Execs put on hot seat

Tom Anselmi of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment unveils the new logo of Major League Soccer's...

Tom Anselmi of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment unveils the new logo of Major League Soccer's newest team Toronto FC, Thursday, May 11, 2006. It begins play in 2007. (Toronto Sun/Veroncia Henri)

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:45 AM ET

They wanted the focus to be on the new soccer team, but the tentacles of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. often get tangled in their various enterprises.

So when chairman Larry Tanenbaum, president Richard Peddie and executive vice-president Tom Anselmi unveiled Toronto FC yesterday at Ricoh Coliseum, questions quickly turned to hockey, the future of next door's new stadium, the Argonauts and even rumoured MLSEL board turmoil.

Tanenbaum, who rarely faces a public grilling, was asked the chances of success with a Major League Soccer franchise next year in a $72-million home, while his hockey and basketball teams missed the playoffs and the minor-league hockey team plays to sparse crowds.

"Well, there's going to be a next year," Tanenbaum said "We're only focused on building winning teams here. That's what our board and shareholders are all about. Toronto FC will be one of them.

"We have an incredibly strong leadership team. In this case, Tom will be leading the charge (as the soccer team's de facto president)."

Tanenbaum insisted this pro soccer venture will fly where others haven't because "times have changed" and that the Marlies success from a logistical and developmental aspect made the financial losses bearable.

Peddie said the steel for the new structure should be going in by next month after unexpected sidetracking to dig up the old foundations of CNE Stadium.

And when talking up the 20,000 seat capacity and its concert potential, Peddie couldn't help mentioning that it could accommodate a Canadian Football League team. The Argos and the City of Toronto investigated the Ex for a new stadium a couple of years ago, but didn't proceed and the team stayed with the Blue Jays in a renovated Rogers Centre. But there's an option to escape the Rogers lease after 2009 and co-owner Howard Sokolowski said last year "I never rule anything out."

"We don't want to tamper with that lease," Peddie said. "I've not talked to Howard and (partner) David Cynamon about moving. But physically, we're capable of football, as long as it's 20,000 seats."

Tanenbaum was asked if the "football" connotation in FC was not stepping on the Boatmen's toes to a degree.

"I think the way we spell it is 'futbol', so it's different," he replied. "Toronto FC and the Argos are definitely two different names, two different sports."

If Sokolowski was miffed at the name, he was diplomatic about it yesterday.

"I'm not sure what FC means," he told the Sun's Perry Lefko. "I thought it was a soccer team. In the meantime, I wish them best of luck and look forward to the stadium going up."

There have been persistent reports that Tanenbaum is on thin ice, armed with only a 13% ownership stake and in danger of being moved aside, if the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan flexes its 58% stake. Publisher Ken Thomson also might increase his 15% stake at the expense of the teachers, with either scenario knocking out Tanenbaum and perhaps Peddie.

"My future sits right here," Tanenbaum said, within earshot of board members.

MLSEL sources say Peddie's deal goes to 2009, though the latter would only say he's subjected to annual board reviews.


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