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Veteran sports, broadcasting executive Keith Pelley back home in charge of MLSE

Some eight-plus years after the departure of larger-than-life leader Tim Leiweke, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has turned to another big personality to take the helm.

On Thursday, the sports and entertainment conglomerate confirmed Keith Pelley, a veteran sports and broadcasting executive, as its new president and CEO.

Pelley, who has been CEO of golf’s European Tour Group since the summer of 2015, starts his new job on April 2.

He previously served as president of Rogers Media, the Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, TSN and the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

“Keith is a dynamic and innovative leader who is firmly committed to building a championship culture at every level in the organization as well as reinforcing MLSE’s pride in its leadership roles in our industry and community,” MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum said in a statement Thursday.

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Unlike the American Leiweke, Pelley is a local boy. He grew up in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke and graduated from Ryerson University, now called Toronto Metropolitan University.

“This role with MLSE, and the chance to be involved with my hometown sports teams in Toronto, was the one opportunity that I simply could not resist,” Pelley said in a statement issued by the European Tour Group, which administers the DP World Tour, Challenge Tour, Legends Tour, G4D Tour and the Ryder Cup in Europe.

“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do at some point in my career and I’m very grateful to be given that chance.”

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Pelley succeeds Michael Friisdahl, who left MLSE in February 2022 to take over as executive chairman of Signature Aviation, a British-based multinational aviation services company. Friisdahl had been in charge since December 2015.

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Unlike Leiweke, who was the face of MLSE during his tenure, Friisdahl preferred to work behind the scenes in steering the company through the pandemic and other challenges.

Leiweke, in contrast, made headlines from the get-go when he admitted in one of his first interviews on the job that he already had the Maple Leafs’ victory parade route mapped out. Leiweke dreamt big and helped turn Toronto FC around with some bold player moves, among other accomplishments.

Pelley is also a big character, who understands the draw of elite athletes.

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“At the end of the day, yes, we’re in the golf business but really golf is just the platform.” Pelley said in an interview shortly after taking over the European Tour Group. “We’re in the content/entertainment business. And our players, which are our recipe for success, are the pseudo-actors. They’re the ones creating the theatre. They’re the ones creating the content. So everything we do will be with a players-first philosophy.”

Pelley now gets to show off the likes of Leafs snipers Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, Raptors emerging star Scottie Barnes, Toronto FC attackers Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernadeschi and Argos quarterback Chad Kelly.

Chief financial officer Cynthia Devine served as MLSE’s interim president and CEO during the search for Friisdahl’s successor.

MLSE says Devine plans to retire once Pelley starts with the company but will stay on until June as an adviser to the board to assist with the transition.

Tannebaum thanked Devine for her contributions.

“Her leadership and strategic direction have been vital to many of the company’s successes over the past seven years, and her impact will continue to be felt in the months and years ahead, including in her advisory role through this transition,” he said.

MLSE said Devine had always planned to retire when a permanent CEO was chosen.

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Pelley was appointed president of Rogers Media in 2010 and spearheaded the company’s 12-year, $5.2-billion broadcast and media rights deal with the NHL.

Prior to joining Rogers Media, Pelley was executive vice-president of strategic planning at CTVglobemedia and president of Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium.

He began his career in 1984 as an on-air personality at OMNI Television before joining TSN in 1986, working his way up from editorial assistant to various editorial and production roles for CFL, curling, tennis and baseball coverage. He left in 1994 for FOX, working as a game producer for the NFL, NFL Europe, NHL, and Major League Baseball, returning to TSN in 1997 as senior vice-president of programming and production.

Pelley, who turned 60 on Thursday, was appointed TSN president in 2001.

MLSE owns the NHL Leafs, NBA Raptors, AHL Marlies, Major League Soccer’s TFC and the Argonauts.

Guy Kinnings, the current deputy CEO and executive director of the Ryder Cup, will succeed Pelley as the European Tour group CEO on April 2.

&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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