Home MLS Toronto FC Leiweke’s move to MLSE a stunner; says TFC “all in” for a marquee DP

Leiweke’s move to MLSE a stunner; says TFC “all in” for a marquee DP


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.

Leiweke was also at the head of AEG Live, the world’s second largest concert promoter. That’s where he’s most highly regarded for his business genius. And, if you think the sports biz is rocking about the news about the Leiweke move, the concert business is really shaking. (A little disclosure… before getting into sportswriting, I was mainly known as a rock writer, and then I actually was involved in the music business for several years, which, for ethical reasons, shifted me away from music journalism)

MLSE currently partners with LiveNation, the No. 1 dog in the concert game and AEG’s main rival. But, with someone with Leiweke at the helm, who has such knowledge in brand building, venue management and the music industry, you’d have to think that MLSE is thinking that it can expand its influence on the concert-promotion side. Maybe it can take charge of its own ticketing — as Leiweke helped develop AXS, AEG’s ticketing system that was aiming at the Ticketmaster pie.

But, to talk about “what will Leiweke mean for TFC?” would almost be insulting. In truth, the L.A. sports teams (and the Houston Dynamo) are just a small percentage of AEG’s business. Leiweke was let go as AEG announced it was no longer on the market. Talking about Leiweke as a sports guy alone would be like talking about Michael Jordan, the baseball player.

He now has a new home — in Canada (where it might be more convenient to slip out of a no-compete contract-exit clause), with an exceptionally ambitious company.

His job, no doubt, will be to grow the business. And only a small thinker would believe that MLSE has peaked. There are more business victories to be had, more businesses to be developed. And that’s why it’s hard to see Leiweke doing too much to affect the day-to-day business of TFC, unless it was to provide leverage in signing a big-name Designated Player. Leiweke’s reputation is as a revenue builder, to see promotion and venue opportunities in markets people already thought were saturated with entertainment options.

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One Comment

  1. cwell

    April 27, 2013 at 12:44 am

    I like the part about re-investing in the product, facilities and the fan experience. A winning formula, for sure.

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