By Bob Johnston
April 6, 2020

Toronto FC & Toronto Argonauts President – Bill Manning

I had a very timely and lively conversation with Bill Manning, who serves double duty as President of Toronto FC and the Toronto Argonauts.We covered a number of topics, ranging from how sports will come out of the COVID-19 situation to the importance of not being afraid to make difficult decisions to Bill’s time working in the MLS and NFL in the United States. We also covered his thinking around leadership lessons from working his way up through the minor leagues and how that can be applied to today’s leaders on the corporate side of the house.

Bill Manning joined MLSE as President of Toronto FC on October 12, 2015 and later also added his responsibilities as President of the Toronto Argonauts when the Canadian Football League franchise was acquired by the company in January, 2018.

Manning joined Toronto FC after spending the previous eight seasons as president of both Real Salt Lake (RSL) and Rio Tinto Stadium. During his time with RSL, Manning transformed the club into a winner, leading the organization to a 2009 MLS Cup championship, as well as a model franchise off the pitch where both season tickets and sponsorships more than tripled. The club also won the Eastern Conference title (2009), Western Conference title (2013) and were MLS Cup runners-up (2013) and CONCACAF Champions League runners-up (2011). Manning was the recipient of the Major League Soccer Doug Hamilton Executive of the Year award in both 2012 and 2014. In addition, he helped establish, open and sold naming rights to Rio Tinto Stadium, home to Real Salt Lake.

Manning brings a wealth of sports management experience to MLSE having previously served in executive positions with the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles, the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets and Real Salt Lake of MLS.

A native of Massapequa, New York, Manning was a nationally-recognized collegiate soccer player at the University of Bridgeport where, as a sophomore, he helped the Purple Knights to a NCAA quarterfinal berth, and as a senior in 1986 he led his team to a final four appearance while earning first-team All-America honors. Manning continued his playing career after college and won a U.S. Open Cup with the Brooklyn Italians in 1991, and played professionally in the United Soccer League (USL) with the Penn-Jersey Spirit (1991), Valley Golden Eagles (1993) and New York Fever (1994-95). Manning also holds a U.S. Soccer National “A” Coaching License.

Manning began his career in sports management with the Continental Indoor Soccer League during its inaugural season in 1993. After his last season with the Fever, he went on to leadership roles in the United Soccer League with the Long Island Rough Riders and then the Minnesota Thunder where he was named USL Executive of the Year in 1999 following their championship season. Manning got his start in MLS in 2000 with the Tampa Bay Mutiny as President and General Manager and was named 2000 MLS Executive of the Year by the Washington Post.

Manning received his Bachelor of Science degree (1987) and Masters in Business Administration (1989) from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut where he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2006.

Manning and his wife, Jennifer, will reside in Toronto with their sons John and Will.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Castbox, or your preferred podcast platform.

Fans will care if they want to care, not because you tell them to care"
– on the nuances of fan engagement
Those companies who re-define themselves right now will be the most successful coming out of this…"
– on self-examination during COVID-19

Minute Marker 2:50

Don’t be afraid to make incorrect decisions
Sometimes no decision is a decision and could be the best decision, regardless of facts in-hand

Learning the ropes in minor league team – selling sponsorships for the team during the day then going to team practice at 3pm to  play for the team

MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s influence on career

At 32 years old landing the job running Minnesota Thunder (now MN United)
Bill George, Medtronic founder and team owner, as a mentor

Tenacity + fear of failure two sides of same coin
Minor league as microcosm for majors
Making payroll
Hanging signs

Fan engagement from his time at Eagles
Argonauts older than Maple Leafs
Working on brand now and re-engage with fans and community
Fans will care if they want to care, not because you tell them to care

On talking with all team presidents and talking league calls daily amidst COVID-19

On making good decisions and (truly) learning from mistakes

Sports is a business where they remember the champions
Winning / losing in finals drives you to be better

Using this moment in time to watch a lot of video about talent and competitors


Chris Bevilacqua, CSTV founder

Don Garber, Commissioner, Major League Soccer

Stan Kasten, CEO, Los Angeles Dodgers

Bill George, founder, Medtronic

Chris Wright, CEO, Minnesota United

Discover Your True North, by Bill George

7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis, by Bill George

Authentic Leadership, Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value, by Bill George

The Carrot Principle: How the Best Managers Use Recognition to Engage Their People, Retain Talent, and Accelerate Performance [Updated & Revised], by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Scott O’Neill, CEO, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States