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Upheaval at Toronto FC And Headaches for Maple Leaf Sports


I’m not a person who believes in the alleged universe-balancing force of karma, where the bad Déjà vu brings forth an action that was the result of your own misdemeanour.

But as a native Western New Yorker, it’s hard to ignore the situation just around the western shores of Lake Ontario and not mull the existence of such a substance.

The darling of the 2014 offseason in Major League Soccer, Toronto FC was all the talk. Months after Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) brought Tim Leiweke aboard as CEO, the Reds splashed onto the transfer market and grabbed two big names: Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley. This was a Leiweke special – he is well known for his role at Anschutz Entertainment Group in wooing David Beckham to Los Angeles. This was going to be the year that TFC finally shed their early years of turmoil and presumably would make the MLS Cup Playoffs.

But Leiweke’s presence wasn’t for soccer alone, as much as it’s easy for the soccer media to get intensely focused on that avenue. In other countries, soccer does dominate the corporate sports world. Unfortunately in America, it finds itself buried on the sports totem pole.

Leiweke’s true mission became clear once Ralph C. Wilson, founder of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, passed away on March 25, 2014. Although the Bills sale process is mostly completed, reports began to surface that Leiweke’s true intent at MLSE was to orchestrate the Bills purchase from behind the scenes. His biggest contribution to date was introducing Jon Bon Jovi to MLSE Chairman Larry Tanenbaum however they were not selected, giving the Toronto-based group a vibrant personality to help deflect the negative vibes of pillaging a smaller market neighbor.

The rest of the story surrounding the Bills is still in the air, but all indications are that the Toronto group will be unsuccessful due to the NFL’s stringent ownership policies.

It’s not a stretch to surmise that Leiweke’s coming departure is directly related to that situation. Leiweke is also a skilled real estate broker, helping to develop the StubHub Center as well as other properties for AEG. Without an NFL franchise, and with only a modest early return on TFC’s spending spree, a new stadium is not on the cards. No new stadium, no need for a high-salaried negotiator.

So with Leiweke leaving and TFC sputtering a bit in a weak Eastern Conference, it was only a matter of time before the Reds’ big name players started fussing. Whether the interest from English Premier League clubs was initiated from the UK, or whether Defoe got his agent probing for a way out, it was sure to spell trouble for Ryan Nelsen.

Turned down transfer bids and a manager firing later, and TFC appear to be back to their old selves. Except for the fact they have some very talented players, and could conceivably put it together for a playoff run. Only time will tell how new Head Coach Greg Vanney will fare in keeping all the big names moving forward.

But as far as I’m concerned, TFC and MLSE’s maladies are all self-inflicted, by a corporation that went out of its way to pilfer a team from a small city to its south. Perhaps Tanenbaum and Leiweke should count the top-division championships their current holdings have earned (zero), and focus more on how to make TFC, the Raptors and the Maple Leafs better sporting entities.

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  1. Bishopville Red

    September 10, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    1) You’ve pretty much summed up the prevailing theory after the Leiweke situation. His specialty at AEG was the big splash (Beckham) and the add-in- the real estate around Staples centre and the nightlife community they built to establish a “night out” as a form of vertically integrated entertainment enterprise. With no new building and the area around the MLSE’s other holdings already pretty well developed, the skills that Leiweke cold bring to the table were no longer required. Add to that his particular personality and MLSE’s inherently conflicted BoG, and you have a very bad mix that couldn’t (and didn’t) last long.

    2) MLSE’s loooong, long history of disfunction definitely allows people to declare that any un-doing was likely self-inflicted. Even when they get it right, they manage to shoot themselves in the foot.

    3) Without question, the Bills were going to be moved to Toronto if this ownership group got the team. The rules around moving an existing NFL franchise are much more relaxed than acquiring an expansion team for a certain location. Any restricting contracts were set to expire within the next six years, which is no time for a major entity to wait out and simply move once the ties disappeared. The half-hearted, after-the-fact denials were never taken sincerely. As pointed out, the reason the group failed is because JBJ had to be the principal owner due to NFL rules demanding a single majority owner instead of a corporation, and the winning Pegula bid simply outstretched Bon Jovi’s financial ability to be the lead figure of a group that could match.

    4) Describing Bon Jovi as a “serious owner of a successful indoor football team…” who wants to be part of the NFL is like describing a Koi fish as a successful apex predator of the garden pond who wants to become part of the Pacific Ocean. His net worth is listed at $300 million. The NFL team went for over four times that sum.

    5) Trying to describe Bon Jovi as a legit financial contender and disputing the definition of “pilfer” as a means to discredit the message of the article makes you a pedantic wanker.


  2. MntD

    September 10, 2014 at 9:32 am

    You made that clear as mud. You sound like a whiner.

    You try to paint a picture of this guy just making an introduction to some 80’s rock guy to add ‘a vibrant personality’. Bon Jovi is a serious owner of a successful indoor football team in Philadelphia. They were trying to buy the Bills that’s not pilfering.

    Pilfer : to steal things that are not very valuable or to steal a small amount of something.

    The Bills are in the hands of a trust who will eventually sell. What exactly would have been stolen? It’s not like everyone didn’t know the actual intent was to move the team – that’s why they aren’t being sold to this group.

    • Earl Reed

      September 10, 2014 at 12:48 pm

      Regarding pilfer, it’s a grammatical device called a “metaphor.” Such as a guy making a meal of a tackle doesn’t actually get down and feast off the defender’s calf. Think about it.

      No, Leiweke was brought in to be a power broker, and instead he brought a bunch of upheaval that now appears to be causing friction all over the place. Maybe they’ll get it all sorted out before Michael Bradley asks to be traded or transferred.

      • MntD

        September 10, 2014 at 1:21 pm

        You made it very clear you wanted to paint Leiweke as this evil guy involved in something underhanded or wrong when in fact he did none of the sort.

        Also, save the lesson on metaphors. Please explain to me how pilfering and what actually took place are similar in any way.

        • wxwax

          September 10, 2014 at 2:13 pm

          By pilfer, I believe he means that the Canadian bidders would ultimately move the Bills to Toronto.

          They claim they wouldn’t. Most people in Buffalo don’t believe them. Pilfer implies underhandedness. Seems about right, to me.

          • MntD

            September 10, 2014 at 4:29 pm

            Only they never purchased the Bills or moved them to Toronto so the use of the word on this site isn’t really fair is it? However I see you speak in terms of maybes, hypotheticals, what ifs, etc.

          • Earl Reed

            September 12, 2014 at 11:24 am

            So if I have to ‘splains it to you Lucy (another apt metaphor by the way), I’ll ‘splains it to you.

            The Bills, while high in value, are not high in value compared to other NFL franchises, and compared to the vast wealth controlled by the Rogers and MLSE corporate giants.

            Much like a wealthy curmudgeon grabbing a lollipop out of the toddler’s hand, the rich guys in Toronto were after the Bills, the cheapest franchise they could grab even though they could afford any of them. Why? Because they could. And 8 years ago, there WAS no Terry Pegula to step up and save the team.

            And trust me, if Ralph Wilson had passed before the 2012 lease had been signed, the Bills would be in Toronto right now.

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