Maple Leaf Sports Has Serious Defense

Peter Miller shares how his legal work for Maple Leaf Sports + Entertainment is fueled and informed by his passion for sports

Growing up, Peter Miller was passionate about hockey, and like many young athletes, he harboured aspirations of one day playing in front of roaring, sold-out crowds. Also like many young athletes, however, his talents didn’t match his dreams, so instead of turning pro, he found the next best thing.

For the past 13 years, he has provided Maple Leaf Sports + Entertainment (MLSE)—the pro sports company that owns Toronto’s NHL, NBA, AHL, and MLS teams—with legal support for all of its myriad business units, and in 2013 he was named chief legal and development officer. Here, Miller discusses what it takes to keep a large entertainment corporation legally sound, how technology has changed the game and its fanbase, and his own love of sports.

What exactly is MLSE responsible for overseeing?
MLSE is one of the largest sports and entertainment companies in North America. Our portfolio of assets includes our professional sports teams—the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, Toronto FC, and the Toronto Marlies; our venues and facilities, including Air Canada Centre, BMO Field, and Ricoh Coliseum; our three specialty sports channels; and a number of successful retail establishments such as Real Sports Bar & Grill and e11even, our fine-dining restaurant. We also hold an interest in Maple Leafs Square, a development project composed of retail, residential, and commercial components, located adjacent to the Air Canada Centre. Last spring, we saw the true potential of Maple Leaf Square when 10,000 fans filled the square to watch every Leafs playoff game broadcast on our outdoor videoboard. It was an amazing experience.

Photo by Samantha Simmons
Photo by Samantha Simmons

So your legal guidance covers a lot of areas.
It covers a broad spectrum. Our department provides legal and regulatory support and advice and strategic guidance across our entire business—from corporate sponsorship, to broadcast and content, to live entertainment and production, to marketing and communications, to team operations, to facility development and management. We touch a lot of areas. Our goal is to help our businesses safely get to where they need to go, all the while making sure they stay between the lines.

Have you always been a sports fan?
I love sports. I played just about everything growing up. For me, it’s the passion, the energy, the excitement, and the drama of sports that is compelling. I think that’s what draws and connects many fans to it. Personally, though, I think the power of sport goes beyond the excitement of the game, and its true value lies in what it can teach you: the value of teamwork, leadership, hard work, commitment, and perseverance, and how to handle adversity, success, and failure. These are all skills and values I have learned through my involvement in sports, which I apply every day in my work. Whatever accomplishments I have had in my professional career, I would attribute to good fortune and the lessons I have learned through sports.

When I was younger, like many Canadian kids, I dreamt of being a professional hockey player. However, I realized very early on that what I had in passion I lacked in skill. I learned quickly that I had to find another way to make a living. For me, law was a natural fit. Intellectually, it appealed to me because that was how my brain was wired: the logic, the analytical reasoning, the structure of the argument. I knew that was for me—though in the back of my mind, I was always thinking about how I could stay connected to sports.

“There is nothing better than seeing the stands full, celebrating a win by the Leafs, Raptors, TFC, or Marlies. It reminds me every day how many people our work impacts. We work hard to create winning teams for the fans and for our city, and it’s one of the most meaningful rewards of the job.”

What did you play?
I tried just about everything but focused primarily on hockey.

How did you get to MLSE?
I knew that I wanted to practice at a large Bay Street firm. One of the firms I was considering had a small entertainment and sports law group. I was fortunate to secure a position in their corporate commercial department and worked there as an associate, always keeping an eye out for an opportunity to work with the sports and entertainment group.

Photo by Samantha Simmons
Photo by Samantha Simmons

So then MLSE just happened to come along?
One day I received a call from the head of the firm, who knew of my interest in sports, and [he] asked me to meet him in the boardroom,­ as he had an important file that he wanted me to work on. When I opened the door to the boardroom, I was greeted by the then-president of the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Club and our head of the firm, who told me we had been retained by the Maple Leafs to acquire the Toronto Raptors and the Air Canada Centre, and [he] asked if I would I like to work on the file. After working on that transaction for about six months, I had the opportunity to work on a few smaller-term files with MLSE. Over that time, I was able to get to know the management team at MLSE very well, and when an opening within the legal department arose, my firm “loaned” me to MLSE until they could find another lawyer. Fortunately for me, they never found that other lawyer, and I joined them full-time. That was over 13 years ago.

How have things changed during your time there?
When I started, we were much smaller: two teams, one venue, and the business was much simpler. Over the last 13 years, we have grown considerably, adding two teams, four venues/facilities, three broadcast channels, and interest in a real estate development project at Maple Leaf Square. The issues that our department addresses have become quite diverse and complex. The industry has also matured, driven in large part by technology. We are in the entertainment business, so we have to be able to communicate with our fans/customers and deliver the products that they want in a way they want to receive them. It used to be a more static business, but it is much more fluid and interactive now, and our department has had to adapt quickly to keep pace with the changes, making it a very dynamic and exciting practice.