Hearne: The Great & Powerful Leiweke Takes a Bullet

IMG_2190 Concerning Tim Leiwike ‘s swift departure from AEG

First a little history about the Pied Piper of Kansas City’s Sprint Center. In the early 1980s Leiweke parlayed a hoopla rich but cash strapped indoor soccer club – the Kansas City Comets – into a lofty perch atop billionaire Philip Anschutz‘s entertainment empire.

That is, until last week when Leiweke and Anschutz parted company unexpectedly “by mutual agreement.”

It would appear that Anschutz – like former Comets owner David Schoenstadt – may have tired of all the great press and red ink.

“The change in leadership was attributed by some analysts as a reaction to the failure AEG experienced in attracting serious bidders during the sale process and its inability securing an NFL occupant for its proposed stadium next to L.A. Live,” reads a newly added entry on Leiweke’s Wikipedia page.

Imagine that..

Leiweke unable to deliver on a pledge to land a major league sports team.

Similar to that other Midwestern wizard, Leiweke made his mark here by mastering the fine art of mixing illusion with the junk sport of indoor soccer.

Schoenstadt.jpg_NEWThe Comets may well go down in KC pop culture history as the most “successful” money-losing sports franchise ever. For years local media sang the Comet’s praises and “reported” about how the team packed Kemper Arena.

The talk among entertainment insiders though was that the Comets “papered” Kemper with free tickets. And rather than building a following based upon the merits of the sport, the Leiwekes fueled the Comets’ apparent success with laser light shows and catchy slogans like “Hot Winter Nights.”

“I saw the records,” says former Capital Automated Tickets honcho Mardi Silva. “They were using our ticket system and there were tons and tons of comps…I know Dr. Schoenstadt wasn’t making any money. The last time I talked to him he told me he was trying to sell the team.”

In the end, Schoenstadt moved on and the Leiweke brothers – lead by older brother Tracy – launched a marketing biz called Leiweke and Company.

The brothers branched into other areas, like helping market Hulk Hogan and WWF wrestling here, effectively finishing off local wrestling promoter and legend Texas Bob Geigle.

I remember touring Leiweke & Company’s lavish downtown offices near 10th and Main in 1986 as they were nearing completion. The brothers appeared to spare no expense having corralled a Who’s Who of clients ranging from Friends of the Zoo and the Kansas and Missouri Special Olympics to the NAIA basketball tourney and Spirit Fest.

The client the Leiwekes would undoubtedly most like to forget though is Walk Thru Rock, the one that lead to the brother’s undoing in Kansas City.

Walk Thru Rock was a $2.4 million traveling exhibition employing “state-of-the-art techniques” laser disc video clips and 18 tented theaters that featured rock videos and memorabilia, classic rock concert posters and autographed Hard Rock Cafe-like musical gear, including the cymbals deceased Who drummer Keith Moon played at Woodstock.

The ill-fated exhibit tipped off at Bartle Hall on – wait for it – September 11, 1986 with Leiweke and Company handling the media buys and on the hook for beaucoup advertising bills. Bills that reportedly went unpaid as the money-losing tour stumbled down to Oklahoma from Kansas City where it died a quick death. A death that reportedly left Leiweke and Company with more bills owed than resources coming in. The company quietly disbanded with the brothers disappearing from Kansas City for all time. Or so it seemed.

“They owed KY102 a ton of money,” says one former KY staffer.

“They owed KUDL and WHB money but they were doing PR for the stations and we owed them money,” says former KUDL/WHB general manager Bob Zuroweste. “So when they came to us and said they couldn’t pay us, I just said, that’s okay, we’ll just cancel it out against what we owe you.”

“I remember they were so huge,” Silva says. “And then all of a sudden, they just disappeared and it was like, ‘Where the fuck are the Leiwekes?’”

la_g_leiweke_sy_300Until nearly two decades later when Tim put together a schmooze with former KC mayor Kay Barnes for the Sprint Center. A deal that while popular and profitable (if you don’t count the red ink Kemper’s been hemorrhaging ever since) has yet to make good on its promise to attract an NBA or NHL team.

So there you have it. A relatively untold, anecdotal history of one of the – until last week – most powerful men in the entertainment industry.

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13 Responses to Hearne: The Great & Powerful Leiweke Takes a Bullet

  1. chuck says:

    I understand that the Power and Light District is now and has been losing money.

    On the radio, and in the KC Star, I believe that I have heard that the Sprint Center is profitable.

    True?

    • admin says:

      I’m not privy to those numbers, but based upon what’s been reported, the city is having to subsidize the P&L to the tune of seven figures a year and Sprint has been giving the city money.

      However, when you net the seven figure losses at Kemper Arena caused in no small part by the Sprint Center getting almost all the events…

  2. smartman says:

    Chuck, P&L doesn’t happen without the SC. All the stakeholders, Barnes, Leiweke and Cordish knew that in the end the taxpayers would clean up the mess if things didn’t work our, exception being the SC which was a private deal.

    AEG knew they could operate SC on a break even basis without an anchor tenant and their worst case numbers proved that.

    In the runup to the election the story was they had to have an anchor tenant or the deal wouldn’t work. Tim Leiweke even said that on the record in an interview with Mike Hendricks at the Star.

    The hype begins about getting an NBA or NHL team. It’s sold as a fait accompli due to AEG’s relationships. The local media bought in, questioning nothing with any scrutiny. AEG even whisked now convicted felon, currently seen on CNBC’s AMERICAN GREED, William L “Boots” Del Baggio into town as a potential NHL owner who might purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins and relocate them to KC as evidence of their efforts.

    AEG made sure they eliminated competition from other producers by bringing Kemper Arena under their wing. The city actually paid them to do that.

    Another fine example of Tim Leiweke’s Midas Touch that has and will continue to cost the taxpayers over 10 million dollars a year for God knows how long to keep the P&L propped up.

  3. Passed out Possum says:

    We lost all chances of getting an NBA team when the Sonics moved to OKC. In the minds of a coastal elite, we may as well be the same market.

    What is weird is they still want to use KC and contract leverage, that is why we haven’t gotten an NBA D-League team, which would actually be kind of cool to watch.

    • the dude says:

      Heh, yeah.
      We are the dopey hick rube in the room that nobody actually wants to dance with.

  4. paulwilsonkc says:

    I worked with Tim to help put on the Folly Grand Prix to commemorate the renovation of the Folly Theatre! He was an amazing show to watch! I sat on the Board and we made things happen I would have sworn could NOT be done!

  5. admin says:

    Hey Paul, he didn’t get where he is without having the gift of gab and that’s what selling people on ideas is all about. He’s a guy with a high school education only who worked his way into helping run the original KC Comets from being the St. Louis MISL team’s “insurance advisor.”

    Funny how when the brothers all blew town it was as quiet as a mouse.

  6. paulwilsonkc says:

    Admin, I was more or less agreeing with you. Back then, I was far less “seasoned” and it just was just something else to see. I was going after TV contracts to air it, we were making things happen with the city no one thought possible, it was one of those things where you just fastened your seat belt and went for the ride!
    Interesting, to say the least.

  7. Puckchaser says:

    NBA d-league? Are you kidding? The NBA D-league attendance is worse than the Central Hockey League, the league in which the Missouri Mavericks play.

  8. Mysterious J says:

    I was one of the people who attended “Walk Thru Rock”. As I recall, it was like 6 movie tents and a bunch of merchandise tables.

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