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It has taken roughly twenty years of following Toronto sports but I think it has finally dawned on me in its full clarity: this is truly an odd town.
After only one year Tim Leiweke, the CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, has announced his plans to leave the organization by June of next year. One year.
If you’re thinking “this stuff doesn’t happen anywhere else” you’re right, it doesn’t. The misfortune of Toronto sporting life is truly astounding, singular in its breadth and consistency. The Raptors reaching game 7 of the first round only to fall a shot short, The Leafs’ disastrous, playoff-nullifying finish to the season, The Blue Jays falling dramatically out of what seemed like their first playoff appearance in twenty years; these all happened in one year. One year.
And now Leiweke, who came here with talk of planning parades and focusing on the future, is flying the coop. Maybe it suddenly occurred to him: the rumors are true, this town is cursed! Although, it’s more likely that he has realized the Buffalo Bills are never coming to Toronto, and if he wants run an NFL franchise he’s going to have to go elsewhere, i.e ‘Murica
I felt his hand was revealed when members of the Toronto Multimedia Elite and Bon Jovi, of all people, made a push to buy the Bills. Prior to that, his coming to Toronto didn’t make sense to me. This is a man who is amongst the most connected in sports. He left the Anschutz Entertainment Group, owners of the Stanley Cup winning Los Angelas Kings, The Lakers and LA Galaxy, where he was instrumental in the signing of David Beckham and, as a result, the growth of Football in America, where he was, some believe, close to obtaining an NFL team for LA, and ends up in Toronto, a city that is quickly becoming synonymous with sporting disappointment. Especially if you’re talking about hockey.
He was upfront when he was hired that hockey was not his area of expertise, and, astutely, he pried Brendan Shanahan from the NHL front office to run the Leafs. However, it is odd for a CEO to choose a sports conglomerate whose major property by far is a hockey team, when he is unfamiliar with, or uninterested in hockey.
He was truly out of his depth when he suggested removing pictures of former Leaf greats from the ACC to focus on the future (not a bad idea mind you), as he failed to realize that the past is all this team has, and its fans are hopelessly beholden to its specter.
Leiweke was clearly foreign to the traditionalist camp of hockey fandom. It is a sport that is wanting for the kind of flash and marketing savvy that is better demonstrated by sports like basketball and, of course, the NFL.
Which brings me back to the Bills conjecture. The potential Toronto based ownership group, which includes MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and members of the Rogers family, has recently been reported to have a.) given up on the dream of a Toronto relocation, and b.) nearly lost its chance to buy the Bills at all. In fact the group recently cancelled a tour of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
While that cancellation likely has nothing to do with Tim Leiweke’s departure, Tim Leiweke’s departure might have something to do with that group’s perceived loss in traction with the Bills and the NFL. It seems entirely too coincidental that Leiweke’s moves over the last two years all seem to coincide with the rise and fall in bids to buy/relocate NFL teams.
And why not? He’s accomplished so much outside of that one sport. He’s won multiple championships, courted star players from other continents, elite executives and even Drake. It appears as though the NFL is his white whale, forever just outside his grasp. So, he’ll turn to other shores and continue his query, leaving Toronto in his rearview mirror, a footnote in his illustrious career.
I know, this is all built on one assumption, however rational it may be. What is certain however, is that MLSE and the Toronto sports landscape in general, will be gravely injured by the sudden exeunt of such an accomplished sports executive.
It had seemed, however briefly, that this organization, forever run like a hedge fund, would finally be dictated by ego and personality. As a result, a conglomerate that was so stuffy and detached from its city became, in essence, cool.
“We The North”, printed on t shirts worn by countless young Torontonians and Drake at each game, Kevin Durant saying he “loves the 6”, Jermaine Defoe and Matt Bradley choosing the TFC; these things all pointed to a much different future for this city. At the risk of being painfully dramatic, that seems lost now. I don’t know about you, but if they hire another demure pencil pusher and soldier on in this era of wild mediocrity, I don’t know how much longer I can last.
Toronto Sports Fan.