You’ve got to hand it to Tim Leiweke. He knows which words to say. In the movie Bull Durham, Annie once said, “Oh, Crash, you do make speeches.” Well, Susan Sarandon’s line could be used for Mr. Leiweke, “Oh, Tim, you do make speeches.”
His latest “promise” is to the good people of Canada’s largest city. A beautiful, multi-cultural city that is the kind of place an entire nation could be proud of. Any country would be thrilled to have a city as fine as Toronto as their country’s largest. (the next sentence is meant to be read quickly as an aside) …well, except that Nation happens to love hockey above nearly all else and the flagship franchise of the Nation’s largest city is a laughingstock*…
And, so, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs, nearly last place Toronto FC, perennial bottom dwellers Toronto Raptors and the Air Canada Center turn over their leadership to, Kansas City’s favorite, Tim Leiweke.
What was Leiweke’s first order of business? He dissed the franchises history.
“I don’t want the players walking in the hallways of the Air Canada Centre and seeing pictures from 1962. Get rid of those pictures and tell them (the players), ‘This is your legacy,’ ” he said.
Imagine if some Canadian dude came in to run the Cubs and said to Cubs fans, “Oh, by the way, get rid of those pictures of Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg. Darwin Barney and Scott Feldman are your legacy.”
Then, he (sort of) made a promise that there would be a parade in downtown Toronto (pronounced with two syllable, not three, by the way). Remember, Leiweke’s promises are always kind-of promises…
At one point in time, Leiweke was a wunderkind. He turned a terrible sport — indoor soccer — into a popular spectator sport in Kansas City. He got out quick and moved on to his next venture before the good people of Kansas City realized they had an indoor soccer team, but no longer had an NBA team.
Wait, we did what?
We had 12,000 at an indoor soccer game and 8,000 at an NBA game that featured Reggie Theus and Otis Thorpe playing in a division with Alex English, Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon (slap hand to forehead).
He parlayed his young success into stellar success during his prime earning years. He’s had a great career. He’s 56. His hubris has got in the way of his judgment. He may be just as hungry, but he’s saying silly things because, my guess is, no one around him is willing to challenge him. He’s like Michael Jordan running the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets/Whataverthey’recalleds. He’s doesn’t seem to have a Tom Hagen.
Ten or more years ago at AEG, he laid out a map of North America and said, “We have a big hole in the Midwest. We need to get into one of these markets and I know just the one. If I can make Kansas City sports fans like indoor soccer, I can get them to build an arena.” He was smart. Kansas City not only needed an arena. Kansas City WANTED a new arena. What we in the Midwest don’t like is to PAY for these new arenas. A good plan was devised to pay for the arena with a hotel/rental car tax. The big hurdle. It needed to be approved by popular vote. So, what did Mr. Leiweke do? He made a promise that Kansas City would get an NHL or NBA team. Well, not really a promise, but, you know, something close to it. Sound familiar? Maybe a little like promising a parade to Toronto?
Under Leiweke’s leadership, AEG tried to tear the London Olympic Stadium down to it’s skeleton and reconfigure it for Tottenham Hotspur’s home field. He said a soccer team couldn’t play in a stadium with a track around the outside for Athletics. AEG lost and the Olympic Stadium will be used for both Athletics and West Ham’s English Premier League team. AEG didn’t attract serious bidders in their sale process last year and the pursuit of an NFL team for Los Angeles was and is a fool’s errand.
Leiweke may be a success in Toronto. Or, the people of Toronto may be like the people of my fair city. Some may fall for Leiweke’s guile and charm and when success isn’t achieved, a new spin will be put on the his previous statements to make them sound really good. Remember how AEG used to beat KC over the head until we looked like Hassim Rahman with the whole — “One of the busiest concert venues in the World.” Yeah, right, we get it. Now, what about the NHL/NBA thing? Oh, that’s immaterial now.
Folks in Toronto can be sure of two things: Leiweke will make speeches and Toronto FC will circumvent the MLS salary cap. You can read into as much with his quote in Cathal Kelly’s story in the Toronto Star,
“We can fix (TFC) quicker than the other two because it’s more free-wheeling. In the NHL, there’s no Stanley Cup that does not come from the draft. You cannot free-agent your way to a Stanley Cup.
“MLS is a little different. Much of that roster has to be made up of trades.”
Um, yeah. That’s because the Soccer Don let the LA Galaxy circumvent the cap for the “greater good of the league”. I’m not sure the Soccer Don is as willing to bend the rules for one of three teams in Canada like he was willing to do for a team in Hollywood, owned by AEG which is one of the entities responsible for the genesis of the league (along with Lamar Hunt and Alan Rothenburg).
When talking about circumventing the cap, he darn near took a shot at KC.
“We disrespected the fans by not giving the kind of players that teams like New York and L.A. are signing. The fans act like New York and L.A. We acted like . . . well, I’m going to piss somebody off here . . . ” — he almost names the city that pales next to his new home, before thinking better of it — “ . . . like a small-market team.
“We changed the entire league’s opinion of the viability of soccer in North America. And then we blew it because we chickened out. When we could take the big dives, we always found the ‘B’ player. We found guys that we thought, ‘Well, he’s not David Beckham, but he’s awful good.’ No, he’s not. Why not get the ‘A’ guy?”
Kansas City (or Columbus or Salt Lake) fits pretty well in that “I’m going to piss somebody off here…” space, doesn’t it?
Will this hire translate to any success in the ice or on the court at Air Canada Centre? I doubt it.
Dave Feschuk of The Toronto Star wrapped it up nicely,
When it comes to empty pronouncements, in other words, it’s a local tradition to make them grand and wholly out of touch with reality. Leiweke, at least, has picked up on that custom. Fans can only hope he’s just as quick a study on building a winner from a culture of losing and delusion.
Believe me, we in Kansas City know all about empty pronouncements that are grand and wholly out of touch with reality. The sad thing is that our media in Kansas City lapped up Leiweke’s quotes like a fat guy at Oklahoma Joe’s. Not until Sam Mellinger entered the scene was his hubris and bravado challenged, barely.
And with that, my war on Tim Leiweke’s words comes to a close. It’s nice to see Torontonians not buying in completely like our local media and sportstalk entertainment hosts did. As he does the same thing to Toronto that he did to Kansas City, I get vindication. Tread lightly, Toronto. Don’t buy in too much to what this guys says.
In the end, I can’t help but think that Mayor Sly James isn’t blathering on and on about an NHL or NBA franchise in Kansas City because he doesn’t have Tim Leiweke, or one of his mouthpieces, whispering in the Mayor’s ear anymore. Now, we all know that the Mayor has made some boneheaded comments when it comes to Sprint Center’s future tenant. Apparently the franchise that will relocate will be a “successful” franchise willing to leave Neverland for Sprint Center since Kansas City won’t pursue a wide-open opportunity to grab a league-owned, rescued from bankruptcy franchise in Phoenix.
We’re going to hear very little of promises and future tenants in the days/years to come. What we’re going to hear now is what ELSE Sprint Center can host. And, that’s probably a good thing. Let’s hope it includes more NCAA Tournaments, a permanent home to the Big 12 tournament and maybe, just maybe, a Frozen Four (I’ll write more about why that’s a good idea later).
*There’s really no comparison to the ineptitude of the Maple Leafs franchise. Imagine if the NY Mets hadn’t won the World Series in 1986 or made it to the Subway Series in 2000. What kind of running joke would the franchise be? The Cubs are, I guess, a close equivalent to the Maple Leafs — a long-standing franchise with a loyal, yet beleaguered, fan base. But, Chicago isn’t the largest city in the country.
Oh, and by the way, as a Sabres fan, Tim Leiweke saying things like American Phil Kessel is your legacy, well, it makes me chuckle just a little.