Q&A: MLSE boss Tim Leiweke on expensive Leafs tickets, his new Yorkville pad and Canadian winters
As the new president and CEO of MLSE, you’re about to become the city’s primary object of adoration or derision, depending on how the Leafs, Raptors and TFC fare. How are you preparing for the looming onslaught?
I came here from L.A., where I was president and CEO of the Lakers, Kings and Galaxy, so I’m accustomed to being accountable to millions. I enjoy it. If I do my job, Torontonians won’t be throwing peaches and bananas at me when I stroll down the produce aisle.
It seems like every moon cycle, MLSE brings in a new executive with umpteen degrees who promises the world. It never pans out. What makes you any different?
Well, my degree is honorary. I never finished college. My mom died of cancer when I was 12. That ordeal took up all the resources our family had, so after high school I had to go to work selling insurance. I’m okay with not having that college diploma. Technically the honorary degree makes me a doctor, but I’d rather you not call me that.
Noted. What’s your impression of Toronto fans so far?
Well, talk about passion. The city is a sports paradise. We’ve got four daily papers fighting for scoops. When I flew here to meet with ownership, they sent a guy to the airport who held up a piece of paper with my code name—Tim Brown—on it, and he shepherded me to a hotel boardroom somewhere. They were paranoid about someone spotting me and creating a frenzy.
Why did you say yes?
MLSE has amazing fans, great owners with immense financial resources and a terrific staff. All of that means an opportunity to win, and that is what’s most important to me.
Those ingredients have all been present for ages. Why haven’t the Leafs won since 1967?
I’m not going to talk about the past. Every time I do, I get into trouble.
You’re referring to your edict to tear down pictures of the old Leafs greats at the Air Canada Centre. Do you regret letting that one slip?
I communicated it improperly. What I meant was I want to emulate the past; I don’t want to live off of it.
You’re known as a crier. When was your last good cry?
When the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012. Tears of pure joy. I’m an emotional guy. I think that’s a good thing. Fans will see I’m into it. I’ll share in their joy and pain.
The average Leafs ticket last season was $124.69. Is that too much?
It’s expensive, which puts even more pressure on us to win. We’ve got to stop taking fans’ devotion for granted.
Have you found a home?
Yes. A condo in Yorkville with an unbelievable view. I’m beginning to figure out my neighbourhood. I just discovered that Canadian Tire isn’t a tire store.
Your wife, Bernadette, stayed in L.A. to wrap things up. Has she joined you yet?
Yes. We lived in the same house in L.A. for almost 20 years, so the transition has been tough for her. Our daughter, Francesca, is over the moon about the change of scenery.
The Leafs just signed her husband, Troy Bodie. Do I smell a conflict of interest?
Not at all. The Leafs signed him because he’s the coach’s kind of player. Dave Nonis, the GM, asked me if I had a problem with it. I said no.
Are you ready for your first Canadian winter?
I think so. Bernadette and I spend a lot of time at our place in the mountains in Colorado, and I grew up in St. Louis, so a little cold doesn’t scare me. That’s why God created coats and boots.
You’ll need both, especially if you plan on continuing the epic exploratory walks I’ve been reading about. Where have you been lately?
I usually take the subway to work and walk home. On weekends, I’ve been to Liberty Village, the waterfront, Fort York. I was thinking, “Man, the American army must not have been very good, ’cause they got their ass kicked by about a half-dozen cannons.”
Or maybe Canadians are just tough.
That’s probably true, too. But you know what? Even the people who are mad at me are nice about it. I got onto the elevator at my condo the other night, and this family got on. I introduced myself and patted their dog, and the kid looked at me and said, really politely, “You know, sir, we have really high expectations for you this year.” I was like, “OK, I get Toronto now.”