10/22/2013 08:56 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Former MLSE president on growing a sports empire

In 15 years as the President & CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Richard Peddie grew the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors into a sports empire worth $2 billion.

Despite the success of the business, Peddie was unable to translate that into performance on the field. He made the organization's success both as a business and as a sports team a priority, but Toronto's teams faced 15 years of near-futility. 

By the time he retired in 2012, the Maple Leafs had failed to make the NHL playoffs since 2004, and the Raptors hadn’t made the playoffs since 2007. The Toronto FC, the soccer franchise MLSE launched in 2007, has never made a playoffs appearance.

- Was it a 'dream job' running Toronto's sports teams?

He calls his new autobiography, the story of the extraordinary success of the Toronto sports franchises, Dream Job.

But in an interview on CBC’s Lang & O’Leary Exchange, Peddie acknowledged the job could sometimes be a nightmare.

He recalled a death threat in the early days of building the conglomerate.

"I thought I should be accessible to the fans. I don’t need an unlisted number," he said.

"In a particularly bad time when I was retooling general managers in both hockey and basketball, one person started phoning on a regular basis. What do you do with a late night call? You think your family’s sick, there’s something wrong at the Air Canada Centre and I would answer until he threatened to kill me."

In 1998, the sports landscape in Toronto changed, with Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd., the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, purchasing the Toronto Raptors basketball team, and the soon-to-be-opened Air Canada Centre. Peddie was brought on to head the renamed Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

Peddie was at the helm of MLSE for 15 years until his retirement in 2012 and presided over its growth, including the opening of the Air Canada Centre and development of Maple Leaf Square.

"It was a wonderful huge market and we monetized the heck out of it," he said.

By the time Rogers & Bell jointly acquired a 75 per cent stake in the company from the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan in 2012, MLSE owned 4 professional sports teams, major real estate holdings in downtown Toronto, and three television networks.

"I had the job for 15 years, the life expectancy of a CEO these days is less than four.  I’d done a lot – we started with a public enterprise value of $300, took it to $2 billion," he said, recalling his decision to retire. 

But a winning team might have made him stay longer.

"I was leaning toward succession and if we had been winning... I would have stayed on another couple of years, but we weren’t winning," Peddie said.