Ask any MLS fan who they would consider to be the league's model franchise and chances are you would get a number of responses, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and disdain, that indicate that Los Angeles Galaxy is that team. That comes from their history of winning titles on the field and the big splashes they have made in signing the likes of David Beckham and Robbie Keane. A big part of building the LAG franchise into what it has become today comes directly from their owners, Anschutz Entertainment Group, and their former President Tim Leiweke.
AEG is a Worldwide business that includes ownership a number of different sports and entertainment venues around the world as well as owning the LA Galaxy, the LA Kings, and a share in the LA Lakers. The three sports franchises that they are connected with have the kind of winning tradition in recent years that Toronto sports fans can only dream of with the Galaxy and Kings both winning titles in the last year and the Lakers being one of the two most successful franchises in NBA history. AEG are also part owners of the Houston Dynamo where they have also had success on the MLS field.
Now though, Tim Leiweke is looking to bring some of that success north to Toronto as he has officially joined Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as the new President and CEO. The move was announced on Friday by MLSE Chairman Larry Tanenbaum and will be completed when Leiweke takes over his new position on June 30th.
Leiweke will join the existing leadership team at MLSE which does still include at least one face that is quite familiar to Toronto FC fans. He will work along with Tom Anselmi, who currently fills the role of Chief Operating Officer, which is a relief to many Toronto sports fans who were worried that Anselmi would fail his way all the way up to the top job at MLSE.
The best part of the move for TFC fans is that it means there is another person in MLSE that has a strong history of success related to soccer. When folks connected to the Galaxy like Head Coach Bruce Arena offer high praise of Leiweke you know that he was doing the right things to support their team. With Kevin Payne already in place it looks like MLSE has gone from having no soccer minded folks in positions of power to having two with long histories of success in MLS.
Of course, Leiweke will not only be focused on TFC and will be working with all of MLSE's properties as he takes control of the growing empire which was recently acquired by a partnership between Bell and Rogers. He has the resume for the job though having filled important roles for clubs in a number of different sports over the past 30 years.
He has spent time serving as the President of the Los Angeles Kings, the President and CEO of U.S. Skiing, the President of the Denver Nuggets, Vice President of the Minnesota Timber Wolves, all the way back to when he began his career as the Assistant General Manager of the St. Louis Steamers of Major Indoor Soccer League back in 1979.
His history spans a number of sports and includes taking on a major role in the development of both the Target Center in Minnesota and the Pepsi Center in Colorado. His history makes him the perfect fit for MLSE as they look to continue to grow their already large empire but also to bring success to their various franchises.
In the official MLSE release on the hiring, Larry Tanenbaum had the following to say about the new hiring:
"Tim Leiweke is one of the top sports executives in the world, renowned for his ability to build championship teams, premier entertainment events, and innovative brand and marketing opportunities. Tim is a leader who understands what fans want and what it takes to build winners. With his deep leadership experience and unparalleled success at the highest levels of professional sports, Tim's the right CEO at the right time to lead the transformation of MLSE."
In the same release Leiweke had this to say about his move to Toronto:
"I'm honoured and excited to be chosen to lead MLSE, a world-class sports and entertainment organization with the major league teams, premier facilities and employee team that rank with the very best across North America and internationally. MLSE is woven into the character of Toronto. The loyal and passionate fans of MLSE's teams want sports championships for this great city. They want excitement on the ice, on the court, on the pitch and on the stage. And they want MLSE to be an active part of their community. I am committed to delivering for them when I begin my new role as CEO of MLSE."
On the surface it looks like it could be a match made in heaven. MLSE is looking for an innovator to help them return to being a leader in sports and entertainment and Leiweke has a resume that is marked with success wherever he has gone.
The tangible effects for Toronto FC are not likely to be major but with Leiweke having overseen successful MLS teams in the past he is likely to provide the club the kind of support it needs while allowing Kevin Payne the freedom to do his job to the best of his abilities. The hiring also helps to push Anselmi just one step further from having any real say over what takes place at BMO Field which is a good thing. It was also nice to see that the official release made sure to mention Toronto FC as more than an afterthought which is a promising sign considering the way the club has sometimes been treated in the past.
The hiring begins a new era for sports in Toronto and fans will certainly be hoping that the new President of MLSE can bring some of LA's winning ways to a city that has been longing for success in recent years (Argos and Rock aside). The pressure will be on Leiweke to bring success to the city but if any man is up for the job it seems like he might just be the one.