The new president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports&Entertainment knows that his main priority is the Toronto Raptors.
Tim Leiweke was named the top executive of the Toronto-based sports conglomerate on Friday, and made it clear what the immediate focus of his administration will be.
“I don’t think it’s any secret the emerging question and the first action is going to be the Raptors,” said Leiweke on a conference call from Los Angeles. “I wish I had more time. I wish I was (in Toronto) to make this decision. At the same time, we’ll do our homework and I’ll try to get up to speed as quickly as I can.
“I don’t think anyone’s happy with the Raptors being out of the playoffs as long as they have. We’re going to be very focused on that first and foremost and how to fix it.”
MLSE counts the Raptors, the NHL’s Maple Leafs, the AHL’s Marlies and Toronto FC of Major League Soccer among its properties. The Raptors finished 10th in the NBA’s Eastern Conference this season, their fifth straight year out of the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs have clinched an NHL playoff berth for the first time in nine years, while the minor-league affiliate Marlies are also post-season bound with the second best record in the AHL’s Western Conference.
Toronto FC, which has not made the playoffs in its six seasons, is in eighth in MLS’s 10-team Eastern Conference after seven games, but is showing signs of improvement after having the worst record in the league last season.
“Right now, you cheer the Leafs on and try to stay out of their way,” said Leiweke. “It’s more important, I think, from my stand point, to jump into the Raptors, which have not had that success and begin to help the board on the decision that they have now with the leadership of the Raptors.”
Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo has not had his contract renewed for next season. Leiweke addressed Colangelo’s future with the team directly.
“I know Bryan, I talked to Bryan today. I’m clearly not in a position to be the best one to make this decision since I’m joining late and I’m not even going to be full time when they make this decision,” said Leiweke. “But, that said, the board is leaning on me to give a recommendation.
“I clearly am going out and, have been in the last few days, talking to a lot of people in the NBA to get their feeling and their opinions of what the Raptors are doing right and what the Raptors are doing wrong.”
Added Leiweke: “Bryan and I are going to sit down next week and we’re going to have a long chat and I’m going to learn as much as I possibly can.”
Leiweke will begin his duties effective June 30, but will immediately start catching up on the massive corporation’s business.
“The good news is on the Maple Leafs sports business side, we’re inheriting a great organization,” said Leiweke. “On the hockey side, I think (Leafs GM) Dave Nonis has done a great job and my hat’s off to him and (head coach Randy Carlyle).
“And, again, on the soccer side I think Kevin Payne has come in and created some stability for the first time in a long time.”
Tom Anselmi, who will continue to serve as MLSE’s chief operating officer, had added the president’s job to his duties last year. He replaced former president and CEO Richard Peddie, who stepped down in late 2011.
Leiweke was most recently president and CEO of sports and entertainment company Anschutz Entertainment Group. AEG owns the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, the L.A. Galaxy of MLS and has a stake in the NBA’s L.A. Lakers, among other interests.
“I come from the NBA, I know a lot of people in the NBA, I’ve learned under the curve of (late Lakers owner) Jerry Buss and (former Lakers coach and executive) Jerry West,” said Leiweke. “You do not find two better teachers than those two guys on how to build an organization that not only wins one championship, but becomes the dominant organization.
“The Raptors have that chance. They got the fan base, they got the ownership, they got the support economically.”
Leiweke also addressed rumours that Phil Jackson, who won 11 NBA championships as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Lakers, was under consideration for Colangelo’s job.
“It’s too early to speculate,” said Leiweke. “I’m not going to deny that Phil and I are friends and that we had an amazing run (in Los Angeles). But at this point, I’ve probably been busier just trying to get the agreement done and making sure we handled today correctly.
“I’ll turn my attention to the well-wishers and those that are calling to offer suggestions tomorrow.”
Leiweke’s pro sports business career has spanned over 30 years. He joined the Kings as president in 1996 and became president and CEO of AEG Worldwide in 2001.
He also previously served as president and CEO of U.S. Skiing and has worked for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves as well as the St. Louis Steamers of the Major Indoor Soccer League.