Leiweke’s departure: Toronto soccer supporters can’t be blamed for fearing for the future By Steven Sandor Posted on August 21, 2014 3 0 590 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter No doubt, the next few days worth of stories in the Toronto media will feature a lot of he-sad, she-said. There will be speculation over the magical straw that broke the camel’s back at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. What was the major reason (or reasons) that spurred the company and its high-profile head to announce their impending divorce? Was it the failure to get an NFL team? Or the rumoured dislike the Leiweke clan holds for the Canadian winter? The fact there are no In ‘N’ Out Burger outlets to be found in the GTA? Conflicts between the outgoing CEO and the MLSE board? In the end, it doesn’t matter. The optics of the situation are simple. MLSE announced Thursday that CEO Tim Leiweke will step down by the end of next June, or earlier if a suitable replacement is found. And that means one of the highest-profile venue builders and managers in all of North American sport will fall well short of fulfilling even half of his five-year mandate. And the question will be, if Leiweke is chewed up by the Toronto sports cauldron, who could take the job without being a well-paid yes-man? Thanos, maybe? There are two things that struck me about Leiweke’s reign. Of course, the first is his dedication to get Toronto FC to treat itself like a world-class club. There were the pilgrimages made to convince Jermain Defoe to take a Designated-Player contract with the club. There was the move to secure Michael Bradley on a DP deal. But, for the first time, fans felt that Toronto FC was treating itself seriously. The second thing was the fact that Leiweke, in the way he spoke about and ran the sports empire, didn’t treat TFC and the Raptors like they were the Leafs’ poor, unwanted cousins. He focused time, effort and energy on the soccer and basketball teams. I’d often felt there was a strange kinship between Raptors and TFC fans, frustrated that their teams were so often well in the shadows while the hockey team hogged the media spotlight — and MLSE’s priority list. Before Leiweke, you could never shake the feeling that the Raptors and TFC were playing the roles of value-added options on the MLSE menu. But under Leiweke, those teams developed their individual characters. And, in both the NBA and MLS standings, the results could be traced in the number of wins each team earned. TFC is on track for its best season ever; the Raptors got to the playoffs and finally showed the world that, no, their fans don’t only go to Raps games because they can’t afford/get Leafs tickets. Yet, it will all end too soon. And, really, it’s already over. By announcing that Leiweke will have an expiry date, MLSE has already ensured the remaining time the CEO has will be as a lame-duck leader. Leiweke can’t really make long-term decisions for TFC, the Raps and the Leafs when we all know he won’t be in Canada’s largest city for much longer. And, back to the optics. After a hopeful mini-renaissance under Leiweke’s watch — where MLSE looked to be focused on making its teams winners rather than talking about sales awards and condo building — we’ll all be left wondering if any visionary can truly excel in a system run by a board of executives. Has Leiweke’s flameout only entrenched the notion of “same old, same old” with MLSE? And, does this mean that, after a hopeful few months for TFC supporters, will the Reds slip backwards? Toronto retains its reputation as a city that kills sports careers — or at least derails them. If you’re a Toronto FC supporter, or a Toronto sports fan of any kind, you are likely fearing the worst. Based on MLSE’s track record, no one can blame you. Often, when an exec leaves, the people he’s hired soon follow. It’s rare that, after the boss leaves, everyone underneath continues to follow the master plan. When Leiweke goes, will more defections follow?