Hamilton arena boss Tim Leiweke eyes many sports for renovated facility


Former MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke gestures during a speech. (Nathan Denette/CP)

The man leading a $280-million renovation of Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre says it doesn’t make sense to pursue an NHL team for the full-sized arena, but sees plenty of other interesting sporting opportunities for the facility.

Tim Leiweke, CEO of the Oak View Group and former president/CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, said he hopes to bring an AHL team back to Hamilton.

“I think three or four clubs have approached us,” he said while appearing on the JD Bunkis Podcast on Friday on Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “Can an AHL team ultimately make their home there? That, to me, is a better vision and process than sitting there and saying, ‘Well, we want to jump in and go find an NHL team.'”

Renovations started this week and are expected to be completed by November 2025. Major concert promoter Live Nation is a partner in the deal, with Leiweke looking to make the facility attractive for big-name musical acts. Leiweke also is a partner with Silver Lake, which is a shareholder of the UFC and WWE, and figures the Hamilton venue would be a good fit for those events.

Leiweke says he does not want to compete with MLSE, adding he is loyal to the company. The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area has just one full-sized indoor arena (Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena), while most other comparably sized population bases have more, Leiweke said.

“Maybe we can do a Raptors game or two pre-season, maybe we can do a Leafs game or two pre-season,” he said. “We really compliment (MLSE chairman) Larry Tanenbaum for thinking about the WNBA (with a team expected to start play in 2026). Can we play some WNBA games there, maybe? Canada Basketball needs a permanent home where they do their qualifying games and friendly games. That could be an opportunity. Obviously, Hockey Canada and what they’re going to need ultimately for all the various tournaments.”

The OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs moved to Brantford, Ont., this past season after the renovation was announced. It is unknown if they will come back to Hamilton when the arena is ready.

The Bulldogs were an AHL franchise from 1996 to 2015 before owner Michael Andlauer, who now also owns the Ottawa Senators, acquired the OHL’s Belleville Bulls and moved them to Steeltown.

Opened in 1985 as Copps Coliseum, the arena has hosted Leafs and Raptors games, along with the memorable 1987 Canada Cup.

The city had ambitions for an NHL team in the past, but there hasn’t been nearly as much buzz about that possibility in recent years.

The National Lacrosse League’s Toronto Rock also call FirstOntario Centre home. They are moving to a smaller arena in Mississauga, Ont., during the renovation.

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