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The guy behind the guy

AEG honcho Tim Leiweke discusses his goals for MLS

Posted: Friday July 15, 2005 3:41PM; Updated: Friday July 15, 2005 5:43PM
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Tim Leiweke; David Beckham
AEG president Tim Leiweke (left) makes no secret of MLS' desire to attract European talent like David Beckham to the league.
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Real Madrid. Chelsea. AC Milan.

Some of the world's top soccer teams will be facing MLS opponents for the first time over the next two weeks -- beginning with Real Madrid's match against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Monday night -- and on Friday SI.com had a rare exclusive interview with Tim Leiweke, the primary architect of those games.

As the president of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, Leiweke is the public voice on sports matters for Phil Anschutz, the reclusive billionaire who owns (among other things) the Staples Center, the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and five of MLS' 12 teams (soon to be four with the upcoming sale of D.C. United).

For that reason, many observers consider Leiweke to be the most powerful figure in MLS. Leiweke has big dreams for American soccer, to say nothing of a budget to try and make it happen. In a wide-ranging Q&A session with SI.com, he talks about the importance of bringing some of the world's best teams Stateside, the steps needed to improve MLS' quality and presentation, the single-entity business model, the efforts to bring David Beckham to MLS and his Kennedy-esque goal of making MLS one of the country's top sports leagues by 2015.

SI.com: How did you set up these games between MLS teams and Real Madrid, AC Milan and Chelsea?

Leiweke: This has been a priority of Soccer United Marketing [MLS' promotional arm] for a while, and Charlie Stillitano has taught us all a pretty good lesson with [international summer-match promoter] ChampionsWorld on the importance of the international teams and the support they have in the United States. We've been trying to figure out how to do this for a while, and I think we've been able to do that this year with Charlie's help. SUM led the charge, but AEG probably was the leading advocate within SUM, because we have a huge belief in these games and in particular getting these international teams to play MLS teams.

SI.com: Did you have to go to Europe and sit down with these teams to make it happen?

Leiweke: Because of AEG's projects in London we've developed a very good relationship with the people at Chelsea such as [chief executive] Peter Kenyon, who we've gotten to know pretty well. We don't have as good a relationship with AC Milan, but we are very tied into Chelsea. The Real Madrid relationship is one we've built over a period of three or four years, and our relationship with David Beckham integrated us into a pretty good relationship with the Real Madrid folks. We have good relationships with Arsenal and Manchester United, and just because we're in soccer and over in Europe now beginning to develop entertainment facilities, we've developed good relationships. And the fact we're doing these soccer tours now has made a huge difference.