Former AEG CEO Tim Leiweke, wife Bernadette Leiweke, Spice Girls singer Victoria Beckham and husband, soccer player David Beckham, pose at “The David Beckham Academy” launch party at Creative Artists Agency on June 3, 2005 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Now that Tim Leiweke has left AEG, the company he built from scratch as CEO, what does his future hold?
The longtime CEO of AEG led just about every part of the live entertainment business. He took a hands-on approach with the Los Angeles Kings hockey franchise and guided Major League Soccer through a decade of expansion, with his own Los Angeles Galaxy winning back to back championships this year and last. He built a real estate empire around the world with iconic arenas in London, Shanghai, and Sydney and pioneered the transformation of downtown Los Angeles with the formation of the country’s most dynamic mixed-use development, L.A. Live. He helped building the thriving touring division AEG Live, launched a massive ticketing company and dipped his hand in the television business with Mark Cuban and Ryan Seacrest to create AXS TV.
Sports. Mega-real estate. Music. Television. Technology. The list of industries Tim Leiweke brought into the AEG fold as part of his synergistic vision for live entertainment goes well beyond the periphery of most firms. On top of it all, he led a process to bring the National Football League to Los Angeles, and while the vision for Farmers Field has yet to be realized, Leiweke achieved a historical accomplishment when the Los Angeles City Council approved the project in September 2012.
That act alone required intervention by the California State Legislature and newly elected governor Jerry Brown, who passed an environmental exemption to ease the review period of the project after a vigorous lobbying effort by Leiweke, who counts former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and outgoing L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as friends. Every major network from ESPN to ABC to BET has filmed award shows at L.A. Live — even the President of China, Xi Jinping, made a special trip to Los Angeles to see Leiweke, following a Washington D.C. visit to President Barack Obama in February 2012. (Jinping was VP of China at the time)
“He knows so many extremely wealthy and connected people from the network he built and nearly all of them view him as a visionary,” said Tony Tavares, president of Disney Sports from 1993 to 2002 and a former executive with the Dallas Stars.
A scan of the sports landscape presents several obvious opportunities for Leiweke. Madison Square Garden Entertainment is looking for a new President to replace Scott O’Neil, who left last year after four years. The iconic New York arena, like Staples Center, is also home to basketball and hockey teams and real estate and television holdings, including the popular cable network Fuse. There’s also an opening for a CEO at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, home to the Toronto Raptors and the iconic Maple Leafs of hockey.
“He’s a great guy, a very smart businessman and a visionary,” said Bob Hunter, executive VP, Venues & Entertainment, Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment.
“I worked with him a few years ago when he came to Toronto to pitch programming and management, part of a soup and nuts deal that included AXS ticketing,” Hunter said. “I told him thanks, but we’re the fifth biggest market in North America and we’re doing great on our own.”
Hunter said there has been a change in ownership at the MLSE and a search for a new CEO has begun, but Tavares said he doubts the Maples Leafs would hire an American for the job over a Canadian.
“Tim (Leiweke) is very much an outside-the-box kind of thinker. He probably would not want an operational role where he does the same thing day after day,” said Tavares. “He’s a creator and a creative person. Give him a job where he can have a blank canvas and create something. He knows so many people that are extremely wealthy and interested in creative projects that he could take on many roles.”
It’s entirely possible that Leiweke will land somewhere outside of the sports and entertainment industry, where his propensity for large scale deal-making can be put to use. The recorded music industry is in need of change, although Leiweke might find more upside and opportunity in television and film, which continue to report record profits even as the market realigns through changes to cable television, regional sports networks and on-demand digital networks like Netflix.
There's also plenty of opportunity to continue to reshape California and even L.A., which is starting to emerge from a five-year drop in housing prices with a slight tick upwards and talk of higher interest rates at the Federal Reserve.
“Just look at the footprint downtown and LA Live,” said Alex Hodges, CEO of Nederlander Concerts. “It went from an idea, to drawing board, to happening; and Tim Leiweke was the commander on the ground, leading and driving the troops to make it happen.”
Wherever he surfaces, he’ll have to ride out any lingering contract clauses he has with his former employer AEG. Last year Leiweke re-signed a five-year contract as CEO, meaning there was likely a big buyout to end his contract. Does that mean he has a no-compete clause barring him from working in the industry for the next one, two or even 10 years? Hard to tell said Tavares, who noted that states like California greatly restrict non-compete clauses, but large severance packages typically include the waiving of certain rights, and that might be one of them.
“Whatever happens, I think Tim will eventually come out and talk, but I doubt he’ll spend a lot of time dwelling on the past,” said Tavares, noting the forner CEO is more of a visionary than a historical revisionist.
“He’ll land on his feet and start moving forward very quickly. He’s a very bright guy.”
Interviewed for this article: Tony Tavares, (775) 853-4712; Bob Hunter, (416) 815-5738; Alex Hodges, (323) 817-6100