Succeeding the hard-to-miss Tim Leiweke in late 2015, Michael Friisdahl has been content to work behind the scenes and stay out of the spotlight as chief executive officer and president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.
Four championships have followed – Toronto FC and Raptors 905 in 2017, the Marlies in 2018 and the Raptors in June.
“How can you not have fun?” said Friisdahl, when asked if he was enjoying his job.
“But we’re not done yet. We have a lot more to do,” he added.
Friisdahl deflects any praise to the teams’ management, MLSE’s ownership and those that came before him. But he is not afraid to make changes.
“We’re focused on winning. Our teams are focused on winning and our ownership is focused on winning,” he said. “My job is very much to support the teams, give them the tools, make sure we invest where we need to invest. Their job is to make sure we win.”
Friisdahl said his team presidents – Masai Ujiri (Raptors), Brendan Shanahan (Leafs) and Bill Manning (TFC and Argos) – “have the autonomy to do whatever they feel they need to do.
“And they can be bold in those decisions,” he added.
Here is the MLSE boss’s capsule look at his franchises:
“It was pretty clear Masai made some pretty bold decisions. And it delivered a championship. And so, I have every confidence that as Masai looks to the future that he’s going to have a team that’s going to continue to be a contender and be competitive. And I can assure you that Masai is not stopping at one championship. He wants more than one. And I think that’s true for all our presidents. Championships is what it’s all about.”
“I’ve got, as does ownership, a tremendous amount of confidence in Brendan [Shanahan]. Quite frankly, what we’ve achieved to date with the Leafs has been pretty spectacular. When you look at our record in the last number of years, the performance has been very, very good. And so, I think we’re poised for a championship. I know that’s what Brendan focuses on each and every day. I know he’s not going to stop until we have a championship in Toronto. They have put a tremendous amount of work into creating what we now have, which is a very, very competitive team.”
“We have put in a lot of effort as an organization and I know that Bill [Manning] and [general manager] Jim [Popp] and the entire front office is working … to make the Argos a critical part of the sports scene in Toronto. We, from a MLSE perspective, will put whatever resources we need to put into the Argos to ensure that we achieve that. We had probably a slower start than we would like obviously this year [the Argos were 0-6 before Thursday night’s game against Winnipeg], but it’s all part of a process. It’s going to take a number of years to get us there. From MLSE’s perspective, we’re totally committed to making sure that we achieve that goal. And I have no doubt we will with Bill’s leadership.”
“Our focus right now is to make sure that the team on the field is going to be a contender. And that means we need to continue to invest. And so, we don’t necessarily look at it as a typical PnL [profit and loss]. We look at it more in the context of, ‘Are we going to win? Are we going to be able to achieve our championship aspirations?’ And we want to do that in a smart way. We want to do that in a prudent way. But it’s important that we find a path to making sure that we continue to remain a contender.”
“For us to have very competitive teams in the American Hockey League and in the G-League for the NBA, really is also a testament to our scouting and our ability to get some really talented young players, which will become the future of the Leafs and the future of the Raptors. So I think it bodes well for our long-term strategy, which is to continuously have young talent coming through the organization that could add value to the Leafs or the Raptors – or TFC for that matter when it comes to TFC 2.”