It's been almost seven months since the botched announcement of Tim Leiweke's resignation from MLSE to go "run his own business." In case you have forgotten, he said he would leave either as soon as MLSE hired a replacement, or by June 30, 2015. It's now March 2015 and he's still here. What is going on? Let's start with a look back at Leiweke and his impact and record as MLSE CEO, and as a sports Executive.
"I have it planned out, and it's going to be fantastic."
That now infamous quote about a Leafs Stanley Cup Parade was given in a July 2013 interview with Bloomberg, just a few months after Leiweke was hired by MLSE. It was classic Leiweke. Showy and boastful. "If the teams were doing well, I wouldn’t have come," Leiweke said. "What intrigued me the most is the opportunity to have an organization here that can aspire to be much more successful and a greater brand than it currently is."
MLSE co-owner Larry Tanenbaum went on record saying Leiweke was "one of the top sports executives in the world... who understands what the fans want."
It didn't take long for Leiweke to demonstrate he had little idea of what he had gotten into.
Leiweke made waves among Leafs fans on arrival, ordering photographs of historic Leafs legends be taken down from the walls of the ACC before hanging up a Bon Jovi banner in the arena's rafters. It demonstrated, at the very least that he was tone deaf and when he was then taken aback by the negative response.
Then he extended Dave Nonis.
I’m a big Dave Nonis fan, and I want a culture here that is different than the one I stepped into.
How did that work out?
It was. He later said the collapse was because the players' "character is just terrible."
It's not the first time Leiweke has over-promised and under-delivered. Residents of Kansas City know it very well.
"The NBA and NHL have gone on record that if this (vote) passed, Kansas City would go right to the top of the list"
I had a conversation tonight with an NHL group we’ve had talks with, and they were ecstatic to hear about the vote. The NBA and NHL have gone on record that if this (vote) passed, Kansas City would go right to the top of the list if there would be expansion or if there was a team looking to relocate.
Five years later, with zero success at getting a team, the people were not exactly happy:
Nostalgia did not bring Tim Leiweke back, said Kohn... they are businessmen, and this is a business deal. They are coming here because they think they can make money."
Indeed, by then, Leiweke's tune had changed. He found a better way to make money by turning it solely into an event and convention space.
"You don't need to go get a team in order to prove how great a community it is."
They are still waiting for a team in Kansas, and we now know Kansas was not ever at the top of the NHL's expansion list.
"It will bring the NFL back to LA."
In 2010, Leiweke's last big project with AEG was launched. Farmer's Field would be an elaborate NFL-ready stadium, convention centre, and hotel complex. He claimed it would "be one of the great stadiums in the NFL," would "bring the NFL back to LA," and would be "the greatest single economic project to put people back to work in the history of LA." Here's the video.
"The NFL thing blew up in their face," said a source close to one of the bidders. "It became a clear ‘the emperor had no clothes’ sort of thing."
Last week AEG officially abandoned the project.
Leiweke resigned from AEG shortly after the project was launched, in the midst of AEG passing through a tumultuous and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to be bought out by another firm. Still, he did pick up some major successes for his resume while he was in LA. The Kings became Cup Champions, and he scored a major coup by bringing David Beckham to MLS. That would establish him with some great credentials to help out floundering TFC.
"Mark it down, write it down, film it … We're going to turn TFC around and we're going to make the playoffs next year."
After showering his mother with gifts and attention from the celebrities he knew, Defoe signed with TFC. How did that work out? Oh. Right.
He made a meal of the "new challenges" line, but he came here for only a couple of reasons: money and the slim chance that regular, productive play in North America would bump him up the pecking order for a spot on England’s World Cup team. When that hope fizzled, all that was left was the drudgery of a middling club in a fringe league. That wasn’t close to enough.
I do not regret a commitment to make the playoffs. I regret not making the playoffs. And that’s a big difference.
Perhaps not to TFC fans.
So where is MLSE's new CEO, and why does it matter?
Finding a new CEO for a diversified sports and entertainment conglomerate isn't easy. There aren't many similar competitors you could poach an executive from, especially if you require someone with experience in multiple sports leagues. There's also no obvious internal candidate at MLSE.
Last October TSN reported the MLSE board had a final list of potential candidates, with the preferred one being Corus Entertainment CEO John Cassaday. Another rumoured consideration was NHL COO John Collins, the architect and negotiator of many important recent sponsorship and television rights deals for the league. He's also an ex-NFL executive.
However earlier this year it became apparent there was either no one consensus choice, or simply no one interested. In January TSN reported the board had even considered asking Leiweke to reconsider his resignation.
The board has spent months interviewing possible replacements for Leiweke and has been collectively surprised that some qualified candidates haven't been interested in even interviewing for the job.
MLSE is jointly owned by Bell Media, TSN's parent company, and telecom rival Rogers Communications. The perception that those companies are often at odds has made some sports executives contacted by MLSE wary.
Recently, in January, John Cassady resigned from Corus, effective March 30. His only comment was that he wants "to do something completely different after an extraordinary career in broadcasting." Will he make the five minute walk up Bay Street to the ACC?
Whatever happens, MLSE can continue on just fine for some time without a CEO. In fact, that's not even unprecedented for MLSE. The previous CEO, Richard Peddie, retired at the end of 2011 and it was a whole 16 months until Tim Leiweke finally arrived in Toronto.
When you look back at the scope of all the transformational changes Leiweke made at MLSE in such a short time, both good and bad, it makes the question of who will be the next CEO very interesting. One immediate impact could be further executive changes. Long time MLSE executive Tom Anselmi resigned shortly after Leiweke arrived, taking the brunt of the blame for TFC's failures. Ex-CEO Richard Peddie was famous for interfering in the hockey decisions of the Leafs management. How will a new CEO work with Brendan Shanahan? If the new CEO is from a hockey franchise or a team ownership group, it could change the whole landscape of the teams future, especially at a time where MLSE has apparently approved blowing up the team. Will the new CEO want to bring in "his guys," and turf the relatively new executive and coaching team? Or will it just be targeted changes, like firing GM Dave Nonis?
The clock is ticking fast as June 30 approaches.