we need to spend our money on probably three or four players." Smallwood writes the "novelty of simply having an MLS team has worn off" in Philadelphia. Union fans "want a contender" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 1/14).