LOS ANGELES — Since Philip Anschutz became the majority owner of the Los Angeles Kings back in October 1995, the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the entertainment conglomerate-portion of Anschutz’ empire that the Kings now fall under, has been viewed by a large swath of fans with disdain, deep-seated mistrust, and even blatant hatred.
In fact, so vehement was the distrust that it might have made people wonder if the face of AEG, Kings Chief Executive Officer and Governor Tim Leiweke, wears body armor.
Some of the distrust was rooted in the Kings’ long history of mediocrity, or worse, not to mention trade and amateur draft histories that, except for a handful of notable exceptions, were so riddled with huge blunders that they could be the punch line for many jokes.
But AEG also generated a great deal of distrust on their own. Indeed, they could not hide the fact that the Kings were used to get their foot in the door in Downtown Los Angeles, securing prime real estate on the cheap so they could build Staples Center, and later, LA Live.
Add to that some very lean years during the early portion of President/General Manager Dean Lombardi’s tenure, and you wind up with a perfect combination of circumstances that eroded the fan’s trust, perhaps as much as the Colorado River has done to the Grand Canyon.
“I do not trust AEG,” long-time Kings fan Charles Emerson, 44, of Tustin Ranch, California, said back in 2008. “They are an entity that is only concerned with their Downtown project, revenue, and their worldwide interests. The Kings are merely a piece of their empire, and they needed them to get themselves further into the Los Angeles sports scene.”
“AEG is a land development company,” said Kings fan Bruce Cameron, 65, of Sherman Oaks, California, in 2008. “I’m sure they can give you chapter and verse on tax breaks, loan points and potential square footage profit for a large sports arena or hotel complex. However, when someone mentions that the LA Kings need a left handed shot at the blue line, they seem certain it pertains to some trendy mixed bar drink using Curacao.”
“As wonderful as Staples Center is, I find it fascinating that there is no ‘owners box,’” added Cameron, a Kings fan since 1981. “That, in itself, tells you the connection between the ‘Titans of Investments’ and the LA Kings. Trust‘em? No how and no way. When I see Phil Anschutz with open tie and rolled up sleeves, looking all red-faced as he screams down to [now-retired NHL referee] Rob Schick for some blown call, then I’ll know the owner of the Kings gives a crap about the Kings.”
Fast forwarding back to the present, it has been a little over 17 years since AEG purchased the Kings. Staples Center has become the Kings’ new home, and has quickly became one of the premier sports and entertainment venues in the world. More recently, LA Live has become a popular entertainment, retail, hotel and dining destination for people from all walks of life. It appears to be a tremendous success, and a big part of the resurgence and revitalization of Downtown Los Angeles.
As mentioned earlier, Leiweke is the face of AEG, Anschutz’ right-hand man, and has filled those roles since Anschutz purchased the Kings. For all those years, and even now, many fans have referred to him using rather unflattering nicknames, “Lie-weakly,” or “Lie-weekly,” reflecting their tremendous distrust and disdain for the owners of the Kings.
The question now is: does AEG and Leiweke still deserve that scorn and distrust?
To be sure, a significant number of Kings fans remain skeptical, despite the fact that Leiweke has delivered what he has repeatedly said he would: that the Kings would, someday, win the Stanley Cup.
For an NHL team, the Stanley Cup is hockey’s Holy Grail, the ultimate goal for every season, and now that the Kings have won it, Leiweke wants them to do it again, this season.
“For me, the most important thing is ‘win it again,’” Leiweke said during a press conference at Staples Center on January 10. “No one has repeated as Stanley Cup Champion in 15 years.”
“A lot of people will sit here and debate the [collective bargaining] process, the deal, what it meant to the game, and what it meant to the fans,” Leiweke added. “But we’re most interested in allowing our players to go out and defend the Cup. The message we’re going to give to the players is that no one has defended in 15 years.”
“We won back-to-back championships with the [Los Angeles] Galaxy (Major League Soccer), and I hope we do that here with the Kings. [AEG has] 21 [championship] rings, as an organization. We’d like to have 22. Our players understand that that’s what we were building for from day one with Dean. We gave him the resources to keep this [team] together. No [NHL team] has [returned all of its players the season after winning a Stanley Cup Championship] in thirty years. All of our guys understand that we want to do everything that’s humanly possible to move on, and try to win it again.”
Leiweke emphasized that winning the Stanley Cup last season was just one step in a larger plan.
“This was never about [just] winning a Cup,” he noted. “It was about creating a legacy, and I think we have the team, and the character, to do it. I think we have the fans to do it. All we care about is the next season, and doing something that no one has done in 15 years.”
“What we’ve promised, and what we’ve told Dean is, if there’s something we can do to improve this team, if there’s something we can do to improve the environment for these guys, he has a green light to do it,” he added. “We are committed to winning this thing again, and that’s where all of our time and energy is dedicated to.”
“The thing we created two weeks ago, if we came back [this season] is, ‘the journey continues.’ We’re not going to spend a lot of time talking about what we just went through. We’re focused on what we’d like to go through.”
Leiweke said that the best way to thank fans for their patience and understanding after the 2012-13 NHL lockout would be a second straight Stanley Cup Championship.
“I don’t look past what we put the fans through,” he stressed. “That said, I know our fans, and what they want. They want us to win. They want us to raise the banner, they wanted us to bring this team back, intact, and that’s what we’re doing.”
“We’re not going to play little games, and do things that, ultimately, look past that,” he added. “We’re committed to spending whatever it takes to win again. We’re committed to spending whatever it takes to keep this [team] together. We’re committed to doing whatever we need, at the end of the day, to try to win another Cup. That’s what our fans want out of us, that’s what they expect out of us.”
One thing that is now very, very noticeable about Leiweke is his passion for the Kings, something that was not apparent for most of the time AEG has owned the Kings.
How times have changed.
Indeed, now, whenever you see Leiweke at Kings games, season seat holder events, press conferences, or any event in which he has the opportunity to interact with fans, sure, he is still the CEO of the Kings, and their representative on the NHL Board of Governors (owners). But unlike the Tim Leiweke of a handful of years ago, he has developed a real passion for the Kings, perhaps as much as the most passionate of passionate fans.
“If you want to see passion for this team, take a look at section 105 the next few years,” Kings President/Business Operations Luc Robitaille said during the team’s Stanley Cup Celebration at Staples Center on June 14, 2012. “If you see [Tim], make sure you tell him who the referees [are], because he loves to yell at [them].”
Yes, you read that correctly. Leiweke is a season seat holder (yes, he pays for the tickets), where he cheers and yells along with other fans in the lower bowl, not in a luxury suite or Premier Seat, as many might reasonably expect.
That deep passion mentioned earlier was on display in a big, big way after the Kings won the Stanley Cup, when they took hockey’s Holy Grail to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, on June 28, 2012.
Of course, the story that day was how the Stanley Cup brightened the days of so many young people facing critical medical issues, some debilitating, some life-threatening.
But as I covered the event, I noticed another story developing: that Leiweke was not just there for a photo op. Rather, it was crystal-clear that he was totally and genuinely involved and engaged. He had a huge smile on his face for just about the entire time, and he spoke very enthusiastically—maybe even with glee—with every patient and family member, not to mention hospital staff, and I’m not just talking about executives or major donors, either.
Leiweke had kind, comforting words for patients and their families, and he was overjoyed whenever he got a chance to talk about the Stanley Cup and its history with the young patients—his face lit up every time.
If he was just putting on an act, Leiweke’s performance was Oscar-worthy.
Two weeks earlier, Leiweke was wearing his passion for the Kings on his sleeve, as he delivered a message for the fans at the Stanley Cup Championship celebration.
“This was always about you, [the fans],” he exclaimed. “This is your game, you deserve this. Thank you so much for your commitment, and your passion [for] the LA Kings. God bless our fans. You are the Stanley Cup Champions.”
To be sure, the Tim Leiweke leading the Kings today is different from the one who was at the top of the organizational chart prior to Lombardi’s arrival in Los Angeles. Over the last few years, Leiweke has developed a very strong, deep passion for the team that has helped him to better understand and relate to Kings fans, and ultimately, it has him focused on the right things, most notably, how to turn the Kings into a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
In fact, although some will never be able to trust him, Leiweke’s track record, especially after having a Stanley Cup Championship added to it, is irrefutable. The time has come to give him the credit he deserves, the trust that he has earned, and perhaps most notably, the banishment of “Lie-weakly” and “Lie-weekly” to wherever ill-fitting nicknames go to die a quiet death.
White House Or Bust?
Traditionally, American sports teams that win a major championship are invited to the White House to be honored by the President of the United States, and the Kings are no exception.
The only problem is that, due to the lockout, they will not play Eastern Conference teams during the 48-game regular season, making a trip to Washington, D.C. rather impractical.
Nevertheless, the Kings are hoping to make it work.
“We have a tentative date,” said Leiweke. “We’re waiting for the President to see if that works on his schedule, and we’re going to take both the Kings and the Galaxy on the same day, so we’re going to do it all in one shot for both teams.”
“No one’s ever done that before,” added Leiweke. “Then again, no city has ever had two championships like this. We’re going to bring all our guys from the Galaxy back, including [David] Beckham, and then all of our guys with the Kings—we’re on a road trip, and it’s the closest we get. So, if it works for the President, we will be there.”
The two Western Conference teams closest to Washington, D.C. are the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators. As such, an educated guess would be that the Kings have tentatively scheduled their White House trip for a road swing during which they will face either or both of those teams.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Tim Leiweke (4:51)
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