Since arriving in Toronto as the new CEO and president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment six weeks ago, Tim Leiweke has been just as busy as he ever was in 18 years of building AEG in Los Angeles. The difference is that now he is focused on one location – sort of. With a basketball team, two hockey squads and a soccer franchise under management, along with three venues, three TV networks and a world-class sports bar — Leiweke is still pulled in many directions, but racking up less frequent flyer miles.
His drive and passion are the same as is his goal to build a winning culture in his new hometown. As to his years with Phil Anschutz, owner of AEG, he’s mum except to say he left because he had an opportunity in Toronto. “Whatever else took place at AEG will be between Phil and I. After 18 years, we had a great partnership and built a great company together and I wish them the best.”
What is the scope of MLSE, your new brand?
MLSE grosses between $500 million and a billion dollars a year. It’s a company that’s substantial on its EBITDA. We are very blessed that we are owned 75 percent by Bell and Rogers and 25 percent by Larry Tannenbaum, and we have great resources. I operate at the beck and call of a board of six. I get along with them well.
It’s nice to have two telecom companies that own the majority of the telecommunications business in Canada and are worth today, as public companies, $60-billion plus. So we are blessed to have them and Larry brings passion and focus and energy to the ownership every day. We’re in good shape with ownership and I’m very happy to be a part of it here.
Is your mission to increase revenues?
Sure, we think we have a chance to double the size and value of this company in five to seven years. It will be all about the core business, but we’ll grow by winning, by selling and by expanding our core business. We currently do a good job with our global partnership division and we expect we will continue to take that to the next level. We have a good staff here; I’ve inherited a great group. With the exception of the Raptors I don’t think we’ll see massive change here.
What are your early goals with MLSE?
First and foremost, we need to make sure these teams are built to win longterm. We have work to do with all three. The Maple Leafs (National Hockey League) are not only headed in the right direction but have had a very good summer, so I’m confident they are closer to our goal of being competitive longterm and having a chance to win longterm. Now we have serious work to do on the Raptors and I’ve spent most of my time here on that. And we have serious work to do on the Toronto FC (Major League Soccer). Making sure our sports teams win is something we are very focused on every minute of every day.
What are you doing to make that happen?
It’s all about culture and atmosphere and so we’re changing the culture here at the organization and within the teams. We want to be known as an organization that is energetic, enthused, focused and driven. And I want everybody in the organization — players, coaches, management staff, trainers, equipment managers —to have a new culture here about winning, about a drive and about an energy. That’s what we did with the Raptors. The new organization we have here is very driven.
What did you do already with the Raptors?
We let go 16 people and we’re rebuilding that organization. I hired Masai Ujuri, NBA executive of the year for the Denver Nuggets. We were able to convince him to come back to Toronto. He’s done a great job building a very young, dynamic, energetic organization at the Raptors so I’m excited to be a part of that, but we definitely have our work cut out for us.
Compare and contrast L.A. and Toronto and your workload and your life.
It’s different in that it’s more focused and contained on Toronto and our assets here, but the hours are just as long, the challenge just as hard and the potential just as great. Quite frankly the asset here can be bigger and better than any single asset I ever worked on including the AEG assets at L.A. The difference is I’m not having to travel to Asia or Europe, I don’t have to worry about our concert promotion company or 40-50 facilities all over the globe. This has been a more focused, intense burst of energy on a group of assets in one particular place. This is all about Toronto owning four teams, having three different facilities, three networks and the restaurants and entertainment districts. It’s not similar to anything I’ve ever done anywhere. We’ve never been in a position in anything I’ve ever done in the past where we talk about having 35 million fans (all of Canada) for our basketball team.
MLSE doesn’t look at AEG, compare to AEG or compete with AEG. I don’t think much about AEG except to wish them the best.
What changes are planned for the other teams, hockey, soccer and the minor league Marlies?
We want to make every organization better. The Maple Leafs are closer to being there. We made some good additions in the last two weeks. Traded for the keeper in Los Angeles, Jonathan Burnier, and then we picked up a player from Chicago, Dave Bolland, in a trade; and signed the number one free agent available in Dave Clarkson. I think they are close to being a team that is going to compete every year. The existing GM, here for a year, is fantastic. We get along well and see the world the same way.
What about the venues?
Everyone knows the Air Canada Centre is one of the top two or three venues in North America every year in Pollstar. It’s unique that we have two anchor tenants like the Maple Leafs and Raptors. In addition, we have a joint venture agreement with Live Nation so we do things together with concerts here and at Molson Amphitheatre. That part of our business will grow, whether it is content or venues. We’re working on the overall organizational structure. Any changes we may make will come in a few weeks.
Isn’t real estate the problem in Toronto?
Real estate is tapped out. We’re partners on the hotel and condos, but they’re all sold. We own Real Sports, the best sports bar in North America, as well as a restaurant, e11even, also in our entertainment district, plus a huge merchandise store we own as well. We also have BMO Field where currently the soccer team plays plus Ricoh Coliseum, where the Marlies play. We have five different facilities we own or operate in Toronto.
What do you want to do with those properties?
We’re picking through that with content, with ticketing, whether or not we’re in the promotion business, with taking risk on events, with bidding on both the NBA and NHL All-Star Games. We just announced the World Junior Championships are coming here in 2015 and 2017 and we’re cohosting that with the Montreal Canadiens. Content, ticketing, secondary and food and beverage will be a higher priority. We will look at everything and look at ways to get better. Right now we have a joint venture with Live Nation and Ticketmaster. We have no secondary ticketing. Food and beverage is a self-op. The restaurants, including a Real Sports in Ottawa, and all food and beverage at Air Canada Center, BMO and Ricoh are self-op.
Do you like self-op food and drink?
That’s to be decided. Food and beverage generates over $100 million.
What are you doing in ticketing? We’ve heard a lot about the mobile consumer of late. Do you see a day when tickets are on personal mobile devices, scanned at the gate?
We happen to be owned by the two largest telecom companies in Canada with a 75 percent marketshare. Telecom, cell and personal computers are our life. I think that day is here and now, we think about it every day. We own three networks as part of our holdings. Content, ticketing, preordering, and information and relationship and communication to our millions of fans is critical to us, especially when you have a brand as big as the Maple Leafs and the Raptors with a potential of 35 million fans, telecom is not only a priority but a strength because the two telecom companies own us.
Are you at that point where you can scan a ticket on a phone?
No. We’re working on it. We’re right in the middle of our ticketing conversations. We’re focused on doing it right. At the end of the day, the advantage we have is the two telecom companies own us.
Contact: Tim Leiweke, (416) 815-5400