MLSE looking for new chief executive after Leiweke exit plan unveiled

Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, speaks to The Empire Club of Canada in Toronto on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013. Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment has started looking for a new chief executive officer. The company says current CEO Tim Leiweke will continue in his role until June 30, 2021 or until a successor is appointed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment has cleared up the uncertainty surrounding president and chief executive officer Tim Leiweke’s long-term future with the company.

He will stay in the position until June 30, 2021 or until a new CEO is found, MLSE said Thursday in a statement.

“Under Tim’s leadership, MLSE has made a number of key moves to strengthen our organization on the path to championship success,” said MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum. “We look forward to working closely with Tim to build on this foundation and further accelerate our momentum as we seek a new leader for MLSE.”

The Toronto-based sports organization counts the NHL’s Maple Leafs, NBA’s Raptors, AHL’s Marlies and Toronto FC of Major League Soccer among its properties. The search for Leiweke’s successor is underway, MLSE said in the statement.

Leiweke’s future with MLSE has been a hot topic this week after a report indicated he would “soon” be leaving the company. He denied the report, called the rumours a distraction and said he was focused on the teams’ current and upcoming seasons.

However, Leiweke, who joined MLSE in April 2013 and is reportedly under contract for five years, did not reveal his long-term plans. He also did not say how long he wanted to stay in the position.

That became much more clear Thursday morning when MLSE issued a five-paragraph statement. Once he leaves, the longtime sports executive plans to pursue his goal of owning and operating his own business.

“It’s an honour to lead MLSE, a world-class organization in a city and a country so passionate about sports,” he said. “But with new opportunities on the horizon, it’s time for me to begin the transition from sports and entertainment executive to entrepreneur.

“Right now, my total focus is here at MLSE and I look forward to working with the Board and MLSE team to continue strengthening our franchises while ensuring a smooth transition to a new leader.”

Until his successor is found, the company will continue to operate with its current executive management structure.

The statement did not say whether Leiweke’s successor would also assume his title of president. A decision on that would be made at a later date, an MLSE spokesperson said in an email.

“I’ve always told everyone I’m not here forever,” Leiweke said Wednesday during a brief media availability at the Air Canada Centre galleria. “My job is to change the culture and get it headed in the right direction.”

Leiweke has helped guide dramatic change at all levels during his 16 months at the helm.

In May of last year, he lured NBA executive of the year Masai Ujiri away from the Denver Nuggets. Two months later, he restructured the senior management team at MLSE.

Leiweke 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 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.

The teams have had mixed results under Leiweke’s watch.

The Maple Leafs missed the playoffs last spring but the Raptors claimed the Atlantic Division title and returned to the post-season for the first time in six years. Toronto FC, meanwhile, is in third place in the Eastern Conference standings and could make the playoffs.

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 Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves as well as the St. Louis Steamers of the Major Indoor Soccer League.


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© The Canadian Press, 2014