Leadership Lessons Learned from the Toronto Football Club

Well, way to go to the Toronto Football Club, the TFC…they started playing in 2005 and year, after brutal year, they could barely win 10 games a season. Making the playoffs was not anywhere near possible.

But the fans they had were loyal. There mostly for the experience, the partying, the hooting and hollering.

The players would interact with the kids in the crowd before and after a match and they began to connect with the future fans.

But still, the product on the field was pretty bad.

But, then there was hope. In 2014, they signed British soccer great, Jermain Defoe…

When the media gathered for the press conference announcing Defoe’s signing…then (Toronto Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Group), MLSE president Tim Leiweke asked, “Why can’t we be great?” There was genuine buzz and expectations of success, and Defoe was the main reason because Toronto never had a goal-scorer like him before.

Great they weren’t …in fact that season was as brutal as the previous 9…Defoe ended up playing only 19 games in a season that ended without a playoff berth. He went back to England the year after…

Here is the ad promoting the Defoe signing, it was a brilliant and funny campaign, that did what was supposed to do…get attention and fan interest up in a fun way. The TFC experience remember was all about fun!


The TFC also signed another big player then too. Captain, Michael Bradley. Bradley, though, has been a success story, his signing was over shadowed at the time by Defoe, but yet, his leadership and his presence helped to make the Toronto FC, the champs they are today. He did well on the field but also off it he helped to lure players like the calibre of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore from Europe.

The year of the Defoe and Bradley signing was a terrible low point in the TFC history. Big expectations turned into another year of big disappointment and angry fans.

But as low as it was, it was a turning point. It was time to clean house, let go of some players, bring in new ones, like Giovinco and Altidore…and slowly build a winner and win they did.

On December 9th, 2017 they captured the MLS Championship Trophy. A year after just losing that very same game by a 1-0 shootout.

So what can you learn from the TFC, that you can apply to your life and business?

  1. Stay with it. Life, your business, work, can be brutal sometimes…it is in the dark times, you need to remember, because when sweet times come, you will have more gratitude and respect for the blessings!


2. Remember the experience. Through the good and the bad, the TFC was all about the “Experience” meeting before and after the games for a pint at Shoeless Joe’s in Liberty Village, playing at BMO field, partying, having former Toronto Mayor, David Miller lead some of the fan experiences and events, was all part of the journey and the experience, helped to make the brutal years of the team, enjoyable. How can you make the journey enjoyable?

3. Tap into the trends. TFC also succeeded because they tapped into the soccer trend that is happening in Toronto. New immigrants to Canada (there has been a rise in new immigrants since the team started back in 2005), play soccer more than the North American sports. The term, “Soccer Mom” has come into existence since 2005 too. Soccer and basketball are big sports with today’s youth. It is fun, doesn’t cost a lot and it is great for exercising!

4. Leadership is not a big name signing. Leadership is quiet, it does things, it gets the job done, it is not flashy, it is long term, it is focused, it is a team effort. Learn from the leadership qualities of Michael Bradley, watch his interviews and what he says and does on the field. Since the Bloody Big Deal campaign, Michael has been the leader and has done so without the flash of Jermain Defoe.

5. Hold true to your vision, hold to your goals and vision, but make tweaks along the way, always look to improve, hire good people who want to win and succeed…make sure you stay true to your big goals, but adjust your sails along the way, so that you can float towards your finish line!

Until the new year, make it a great holiday season, be well, take time out for yourself and those you love!

Cheers/David Cohen



David is an author, business coach, and facilitator and was the former host/producer and creator of the Small Business Big Ideas Show heard weekly for over 9 years. David has taught thousands over the years in both the non-profit and for-profit sectors and has coached hundreds of start-ups to make those important first steps. He specializes in helping small business owners mine their strengths, get clear on their value, their markets and then begin to develop a sales and marketing game plan that gets results.

He also can be booked to do his keynote presentations; “The 8 Keys to Success, How I got to Kiss the Stanley Cup and his new keynote called “A breakthrough-through the glass”- how to overcome the fear that life and business might throw your way. He leads workshops in sales, marketing, market research, business plans, target marketing and customer service programs. David is currently with the City of Toronto, heading up an entrepreneur training program for inner city youth and adults. He has taught thousands and coached numerous clients in the area of Small Business Start-ups and business growth strategies.