Tim Leiweke knows heading in to Sunday’s championship soccer clash at CenturyLink Field that his loyalties are somewhat divided.
After all, the man who helped bring an NHL team here and is building a $930 million arena for it to play in also was the one that helped put together the Toronto FC squad that plays the Sounders in Sunday’s MLS Cup final. Beyond that, his younger brother, Tod, the guy running NHL Seattle, was a Sounders founding president and is best friends with the soccer team’s owner, fellow hockey business partner and KeyArena investor Adrian Hanauer.
“I’m cheering for the team with whoever I happen to be sitting with at that particular moment,” Tim Leiweke said this week, adding he’ll join his brother here Saturday and lead Toronto FC officials on a tour of the KeyArena site.
When you’ve been involved in professional sports as long as the Leiweke brothers, the occasional crossed loyalties are expected.
“I still pull for the (Minnesota) Wild, I definitely pull for the (Tampa Bay) Lightning, and I’m an avid Seahawks fan,” said Tod Leiweke, who once ran those teams. “And I’ll definitely have trouble sleeping the night before the Sounders game on Sunday.”
Not that his older brother will be sporting any red TFC scarves at Sunday’s matchup. After all, Hanauer is his business partner as well on the arena side, and this city is where his fledgling Oak View Group established its flagship sports venture.
“I asked Adrian if Tim could come sit with us and he told me, ‘As long as he’s not wearing red,’ ” Tod Leiweke quipped. “I told Tim he’d better give Adrian a call or his seat might get downgraded.”
Tim Leiweke confirmed red is not in his Sunday plans.
“I’m really happy for Adrian, and I’m really happy for the Sounders — it’s fantastic,” he said. “He’s our partner in the arena and obviously the team, and Tod is his partner in the team, so it’s all intertwined. I’m trying to make sure I don’t piss anybody off.”
Leiweke did some of that during his time heading up Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — owners of TFC, the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs — from 2013 to 2015. He butted heads within what was widely viewed as an overly corporate, slow-adapting ownership with underachieving teams, but also implemented changes widely credited with today’s successes.
The Raptors won the NBA championship last spring under president Masai Ujiri, whom Leiweke recruited to the Raptors as their general manager in 2013. The Maple Leafs enjoyed a resurgence — at least, in the regular season — after Leiweke hired Brendan Shanahan to serve as team president in 2014.
And finally, Toronto FC went to the MLS Cup final in 2016 — losing to the Sounders — before beating the Rave Green in the 2017 rematch and now making it back here for the rubber match. Leiweke had jump-started the moribund franchise by jacking up its payroll and importing numerous star players — some more successful than others.
“A lot of the guys that are there, Jozy (Altidore) and Michael (Bradley) and the coach (Greg Vanney) and his staff, (Jonathan) Osorio — those are all the kids that we built the nucleus around,” Leiweke said. “So on the one hand, there’s great loyalty to them. On the other hand, Seattle’s my hometown. That’s where we’re spending our money. That’s where I’m planting my flag, and that’s where we started our company.”
Leiweke’s loyalties might have been a little more divided the first time he attended an MLS Cup final between these teams in 2016. After all, he’d enjoyed a triumphant homecoming of sorts at that game, having left the Toronto job only earlier that year. He was also just weeks removed from announcing he’d be bidding to renovate KeyArena.
The following year, he also watched the final in person at BMO Field in Toronto and took his share of congratulations as the Reds celebrated their first championship. But Leiweke that year had also won the KeyArena renovation bid, and it was two nights before that MLS Cup final that the NHL announced it would accept a Seattle expansion team proposal from OVG, cementing his ties to the Emerald City.
Now, with his brother on board as NHL Seattle’s CEO and Hanauer one of his arena business partners, the Toronto ties are fading to memory along with his other sports accomplishments.
After all, Leiweke also ran the Los Angeles Galaxy for years. And the Philip Anschutz Trophy handed out Sunday is named after a billionaire Leiweke spent two decades working for before a rather infamous falling out.
“As we’ve grown, I’m eternally grateful to Seattle for helping me build my company,” he said.
And once the soccer stuff between his current favorite sports town and former one is finally done with, he can finish building his NHL arena. And worry about who he’ll sit with when the Los Angeles Kings team he won a Stanley Cup with as their president in 2012 pays its first visit here.