First, a proviso: I'm no expert when it comes to back-room politics in the sporting and/or footballing world. I usually turn off Setanta when the ticker starts running and one of their blandly attractive anchors speaks in singsong about implied transfer fee agreements and shareholder unrest.
However this week, I, like some of my more qualified colleagues, have taken some interest in the recent troubles at Tottenham. And when the Guardian compared Daniel Levy to someone named 'Jesus,' I simply had to read past the lede paragraph. What's funny is as I look more and more into Levy's history of woe at White Hart Lane, I think more and more of Toronto FC's relationship with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE).
Toronto FC, MLS's second most popular franchise, failed to make the playoffs for the second year in a row, losing 2-0 to crap franchise San Jose. While there were few cogent post-mortems in the major press, Cathal Kelly did write a damning article on Mo' Johnston's player acquisitions this past year. Under Johnston, we lost unspectacular but solid midfielders Maurice Edu and Ronnie O'Brien, and acquired Rohann Ricketts and Laurent Robert. Robert has already been shit-canned (perhaps Johnson should have given the MLS more credit when he acquired a washed-up player cut from 2007-2008's Derby County!). Ricketts did score a couple of goals, but is slow on the pitch and hardly a game-changer.
Kelly lays most of the blame at Johnston's feet, but to my mind, Johnston is a cog taking orders. Mo' is partnered with Paul Bierne, an MLSE regular. And supervising both is Tom Anselmi, COO of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who answers to MLSE CEO Richard Peddie.
Peddie is not a popular figure with Toronto hockey fans. The Maple Leafs are currently 'enjoying' what's expected to be yet another 'transition year' in the NHL. Peddie's MLSE hired and fired John Ferguson Jr., the GM who ran the club (into the ground) between 2003 and 2008. Peddie was in charge during MLSE's massive ticket scandal last April. And Peddie is one of the reasons why Leafs fans pay more and more to see a team that gets worse and worse.
Yet Peddie has made MLSE a massively profitable corporatation, in part by exploiting the Toronto Maple Leafs' unshakeable brand. The bedrock of his business plan: hockey fans in Toronto are still willing to pay $200 a ticket to watch an NHL club that hasn't reached a Stanley Cup final, let alone won the thing, since 1967. Peddie simply but shrewdly exploited fan loyalty to avoid the costly business of winning trophies-- hence, MLSE's business model stresses marketing, branding, and club loyalty over on ice success.
Toronto FC is no different. Once it was apparent home games were selling out and season tickets were running at 90-95% renewal rate, creating a winning on-field product played second fiddle to consolidating popular support. Expect to see Trader Mo' trade players for cash as long as his cheques are cut by MLSE. There is no reason why Peddie and MLSE will abandon this business model, which is why I don't expect Toronto FC's popular support to translate into cups anytime soon. Pundits often talk about how Toronto soccer fans are 'more sophisticated' than others in the MLS and will demand a better on field product. Well, sorry, Leafs fans know more about hockey than anyone in the biz and they've been showing up for forty years.
My heart goes out to Tottenham supporters -- hopefully they will put up more of a fracas than Toronto fans ever have, or likely ever will.