Blue Jays Media Shakeup & The Downie Sports Connection


I have to apologize for being delayed in posting. On a few things, I was trying to dive deep and ensure I had the right information. Also, not that you care but life has been crazy busy. Two kids playing competitive hockey has me at a rink (which is at least a 45-minute drive) at least four days a week, usually five. Oh, and this thing called work.

Like I said, not that you care…

And so the latest round of [email protected]# storm gets kicked off.

The Toronto sports media scene is at times very hard to figure out. In the one sense, you have those who cover the teams. The actual beat team. They are with the team from training camp all the way through. They make road trips, practices ( like all of them), games etc. Leafs, Jays, Raptors is typically the order of the size of the “pool”. Add in the columnists who fill in around the edges. No, not at every practice, no not on every road trip. They are, however there when it’s “important” to be there.

Back when we started this site all the Toronto teams sucked. The media was all negative. Things have evolved. Those times have passed.

The ownership of the teams has changed too and so too has the coverage.

Unit Shanahan arrived, the Leafs were the punching bag. It was an easy story. Whether Ferguson Jr., Dryden, Pelly, or even Brian Burke there was always a level of combativeness to the media coverage of the Leafs. Maybe cynicism is the more appropriate word. In this world of social media, you never saw those in the media cheering the Leafs.

The Raptors are a curious case. The basketball team in a hockey town. Second fiddle to the Leafs, however, whenever. The difference was, a couple of times they had what could have been a winner. Those who covered the team had a different approach to the team. Maybe cheering isn’t the right word. Even back in the Carter and Bosh days, there was a sense of community, a bond between those who cover the team and their fans. That “enthusiasm” continues through to today. Those who cover the team have a tighter relationship with the fans, they cheer, almost together.

Then, then there is the Blue Jays. The coverage of the Toronto Blue Jays is much harder to describe. For one thing, they actually have won. Not once, but twice they were at the top of the food chain. Champions. Many of the older guard who cover this team were around, or nearby when, in 1977 the franchise was born. They covered the birth, the maturity, growing pains and yes the demise. They’ve also witnessed the most recent resurgence and of course whatever you want to call this past season.

The difference here is that where the Raptors and Leafs are co-owned by the two national media giants, the Blue Jays are wholly owned by only one of them, Rogers. This fact, and it is a fact makes covering the team interesting. For those of us interested in commenting on those who cover our teams this fact is impossible to ignore and is always lingering in the background.

Let me be clear. I am not here to tell you that there is an official edict or ordered bias.

However, the bias is topical whenever there is a story. It is impossible to ignore when there is a negative story.

Again, I am not suggesting anyone in a tower on Bloor street is telling people what to say (despite what any former radio hosts may say) or write.

The appearance of bias is there. It is real. What is important to note, is that it is alive on both sides.

When the news broke that the Blue Jays had made some internal office changes, how it was covered was not nearly as topical as who covered it.

Whether they like it or not, whether they are part of the owner’s media empire or not plays into the audience mind.

Those tweets represent the tweets that I could find from those we the consumer most commonly associate being part of the Blue Jays media who work for the owner. (happy to add more if I missed anyone email or DM me and I will add)

There were numerous tweets from those who cover the Blue Jays who don’t work for the owner:

That’s just a sample, and just from Twitter.

When there is a story with the Blue Jays, especially of this nature there is passion in the media we don’t usually see.

John Lott had a phenomenal take on the Blue Jays (it’s behind a paywall so you will need a subscription to read):

What is clear is that Wednesday’s shakeup is the latest move by Shapiro and Atkins to remake the staff they inherited in their own image. If the holdovers fail to adjust, they’ll be gone.
There is, of course, nothing inherently nefarious about that. It happens all the time in business. Often it happens much faster than it has under Shapiro, who, after two full seasons at the helm, still employs many of the staff from the Paul Beeston-Alex Anthopoulos era.

I think it’s fair to summarize the Lott piece by saying while there is disdain for the how and the why, the actions are understood in the modern era of baseball as a business.

Lott does add this in, however in talking about Mark Shapiro:

“Among the staff he has added, however, hiring Canadians has not been a priority.

Going back to 1977, Canada’s only major-league team has understood the importance of putting Canadians in positions of responsibility and influence – and in lesser jobs too, while supporting them in their efforts to advance.

Many veteran employees believe that seems less important now.

Of course, excellent American talent is always available for baseball jobs. No one disputes that. But something is wrong when excellent Canadian talent is jettisoned for reasons heavily camouflaged in florid bureaucratese.”

While Lott starts down that path, his former colleague Steve Simmons finishes the job (no account necessary as long as you don’t read more than 10 articles a month):

“And now we have these soulless Shapiro Blue Jays, a team that raises ticket prices after a season in which attendance was their best statistic. As Shapiro has conducted the Blue Jays orchestra, he has played wrong note after wrong note, the latest sour stumble being the widespread firing of 20 some employees.

Good people and people good at their jobs were let go. Reasons were not really given. Explanations weren’t provided. It was goodbye and no real thank you from the condescending Shapiro, very cold and very corporate.

These are the new Jays: impersonal, obtuse, uninterested in the team’s history or culture, uninterested in promoting Canadians, and worst of all, losers”

There are, in my mind anyways two relevant questions. Before I get to either, yes, I will acknowledge that all of this is irrelevant should Shaprio win.

The first question is: should fans care (or do they care) whether or not the Blue Jays or any team for that matter employs Canadians?

Does the fabric of a team’s employees matter?

Oversimplified I get it, but yes, we would like a public benefit of having a team to mean that local jobs will be created (ah-hem Calgary). Having said that, I fail to understand why anyone wants the team to hire employees simply because they are local. I want my team to hire the best available people. If the best people are Canadian – AWESOME!. I don’t want the team to hire the best Canadian for the job.

So, it’s easy to claim that the current administration has jettisoned it’s Canadian employees, I think most fans would agree that while sad for those who lost their jobs, the expectations is that management will hire the best people for the jobs irrespective of birthplace.

This brings us to the second important question. Why the [email protected]#@!#@ did the Blue Jays make these moves?

No one would talk on the record but here is what I have learned in talking to many in the business.

When the Blue Jays moved under the Rogers umbrella there was a preference for the entire Jays front office to be located on Bloor Street. Over the years this has been resisted as the Jays maintained varying degrees of autonomy.

It is also widely known that the Blue Jays under Paul Beeston as a business organization were, as one source put it “a complete dinosaur”. Beeston apparently ran the team exactly as he did back in the “glory days”. Yes, yes, yes they won back then I get it. However much has changed in how companies are run and I am led to believe a large part of the regime change was to try to modernize much of the ways the Blue Jays operate.

I am told that while the previous CEO was not a big baseball fan, the one thing he did appreciate was that the Jays gave Rogers the one thing the rest of the business, the critical part, could not, positive PR. Guy got that no one ever applauds and cheers their cellphone or cable provider. Millions cheered on the Blue Jays and that was positive for Rogers as the owner of the team.

It sounds like the disaster that surrounded the exit of Beeston and AA left a massive wound at Rogers. The story had been managed or mismanaged by the Jays as it has been told by various peeps. Many at Bloor were left to try to smooth things over and the pressure was reapplied to bring media and PR up north from the dome to the tower.

Sebastian Gatica, the Jays’ vice-president of fan engagement is a Rogers guy. He cut his teeth at Hometown hockey. Starting with Rogers in 2011 as a marketing manager and moving to senior manager of NHL properties he now is the top dog with the Blue Jays in terms of media and pr after less than one season with the team.

Gatica is a Rogers guy. He is tight with the Rogers PR and Communications team and was planted into the dome culture to ensure, amongst other things tight communications with the mother ship. Shapiro has taken a liking to him and the purge was made. After years of resistance from those running the dome, this part of the club is now fully run by corporate. That’s the most common thread I’ve got in talking to lots of people

Is this a good thing? Is it a bad thing? Why should you care?

I can’t tell you whether it’s good or bad. It’ definitely different. Many have alluded to the fact that those on Bloor were bothered that the one part of the business they didn’t control yet had to damage control on was the baseball team. They now control that too.

I don’t think this is an anti-Canadian move by Shapiro. While I believe he’s fumbled his reign almost as badly as Tim Lieweke did his own, I don’t think anything he’s done has been with an eye to dumping Canucks. This move appears to be one of survival. It sounds like he likes Gatica. Gatica is the owner’s guy and the move was made.

It has made for a strange couple of weeks, to say the least. Tongues are wagging over something that the common fan generally doesn’t care about. Following one of the worst seasons ever, the fans and media want a head on a stick and this story is an easy target. Even more so given the ownership of the team.

On to something else…

When I got married, the bandleader who performed at my wedding in Detroit asked my bride and I what song we wanted to enter the party to. “Hockey Night in Canada” I answered, without batting an eye.

After that melody, I am certain that there is no other song that I tie so closely to the fabric of who I am than the Tragically Hip’s Fifty Mission Cap. No, it’s not my favorite Hip song. No, I don’t think it’s their best song (but that’s so subjective) but from the opening stanza of music to the lyrics it defines, to me the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I cannot wax poetic about all things the Hip meant to me. While I have met my share of famous people I never met Gord Downie. If you know me you know I’ve worked in the music business, you know I love few things more than listening to music and going to concerts. I never saw the Hip play live.

I am certain we will never in Canada see the outpouring of love and appreciation that we witnessed this week for Gord Downie from the sports community for any other musician again. Seriously, every team, every outlet had at least a few people who were deeply touched and moved by Downie. From coast to coast, north to south the feeling of sadness and hurt was unified. Mckenzie, Duthie, Blair, Brunt to name just a few. Make sure you listen to Blair and Brunt from the morning of. They won’t ever do a better show.

If you haven’t seen this by @strombo you are missing out

I dont remember all that well when Elvis passed or when Lennon was shot. I am not dumb enough to compare them to Downie. I think that the sadness amongst Canadians was remarkable. It was admirable. It made me proud to be Canadian.

On another note, the Dart guy has been newsworthy once again. Many have asked for my opinion on him and his new radio show. Here you go. I don’t know the guy at all so I don’t have any opinion on him. I found his “unapology” in the opening bit of his show to be unnecessary. He has the gig, it is not an elephant in the room, as was stated, no one cares why he is on the air. All people want is to be either educated or entertaining. My take on the show? Remember Norm Rumack who used to be on late nights on the fan? That’s what this show is. That’s not a bad thing. It’s not my thing, but it’s not bad. it’s rah rah, the Leafs are the greatest and I allege to be their biggest fan. All that’s missing is the sirens Norm use to blast- the hammerhead alert. To me, it’s perfect for Saturday afternoons. You are in your car you want to hear sports talk it fills that void. Why him? Again, we are reminded that the talent pool is shallow. Perhaps more importantly, low cost. If I were in Toronto and driving around I’d have it on. Will I listen to a podcast again? No.

Lastly, is it just me or are getting a little carried away with all the Matthews coverage. Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge fan. Do we really need 5 articles a day on the guy? Talk about clickbait. Yes, the appetite for Leafs coverage is massive. Yes, it’s amazing that we finally have a player worth talking about. No, we don’t need that much coverage.

Working on lots of new initiatives here at the head office. Coming soon, a podcast with one of the best in the business who we’ve never talked to before!

As always, love the feedback reach me on twitter or via email.


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