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November 2013 Report on Business magazine cover

November 2013 Report on Business magazine cover

Can Tim Leiweke save the Maple Leafs? Add to ...

The Raptors have the knock of being the team nobody wants to play for. How do you turn that around?

I think we already did. We got the NBA executive of the year (4) to come here. They wanted him to stay. I’ve heard people say, well, that’s happened before. But not with a guy who was under contract, who won 57 games and who was offered a new, long-term contract. He made a choice to come here (5). People who say players won’t come here because they don’t like the cold weather or they don’t want to play in Canada or we don’t have ESPN—those are excuses. We’re not using those any more. And by the way, they’re not true. This is a great city. This is one of the top three or four cities in all of North America, with one of the best, if not the best, economy in North America. We will have no trouble convincing people to come here—if we win. No great player is coming here unless we can prove to them we can win, and win often.

It seems you’re doing a cultural rebranding of these teams. Have you thought about rebranding the Raptors specifically? It’s been a long time since Jurassic Park was cool (6).

We definitely are doing a cultural rebuilding across the board. What it means to the Raptors is more than just culture. We are going to submit to the league, in the near future, an application to change our logo, our look, our colour scheme—everything but the name. Our 20th anniversary is coming up. It gives us a great opportunity to change the way people view us, including our brand. (7) I hope we’re good enough to take advantage of it.

Why everything but the name?

We debated the name a lot. Honestly, I’d change the name. But there are others here who felt strongly that we shouldn’t change the name, and so I’m going with them on this one. Part of me has to understand that there is a long history here, whether it’s the Raptors, the Leafs or, for a shorter span, TFC. And maybe we need to occasionally admit that we can’t change the world in one day. So I’m learning how to take a deep breath.

Your signature move in L.A. was bringing in David Beckham to the Galaxy. How do you evaluate that now, and do you think you can duplicate that with Toronto FC?

There’s never going to be another David Beckham. He’s the most popular athlete on the face of the earth (8). You’re not going to catch that lightning in a bottle again. In L.A., that worked particularly well, because he was the star of stars. We don’t need that here. We are well beyond a star in name and brand saving this franchise. Our fans would read right through that. We will get a player that is equal to, if not better than, David Beckham. We have to. The future of this franchise is at stake. I’m really worried about TFC—more worried than anything else I’ve had to deal with so far. It scares me that we have let it slip this badly.

You use the word fear a lot. What do you mean when you say fear?

There is a fear of success here, which is amazing. But I actually think we were afraid because we didn’t know how to find it. We have to say, “Look, occasionally we’re going to try things and they’re not going to work. That’s okay.” We can’t accept it, we shouldn’t live with it. So when I talk about a fear, I talk about a fear that failure becomes something we accept here. That’s what scares me the most. We cannot accept where we are at with TFC (9). I know how we’re going to fix it. That’s not cockiness. It’s confidence. Because I’ve been through this before.

Your job is unlike that of most CEOs. The Leafs will make money no matter what. Win or lose, you could sell out the ACC two times over on most nights. It’s almost something you don’t need to worry about—making money (10)—which is odd for an executive.

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