ML$E And The State Of Toronto Sports

As the owners of Toronto FC, the Raptors, and the Maple Leafs, (well okay fine the Marlies too, but no one cares particularly) Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is missing only the Blue Jays to have a complete monopoly on top-tier popular sports in Toronto.

Started way back in the 1930s, MLSE was designed to essentially run Maple Leaf Gardens as a separate entity from the Maple Leafs hockey organization, with the Maple Leafs as the largest subsidiary of said organization. In 1991, Steve Stavro bought MLSE (then Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd (MLGL)) from the estate of Harold Ballard, then in 1996, Larry Tannenbaum bought a 25% stake, and Stavro ended up selling the rest of the business to the now (in)famous Ontario Teachers Pension Plan and CTV blah blah blah whatever. If you want to read more on the ownership, Click here.

Now comes the on-field/ice/court futility. A lot of it. Again, I'm assuming a level of knowledge of the Toronto sports landscape here, but it's been really, terribly, depressingly, awful. When the teams aren't getting results, people ask questions of ownership. And of course by 'ask questions of' I mean 'swear angrily about'. MLSE (or, ML$E) are generally reviled as some kind of Satan incarnate, a group of money grubbing scoundrels who are out to screw the every-man.

Here's why I gave all that ownership information off the top: ownership of professional sports is a strange animal. Generally speaking, owners are exceptionally wealthy individuals who buy a team as a pet project because they love the game. If the team(s) make any money, it's all gravy: the biggest thing that these owners want is to win. Some will spend frustratingly exorbitant amounts of money just to do so. So MLSE is a strange animal in a strange landscape: a board of directors presiding over a group of sports franchises with the primary objective of making money for the OTPP, and winning is secondary.

The on-ice product has been middling at best most years, and ticket prices make attending games at the ACC an impossible proposition for many families. If you want season tickets, the wait is estimated at 50 years. There isn't even a section on the site giving info on how to get seasons.

In what would be seen as a shrewd decision in any other business, they have essentially mandated that if you want Leafs tickets, you also have to buy Raptors tickets, artificially inflating the interest in the Raptors but guaranteeing sales for another of their properties. Again, money over winning.

Toronto FC is a newer, fresher wound. TFC was welcomed with open arms by a ravenous football crowd staved for high(ish) level football. Just finishing out its 5th season, TFC has never made the playoffs, had almost complete overhauls on a yearly basis, and yet have seen ticket prices rise hand over fist as MLSE has looked to cash in on the unexpected popularity.

MLSE has preyed on the fans' passion for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and turned it into an empire. Toronto sports fans have looked at this with understandable outrage. However, things aren't all bad.

Times are a-changing.

What we've seen over the last few years (2006 in basketball, 2008 in hockey, and 2011 in football) is a shift in thought. Instead of unproven, inexpensive general managers (Ex. Babcock, JFJ, MoJo respectively) who have to get each contract, trade, and jock-strap purchase approved by the board, they are going with proven, top-level talent (Colangelo, Burke, Mariner/Winter/De Klerk) and allowing them unfettered control of their clubs. In the case of Toronto FC, they even knew enough to say 'we don't know enough about football to make an intelligent hire' and so they hired Jeurgen Klinsmann to hire a staff. This is a fundamental shift in thinking.

Now Colangelo, Burke, and Mariner/Winter/De Klerk are not perfect. They have made some decisions, signings, and trades that we will disagree with, and they will do so in the future. It's inevitable.
However, regardless of how these executives perform in their respective roles, you can no longer say that MLSE has set the talent bar too low to minimize front office costs and maintain a meddling, unhelpful level of control. You can even say that they are trying, and when it comes down to it, that's what people want. They're doing their best as fans, and they want to feel that ownership is doing the same.

Make no mistake about it- as long as the OTPP is the primary stakeholder in MLSE (and even if, as rumoured, Rogers buys up their share) they will be in the business of making money. The positive is that it seems as though they're recognizing that the quality of the product they put out is more important than they first thought. It just makes business sense.


----------------------ORIGINALLY POSTED AT HOGTOWN HOOLIGANS------------------------- is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of

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