Rogers: Blue Jays are for sale

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail

 

Who Should Own the Jays Next?

 

Bloomberg News is reporting that Rogers’ CFO announced the company would like to get out of the team owning business.

 

The Toronto-based telecommunications giant wants to get more value for the assets, though no deal is imminent […] Rogers still wants rights to sports programming but doesn’t have to own a team to have that, he said, pointing to the company’s 12-year deal with the National Hockey League.

 

This raises the very interesting question of who would be in the market to buy the team. Consider that the Jays have publicly stated the Dome needs $200M in repairs and upgrades soon. Add to that the fact that the building is a team-owned asset, but the land underneath it is not. The city of Toronto is looking to redevelop the area around the Dome, and the land underneath the stadium may soon be worth more for a different use as a result. Finally, there is the complicated relationship between the hotel attached to the stadium and the stadium itself. This makes buying the team a tricky proposition for any interested parties.

 

In terms of business synergies, it is hard to think that anyone could do better than Rogers did in using every aspect of the game to promote their cell phones, television channels, and other businesses. If they have decided that it makes more sense to cash out this tells you something about who the next owner won’t be. If we agree that the next owner won’t be a media-telcorp, there will be some advantages for that entity. A new owner would be able to extract full value for the TV and radio rights to Jays games, including striking different deals for regional and national coverage, getting TSN, SN, Corus, and the CBC in on the bidding.

 

The most interesting media angle is that it would once again be a free market in terms of access. Sportsnet currently enjoys a privileged status with the team and its players. It has become customary for big stories about signings or other planned moves to come via Shi Davidi first. This isn’t a dig at Davidi, whose work is beyond reproach. It just means that since the team and the network are owned by the same people it is very easy to coordinate how and when stories will be handled, at least initially.

 

Severing the corporate tie between Sportsnet and the Jays would still leave many interconnections. Some teams directly employ their radio or TV broadcasters for example. But it would mean that the real journalists covering or commenting on the team — Blair, Brunt, Nicholson-Smith, etc. — would instantly be clear of the conflict-of-interest of being paid by the same entity as the subjects they cover.

 

A second outcome is that TSN would once again be fully invested in covering the Jays. I can’t tell you how many times over the last few years I have received messages from people at SN of the form “Bell can’t stand how well the Jays are doing!” or “Celebration time at TSN” when the Jays fell out of the playoff race. I have asked TSN folks if this is true, and received mixed responses. Some acknowledge this reality about ratings, while others say these things don’t affect their day to day jobs and they are free to discuss whatever they want. Whatever the case, it seems obvious to me that TSN has not made Jays coverage a priority. Once clear of the fear of promoting a competitor’s product, the audience might benefit by getting more balanced coverage from both networks.

 

On the publishing side, this shouldn’t change very much. While most hockey and basketball writers have some relationship with either SN or TSN, the Jays writers are less branded. Griffin has been exclusively a TSN guest for the last several years, but Buffery, Longley, Cathal Kelly, Robert McLeod, Scott Stinson, Rosie DiManno, and others who write about the Jays on a semi-regular basis are not. Most of these people don’t do much radio or TV at all, perhaps for the simple reason that Sportsnet promotes its own people and TSN spends limited airtime on the Jays.

 

It’s really interesting to think how a Jays sale might change the dynamic of the marketplace. I’ll let others speculate about who might be interested in owning the Jays and whether Marcus Stroman was consulted before this announcement went public.

 

Stroman v Blair/World

 

Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair has a commentary on Marcus Stroman’s tendency to take to Twitter to air his feelings on things relating to the Jays and the coverage he receives from the media. Over the past couple of years he has taken public shots at a number of people, often without naming them, in response to real or perceived criticism. Stroman has also black-balled certain reporters in the clubhouse and slagged them to teammates. The known targets have been Gregg Zaun (for criticizing Marcus’ on-field showmanship during his Sportsnet show), Buck Martinez (for criticism that was caught on a hot Sportsnet mic), Steve Buffery, Cathal Kelly, and Richard Griffin (misc crimes).

 

Blair’s recent post includes the following:

 

“Stroman is verging on becoming a cartoon character. The chip on his shoulder is tiresome, and needs to go away for the benefit of all. As far as I can tell, nobody writes or says any more that he’s too small to succeed.”

 

This is in response to a number of recent tweets but was prompted by this one in particular:

 

 

As Blair notes, the idea that a team would owe advanced warning to players of roster moves is not in touch with business practices anywhere in the league. Marcus went on to retweet and like various comments from people insulting Blair and supporting the diminutive star pitcher and his various hashtags. Blair summarizes his stance with this:

 

“Look: I have no problem with Stroman taking to social media to rip media members, whether they work at Sportsnet or elsewhere, and I sure as hell don’t care whether or not he likes me. As long as he is a good teammate who delivers on and off the field and treats fans with respect, well, I’m cool with everything else. I’d prefer he not show up opposing players, but that’s not a deal-breaker as far as I’m concerned.”

 

What is clear is that Stroman is very conscious of what is said about him by the local media. It’s hard to think of a recent example of an athlete who was so public and immediate in his need to reply to criticism. Many in the media have told me that it’s a core tenet of their industry that if a subject has a problem with something you write or say, the professional response is for them to address it personally. As one person explained, “lots of players would give you the cold shoulder for a while after a critical column, but eventually they would get it off their chest with you. This would reset things and normal life would then resume.”

 

Stroman’s approach represents a new reality in sports media: stars can just speak to their fans directly, rather than deal with the media. We have seen — both with athletes and media — that some prefer to get into spats on Twitter rather than take the time to write an email or make a phone call and attempt to find common ground. or tell one’s side of the story. This issue is related to a very interesting column by Elliotte Friedman about how some athletes are affected by media criticism.

 

With all the changes to the Jays’ media relations department, the above news that the team is for sale, the firing of Gregg Zaun, the uncertainty about what role Dan Shulman will play with the network, and rumours of Jerry Howarth’s retirement, it will be interesting to watch how this story evolves over the course of the off-season and into next year. One has to assume that the Jays do not enjoy Stroman’s public fights with media or his discussion of the roster and have spoken to him about it.

 

Recommendations

 

  • TSN and CTV teamed up for a story about ex-CFL player Orlando Bowen and his abuse at the hands of the Peel Police. It marks a return to the kind of investigative work Rick Westhead did when he joined TSN a few years ago.

 

 


 

thanks for reading,

mike

photo credit: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star
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