TORONTO – President and chief executive officer Tim Leiweke is focused on his immediate goals at Maple Leaf Sports&Entertainment.
His long-term plans are not as clear.
Leiweke’s future with MLSE made headlines this week after a report indicated he would soon be leaving the company, which counts the NHL’s Maple Leafs, NBA’s Raptors and Toronto FC of Major League Soccer among its properties.
He denied the report again Wednesday and called the rumour mill “a distraction,” but did not reveal how long he wants to stay in the position.
“I’ve always told everyone I’m not here forever,” Leiweke said at a media availability at the Air Canada Centre galleria. “My job is to change the culture and get it headed in the right direction.”
Leiweke, who joined MLSE in April 2013, is reportedly under contract for five years. He has helped guide dramatic change at all levels and is showing no signs of slowing down.
“We’re focused on the season,” he said. “We got our (Raptors) training centre done today which is a huge step forward, so I’m looking forward to both the Raptors and the Leafs this year, and TFC has a legitimate chance of making the playoffs.
“That’s all we’re focused on. The rest of it is not my concern and not true. I will be pushing dirt for both BMO (Field) renovation and the Raptors’ training centre here in the next two months.”
However, Leiweke did not provide a firm date when asked directly how long he will remain in the position.
“I don’t know. I think at the end of the day we’ll let this play out,” he said. “I’m only focused on what is directly ahead of us, which is this next season for the two teams and getting TFC into the playoffs. So that’s what we’re focused on.”
Leiweke has made several big changes over his first 16 months on the job.
In May of last year, he lured NBA executive of the year Masai Ujiri away from the Denver Nuggets. Two months later, Leiweke restructured the senior management team at MLSE and Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis was given a five-year contract extension.
He then turned his attention to Toronto FC, firing president and general manager Kevin Payne and later hiring Tim Bezbatchenko as GM.
On the NBA front, the Raptors announced plans for a two-year rebranding effort last fall, named local rapper Drake as their global ambassador and Toronto landed the 2016 NBA all-star game.
Toronto FC underwent a dramatic roster makeover over the winter, landing Jermain Defoe, Gilberto and Michael Bradley while bringing back former league MVP Dwayne De Rosario.
In April, the Maple Leafs brought in former star player Brendan Shanahan to oversee all team operations as club president and alternate governor.
While the Leafs faded down the stretch and missed the playoffs, the Raptors claimed the Atlantic Division title and returned to the post-season for the first time in six years. And Toronto FC has rebounded nicely, sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“We’re not done yet and as everyone likes to remind me, the Leafs need work,” Leiweke said. “But I think Shanny’s doing a good job. We get that people are frustrated, we get that people don’t believe in where we’re going, and we like that challenge. And so we’re looking forward to this year.
“I think Shanny’s done a good job of changing the culture. Obviously the Raptors are going to defend the Atlantic and if we can get TFC into the playoffs, it’ll be the first time ever. That’s all we care about.”
Leiweke’s pro sports business career has spanned over 30 years. He previously worked as president and CEO of AEG, which owns the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, NBA’s Lakers and the Galaxy of MLS.
He joined the Kings as president in 1996 and became president and CEO of AEG Worldwide in 2001.
Leiweke 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.
Notes: Leiweke participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge on Wednesday to raise awareness for ALS. He said a $5,000 donation would be made on behalf of all MLSE employees and he would personally donate $1,000. Leiweke also challenged NBA legend Magic Johnson, Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston and the Red Patch Boys—a group of Toronto FC supporters—to take part in the campaign.
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