[MLS SPOTLIGHT]Well, the rumors were true. Tim Leiweke is leaving Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Toronto FC's parent company. He just isn't leaving right away. He will leave when a successor to his position as CEO is found or on June 30, 2015. No club executive has been more influential in MLS in the last decade than Leiweke, who engineered the signing of David Beckham at the LA Galaxy in 2007 and reshaped TFC with the signing of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Defoe to huge contracts.
Leiweke spent 17 years at AEG -- which at one time owned more than half the clubs in MLS -- before having a falling out with Phillip Anschutzover the sale of AEG and leaving in March 2013. He was hired as CEO of MLSE in June 2013.
TFC is only one part of the MLSE empire, but in his short time in charge, Leiweke overhauled the club, which has never qualified for the MLS playoffs in seven seasons but is likely to make the postseason in 2014. Leiweke fired TFC president & GM Kevin Payne and replaced him with young Tim Bezbatchenko as GM.
Rogers Communications and Bell Canada, rival communications companies, are the majority owners of MLSE, which also owns the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs, NBA Toronto Raptors and AHL Toronto Marlies. MLSE owns or operates various sports facilities in Toronto, including BMO Field, and digital channels.
As recently as Wednesday, Leiweke denied he was leaving MLSE, but the company's chairman, Larry Tanenbaum, confirmed on Thursday the move.
“Under Tim’s leadership, MLSE has made a number of key moves to strengthen our organization on the path to championship success,” Tanenbaum said in a statement. “We look forward to working closely with Tim to build on this foundation and further accelerate our momentum as we seek a new leader for MLSE.”
Leiweke, 57, called MLSE "a world-class organization in a city and a country so passionate about sports.”
“But with new opportunities on the horizon, it’s time for me to begin the transition from sports and entertainment executive to entrepreneur,” he said. “Right now, my total focus is here at MLSE and I look forward to working with the board and MLSE team to continue strengthening our franchises while ensuring a smooth transition to a new leader.”
Leiweke got his start in indoor soccer, beginning in 1979 as the assistant general manager of the MISL’s St. Louis Steamers. At the age of 24, he left his hometown team to became the youngest general manager in professional sports with the Baltimore Blast of the MISL. He was late vice president and general manager of the MISL’s Kansas City Comets and eventually became the club’s president in 1986.
Leiweke also has extensive experience in hockey and basketball. The Maple Leafs are the most important of the MLSE properties, but they will be the least affected by Leiweke's departure, according to the Toronto Star.
What Leiweke's departure means for Toronto FC and whether he gets back into soccer remain to be seen.
Bradley and Defoe have the second and third highest salaries in MLS, behind only Seattle's Clint Dempsey, in terms of guaranteed income, and they both have long-term contracts.
Leiweke e-mailed Grant Wahl of SI.com to say he was not interested in buying the Chivas USA team now owned and operated by MLS in Los Angeles.