The news that Tim Leiweke will take over as the new president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment on June 30 has fans of Toronto FC abuzz.
As the former CEO of Anschutz Entertainment Group, Leiweke’s name was front and centre with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles Kings — who are both defending champs in their respective leagues. He helped the Galaxy become the glamour team of MLS — though, by the very fact the team is located in Los Angeles, was bound to happen anyway. AEG also owns 34 per cent of the Los Angeles Lakers.
When Leiweke spoke to journalists Friday evening, it was clear that putting the Raptors on the map is his No. 1 priority. He talked about how, in basketball, the Raptors have a potential market of 36 million, as it’s the only MLSE property that can boast being the only major-league team in Canada. He talked about making the Raps like the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers at the same time. Remember that Leiweke was with the Denver Nuggets before coming to AEG; he has 30 years of NBA experience.
But he was clear that Toronto FC deserves a glamour Designated Player, a signing that would rival the likes of David Beckham’s move to the Galaxy.
“I happen to think that TFC deserves that kind of player,” said Leiweke in a Friday evening conference call. “But you have to find the right one.”
And, in his discussions with the MLSE board, he has been told that money is no object in finding the right Designated Player.
“If we find the right guy, they’re all in,” he pledged.
But can it come in the next transfer window? Likely not — but anything is possible.
“It took me two years to convince David Beckham to come to L.A., but it only took a week to get Robbie Keane,” he said.
Leiweke said he was attracted to MLSE because of the revenue it generates. But, he said the best way to help increase the company’s revenue is simple. It isn’t more real-estate buys or restaurants.
“It’s trophies,” he said. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but my enthusiasm sometimes gets me into trouble… looking at the success we had, why Staples Centre and L.A. Live were phenomenal was the content.” In his time with AEG, the L.A. teams under the company umbrella won 11 league titles combined.
And, as for the revenue? “Put it right back into the product, right back into facilities and right back into the fan experience.”
TFC President and GM Kevin Payne worked with Leiweke when AEG owned D.C. United in the early years of MLS. And, even though Leiweke was quite clear he’d be influential when it came to securing DPs, he also made it clear that he feels Payne has got the team headed in the right direction.
“As for the soccer team, they had a bit of inconsistency there until this year.” Emphasis on “until this year.”
Leiweke, though, is more than a sports guy. Sports people will always talk about the sports business like it’s the only business interest out there. When you read non-sports media — business journals and the like — discussing the Leiweke move to MLSE, the sports teams are mentioned, but aren’t at the top of the list.
And this is what makes it interesting. Did MLSE bring Leiweke solely to supervise its sports teams, or to grow its business in new and interesting areas? An educated guess would suggest the latter. Leiweke’s crowning business achievement isn’t the success of the sports teams — it’s in building venues. He’s had his hand in major AEG arena and stadium projects across the world, from Los Angeles to London, England to Sydney, Australia. He was also key in the AEG purchase of smaller promoter Goldenvoice, and with that came the Coachella festival. He was also front and centre in the planned development of a new L.A. football stadium.
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