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Tim Leiweke speaks in Sacramento, Calif., March 20, 2012. (Hector Amezcua/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Tim Leiweke speaks in Sacramento, Calif., March 20, 2012. (Hector Amezcua/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Business of sports

‘Major housecleaning’ looms as Leiweke overhauls MLSE Add to ...

The next stage in the overhaul of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. is expected to claim several top executives, as president and chief executive officer Tim Leiweke shakes up the senior ranks of the organization, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The changes could be announced as early as Wednesday, and would follow the firing of Toronto Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo and several bold pronouncements by Mr. Leiweke – including a planned Stanley Cup parade route.

A source Tuesday described the looming moves as “a fairly major housecleaning,” involving major names just below the level of CEO.

Mr. Leiweke said via e-mail it was “not appropriate to comment.” Another source with ties to MLSE, speaking on the condition their identity would not be disclosed, said: “There will be dismissals and responsibility changes.”

Changes in the MLSE executive suite have been expected since Mr. Leiweke assumed control of MLSE, owner of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA’s Raptors, Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC and the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

He was given a mandate to reverse years of under-performance by MLSE teams, and to increase the value of the company while focusing on core assets.

The Maple Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup in 46 years – they made the playoffs this season for the first time since 2004 and were eliminated in seven games by the Boston Bruins in the first round – while the Raptors are in a five-year drought. TFC used to be the hottest ticket in town, but BMO Field is seldom full these days as the team struggles through a 2-10-8 season and hasn’t won a league home game in over a year.

Forbes has valued the company at being worth more than $2.25-billion, which makes it a huge financial player on the North American sports scene.

Mr. Leiweke was named to head MLSE on April 26, replacing Tom Anselmi, who held the title of president and chief operating officer when Richard Peddie left the company. Mr. Anselmi was not given the title of CEO, and Mr. Leiweke was an early front-runner for the job after leaving the Los Angeles-based Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) in mid-March.

Mr. Leiweke moved quickly to put his imprimatur on MLSE, replacing Mr. Colangelo with reigning NBA executive of the year Masai Ujiri. Mr. Colangelo was given a largely ceremonial title and eventually walked away from that position – and has made several pronouncements since formally moving into his office at the end of June.

Mr. Leiweke ruffled feathers with suggestions the Leafs needed to moderate the exuberance with which they celebrate their history after 46 years without a Stanley Cup, going so far as to suggest that black-and-white photographs of Leafs greats of the past should be removed from the hallways at the event level of the Air Canada Centre. He has talked about bringing in a big-name international soccer star to rouse the TFC out of its torpor.

Mr. Leiweke, who has shown himself to be a larger-than-life personality in the sports and entertainment business going back to his days with AEG, appeared to moderate his stand on the photographs in a subsequent interview with The Canadian Press, saying: “I think we could use our history and our tradition to build a legacy. But I think at the end of the day if we want to win a Cup, what we’re going to have to do is we’re going to have to find a team that wants to be the guys in those pictures as we walk down the hallway. That’s all that was meant to do. And if I said it in an improper way or did something to offend people, I absolutely apologize. That’s not what I’m trying to do.”

MLSE is 75-per-cent owned by communications giants Bell Media and Rogers Communications, Ltd., with the remaining 25 per cent in the hands of chairman Larry Tanenbaum’s holding company. It also owns three TV networks – Leafs TV, NBA TV Canada and Gol-TV Canada – and has several real-estate holdings.

With reports from Robert MacLeod

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