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When the Leafs spend money (or waste!) on a contract, it is our money

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I happened to be driving around (looking for my favorite cookies on sale—not a good strategy with the price of gasoline these days…) a while back when I tuned into to one of the all-sports stations.  It could have been Sportsnet or TSN.  I’ll give them both “credit”.

One of their many hockey “insiders” was on, opining about how the Leafs really weren’t in a financially difficult spot when it comes to the next CBA.  They were expressing the view that, even though the team was/is somewhat up against the cap (unless I have this wrong) despite struggling this past season, they can always continue to simply get rid of “bad” contracts by playing guys in the minors.

I get that, no problem.  Like any team with lots of money, the Leafs can help their cap situation by placing a guy with the Marlies if they don’t feel he will contribute to help the big club any longer. (I guess we'll see if this will still apply under the new CBA...)

But what I didn’t quite get is when the talking head went on to say, “Leaf fans shouldn’t worry about that, it’s not their money…”.  The implication being, I guess, that the overwhelmingly wealthy media giants who  now own the hockey team can just choose to, in a sense, “buy-out”mistakes.  And that’s true.  The Leafs have “buried” such contracts before, just as the New York Rangers (for example) have as well.

I don’t doubt that the Leafs, via ultra-wealthy MLSE, can pay guys not to play, so as to minimize the “cap” hit.  I’m also sure that, like the New York Yankees in baseball, MLSE could pay a luxury tax some day if they wanted/needed to, as a penalty for going over the cap (if that were allowed, as it is in baseball). 

While I admit I've often said myself, "whatever, it's not my money" when the Leafs (or any other big-time sports organization) fork out huge dollars, I'm not sure that point of view is actually fully correct. To a certain extent, it is “our” money they are playing with.  At least some of it is.

How so?

Season-ticket holders may be the most obvious group, as they all pay huge wads of cash annually to have the privilege of watching the Leafs in person at the ACC.  (Many of those are corporate “sales”, we all understand, but not all tickets are sold to big companies…).  But it goes way beyond that. Every person that buys a “jersey” with the Leaf crest emblazoned on it is giving money to MLSE.  Every kid (or adult) who has, say, a hobby passion and buys hockey cards surely sees that money go not only to the card manufacturers but to the NHL Players Association—and the 30 teams who are part of the NHL and benefit from any such arrangements.

When I fork out money for Leafs TV through my cable package, the Leafs get their pound of flesh.  The fans who watch games on television, listen to broadcasts on the radio and/or read newspapers and online stuff are contributing their time and their passionate interest.  And because so many do this, the Leafs can charge significant advertising rates to companies who want to be associated through those media and communication vehicles with the most popular sports brand in the country—the Maple Leafs.  That creates huge revenues for the corporation that owns our team, too.

So even when we are not personally “buying” something, we are contributing- through our rooting interest, our time, attention and yes, our money (albeit often indirectly)- to the wealth and fortune of the Leaf empire, and the corporation  (corporations, plural- and individuals, in the case of the Maple Leafs) who owns/own Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

This is not to knock the Leafs.  Simply to make clear, at least in my own mind (some of you may feel quite differently, I understand), we all, directly or indirectly, are paying the players, the coaches and the rather large management team of the Maple Leafs.  Those corporations who own the team, and who sponsor or advertise with MLSE?  They're spending a ton, for sure, but by buying their related products and services, we are sending our money not only to them, but to MLSE.

So a lot of us may not be considered important shareholders- or shareholders at all.  (Why do we think the Leafs host all those little events for season-ticket holders, for example?  They can easily identify that group, and that’s a good chunk of money that comes into MLSE's coffers from repeat sales every year.  They like to “touch” the customer and keep the dollars rolling in, which is fine.)  However, there are millions of fans who can’t afford season’s tickets, but are still part of the financial war chest that MLSE taps into.  Virtually every fan is part of it in some fashion.

So no, while we’re not official shareholders, and some of us contribute relatively little, in one way or another we all pay for the opportunity to cheer for the Leafs.  So bury those contracts if you need too, MLSE.  Pay our star players what you think they "deserve".  (At least we're not handing out 14-year contracts, eh...)  But remember it’s our money you’re using, too.  We don't expect to be consulted on the moves you make.  But we do have a voice.  We shouldn't just be on the periphery, the un-important recipient of your "public relations" initiatives and communication "spin".  We do deserve to be heard.

So just make sure that, when you are spending our dough,  it’s part of building a team that's really worth cheering for.


  1. I really couldn't agree more. I understand that 'burying contracts' isn't on Burke's list of things he enjoys, and that it *could* paint an ugly picture for any prospective UFA's, but the flip side is also true. showing a commitment to winning by any means necessary *could* entice those same players. still, Burke has shown player loyalty almost to the point of stupidity, (Cloutier, anyone) and that certain practices just aren't his style.. ie: long term, cap circumventing deals.. Still, I'd like to see Lombardi, Connolly and Komisarek off the books as much as the next guy, though I can also see MK bouncing back under Carlyle.. time will tell, and October can't get here soon enough..

  2. Komisarek is one of the interesting players...we will see how he steps up under Carlyle, Surreal McCoy.

    I agree with your assessment. Burke is a loyal guy- was in Vancouver and has been here, too, though the cap has changed the landscape....

  3. It's not just LeafsTV; it's TSN and Sportsnet too. The broadcast deals are often structured so the teams get paid per household. If the channels are part of basic cable, the teams get paid whether you're a fan or not.

    [OT, the feds ordered the cable companies to start offering channels a la carte, but I see no movement in that direction. I guess Bell and Rogers told the government to wait a few months. Wish I could do that. (Meter maid: "Move your car or get a ticket." Me: "Sure, no problem. Just wait till December, or June 2014 at the latest.")]

    But from me, that's all they're getting. I don't think they have spent money wisely, so though I do root for the team and want them to win, I ain't buying tickets or merch until they do something to deserve it.

    As for season ticket holders, I wonder how many of them are actual fans, rather than corporate gift-givers and rentiers who earn a tidy sum on the resale market.

  4. Besides being a right-on-the-money post, David, you gave me a Sunday smile. Good stuff and thanks...