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Sports 'We're close': MLSE nearly ready to name new CEO to replace Tim Leiweke, chairman says

Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., speaks during a panel discussion at the Bloomberg Canada Economic Summit in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Thursday, May 21, 2015. He said MLSE is close to finding a new CEO.

Kevin Van Paassen/Bloomberg

Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment is nearly ready to name a new chief executive and successor to outgoing boss Tim Leiweke, the company's chairman says.

Larry Tanenbaum said Thursday that the Toronto-based sports organization's lengthy search for a CEO, which has dragged on since August, is nearing an end, hinting an announcement could come within the next month.

"We're close," he said after appearing on a sports-business panel at an event hosted by Bloomberg.

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Yet the company, which owns the NHL's Maple Leafs, NBA's Raptors and MLS's Toronto FC franchise, has sent mixed signals in recent days.

At a news conference on Wednesday announcing the Toronto Argos' change in ownership, Leiweke told The Globe and Mail he would be staying on past his planned June 30 departure date.

"No, he is expected to leave by June 30," Tanenbaum said Thursday, contradicting his chief executive.

Then, in a telephone interview later the same day, Leiweke said: "I'm going to be here for a little longer until they name my replacement. Everyone thought I'd check out. I have not checked out. I will not check out until June. Then I'm moving on. I have to."

Thirty minutes after leaving the Bloomberg event, Tanenbaum was sitting front row at another news conference, this one formally introducing the Leafs' coveted and high-priced new head coach, Mike Babcock. Leiweke did not attend; a spokesperson said he was out of town.

Tanenbaum also sought to refute rumours that the MLSE board, which includes senior executives from co-owners BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc., had reached a deadlock on their preferred candidate.

Sources say the most prominent candidates to succeed Leiweke are John Cassaday, who stepped down as CEO of Corus Entertainment Inc. in late March, and John Collins, the NHL's chief operating officer.

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But some sources say BCE strongly opposed appointing Collins to the CEO's job, with the communications giant still stinging from the loss of national NHL broadcast rights. Collins was a key player in sealing the 12-year, $5.2-billion deal that awarded those rights to Rogers.

"No, there's absolutely nothing like that, I can promise you that," Tanenbaum said. "There is no deadlock. The three owners are aligned on this issue."

Leiweke joined MLSE as CEO in 2013, reportedly on a five-year contract.

But last August, the organization announced he was planning to leave by June 30, or sooner if his successor was in place. At the time, Leiweke said he wanted to switch his role from executive to "entrepreneur," owning and operating his own sports business.

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