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Will Tim Leiweke Turn MLSE Into A Winning Organization?

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April 27, 2013

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Will Tim Leiweke Turn MLSE Into A Winning Organization?

For the past 10 years, Toronto sports teams have operated as the doormat for every other city to walk on. The Raptors have a grand total of one playoff series victory in 18 years, the Blue Jays haven’t been to the playoffs since 1993, Toronto FC has been meandering their way through the MLS like a drunken hobo, and the Maple Leafs are about enter the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in nine years.

Toronto sports teams have been so bad that fans expect to be disappointed, and it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

Whenever things go poorly in life, fingers start getting pointed. In the case of the Toronto sports scene, the finger is being pointed squarely at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. Of course it’s a massive organization, so the blame has been spread throughout. Initially, former President and CEO Richard Peddie assume much of the blame for questionable personnel decisions. Peddie was the man who hired Rob Babcock, and John Ferguson Jr. Once Peddie retired, blamed deferred to the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan who owned a majority stake in the company. The OTPP was an easy target because they were interested in making money for their constituents, not winning games. However, in 2012 the teachers sold their shares to a joint group of Bell and Rogers, and that’s where things started getting interesting.

Even though Bell and Rogers share a natural rivalry, they do share one very important common denominator. They both need consumers. They need fans to watch games on cable, smartphones, tablets, and to be visiting their websites. With this in mind, both Bell and Rogers have a huge incentive to build a winning organization, and they’ve identified Tim Leiweke as the man to make it happen.

As far as resumes go, Leiweke had to be considered the best candidate. MLSE needs someone to turn around their hockey, basketball, and soccer programs, and Leiweke did just that in Los Angeles over the past decade. Leiweke won championships with the Lakers, he won a championship with the Kings, he won championships with the Galaxy, and he brought David Beckham to L.A.

That counts for something, right?

In the scope of the Toronto sports scene, a single championship would be heralded as reason to quit work and shut down Yonge street. How would Toronto react to multiple championships across multiple sports? Honestly, I think it would be too much for this city to handle. People wouldn’t know what to do with themselves because we’ve gotten so used to being bad. So what did Leiweke do in his introductory press conference? He said the word championship more times in 25 minutes than we’ve collectively heard in 10 years.

“My mandate is what we have today, and how to make that better. My mandate is success with the existing [MLSE] assets. It makes the building look at lot brighter and you look at lot better when you’re hanging those [championship] banners. That’s what we have to do at Maple Leaf Sports,” Leiweke said.

Oh yeah, and you know the stigma that superstars don’t want to play in Toronto? He squashed that too…

“Toronto is a well-kept secret in the sports world, and we should be attracting the biggest free agents in basketball and soccer.” When asked how MLSE could grow, Leiweke said, “Trophies.”

Wow, that’s a refreshing point of view. Toronto has been sacked by the likes of Vince Carter and Chris Bosh so many times that it feels weird to be dealt a compliment.

So what kind of impact with Leiweke have on the Toronto sports scene? Well, he doesn’t actually get to work until June, and it’s far too premature to say. However, within 12 hours of being hired the Phil Jackson to Toronto rumours commenced…from ESPN no less. For those taking count, ESPN hasn’t whispered the word “Raptors” in a long, long time.

Sources told ESPN.com this week that the Raptors have interest in talking with Jackson about the Pat Riley-style role he craves in charge of a team’s basketball operations. ESPN.com reported last week that Jackson, after nearly two seasons in retirement, is itching to return to the NBA next season, preferably in a role similar to Riley’s in Miami that allows him to oversee both the basketball department and the coaching staff or perhaps as a high-level consultant such as Jerry West in Golden State.

Leiweke is a major player in the sports industry and Jackson is very familiar with his work in Los Angeles, where Leiweke helped get the Staples Center built for the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers as well as the NHL’s Kings. Leiweke also has a longstanding working relationship with Lakers executive Jeanie Buss, Jackson’s fiancee.

Is Phil Jackson likely to come north of the border? It’s hard to fathom that ever happening. But the fact that this is being discussed suggests Leiweke has already had an impact.

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