It’s official: MLSE is no longer a four-letter word.
2003 was a watershed year for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, when the company was bought by faceless corporations and adopted its current name. Steve Stavro was succeeded by the ever-popular Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan as the majority shareholder.
Virtually from that moment, the sports franchises under the company’s umbrella began a steep descent into mediocrity.
MLSE No Longer a Four-Letter Word
The Toronto Maple Leafs clawed their way past the Ottawa Senators in round one of the playoffs (as was their habit) on the strength of Ed Belfour’s goaltending, but a single shot by Jeremy Roenick subsequently sent them into a decade-long playoff drought. The slow march out of town of the so-called “Muskoka Five” – high-salaried players with no-movement clauses – marked the end of the Mats Sundin era with a strained relationship between team and fans.
Things got so bad for the Toronto Raptors that Vince Carter questioned the very structure of the newly-organized MLSE. He asked for, and received, a trade out of town, and the Raps struggled through a rebuild. All-star Chris Bosh was acquired through the draft, but in true Toronto form nothing much was done to make use of their star player.
MLSE later added the Toronto Marlies and Toronto FC to the fold, and both seemed to innately adopt the parent company’s tradition of losing. Toronto FC in particular have been laughably bad, having managed only one playoff appearance in their history, and that a single blowout loss to Montreal.
Under the name “MLSE,” the company’s sports teams have seen nothing approaching real success.
But the times, they are a-changin’.
In 2016, the Raptors and Marlies both made appearances (we’ll leave it at that) in their respective conference finals, both squads setting team records for wins. The Leafs actually won something this year in the NHL draft lottery, and will presumably select Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. And Toronto FC… well, Toronto FC have a newly-renovated home field. And that’s just swell.
These are modest successes, to be sure, but represent the end of a long haul through lean years for MLSE’s sports teams.
For Leafs fans, there is now light at the end of the tunnel. That tunnel is a safe place, too, compared with the cliff-ridden landscape that they’ve driven through. Fans seem as content as the organization is committed to focusing on that ever-nearing daylight in the distance.
Raptors fans have of course already emerged, squinty-eyed, from the tunnel, only to find a hulking LeBron James at the end of it. A rude awakening, but a delightful breath of fresh air for Canada’s NBA team.
Marlies fans are basically Leafs fans with nothing better to do, so see above. For Toronto FC fans, well, there are newly-installed light fixtures inside the tunnel. And that’s just swell.
While the letters M-L-S-E still conjure images of Lenny Wilkens and John Ferguson Jr., the company’s name certainly rolls off the tongue with less taste of vitriol.
A long 13 years after coming into being, MLSE is now co-owned by the two largest telecoms in the country, one of which holds NHL broadcast rights for the next decade. Of all the faceless corporations to oversee the operations of sports teams, this pairing serves fans best. Wins and losses drive other revenue streams for these owners, making season records matter more than ever, even prior to 2003.
Having emerged from the tortured growing pains of a tortured rebirth, MLSE would seem to now possess the motivation to succeed on the field of play, and not just in condos and concessions. For fans, that’s just swell.