New Rogers CEO Guy Laurence, Formerly of Vodafone
As if panicky Jays fans– among whom I guess I’d have to consider myself after yesterday’s fretting over the price of Jeff Samardzija– didn’t already have enough reason for consternation, over the weekend we had some supreme silliness in the form of a “rumour” of some kind of financial doomsday for the Blue Jays, related to the stepping down of Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed. Or, more specifically, related to his successor, former Vodafone exec, and notorious budget-slasher, Guy Laurence.
It all seems pretty quaint right now, given today’s news about Rogers’ acquisition of the national rights to all NHL games for the next twelve years. Obviously the company understands the tremendous value of premium sports content in today’s TV and digital media landscape. In fact, that’s precisely what Mohamed– who is indeed still around– said in the press release announcing the NHL deal, explaining that “sports content is a key strategic asset and we’ve been investing significantly to strengthen our sports offering to Canadians.”
Of course, that likely won’t stop Jays fans from getting nervous– just like they did a year ago, when Rogers splashed a lot of cash on their joint purchase, with Bell Canada, of MLSE (and how did that turn out?)– especially in the wake of the weekend’s rumour, which, unfortunately, has already been given far more attention than it deserves.
It began in the curious little corner of the web called Toronto Sports Media, which I’d like to suggest is plenty right there to know not to take it seriously, except that there have been instances where the writer there actually did seem to have something resembling inside information from within the city’s sports media towers– enough that I can’t dismiss what he says entirely out of hand.
That said, uh… I don’t think anybody’s record means a hell of a lot when we’re talking about a “scoop” like this:
The same good folks who tipped me off to the trimmings at Rogers media a few weeks back are telling me that the new CEO of Rogers could be asking for a cut in the Toronto Blue Jays budget as well.
How much, when or even if I can’t say for sure, but I trust those who are telling me enough to pass along to you.
It seems that bottom line is going to be much more important at Rogers and this is one area where things will be watched closely.
I mean, forget the fact that Nadir Mohamed’s retirement doesn’t even begin until December. Forget that the incoming CEO has an entire goddamn empire to think about. Forget that he enters the business at a time when the government is pushing to entice a fourth wireless carrier into the marketplace. Forget that he has to familiarize himself with the company and the Canadian market and our regulatory system. Forget that we’re supposed to believe he’s swiftly gone over the head of Keith Pelley, the president of the Rogers Media division that the Jays operate under, to supposedly demand such cuts. Forget that, according to their corporate website, in 2012 “sports entertainment” represented just a 13% piece of the $1.62-billion revenue pie generated by Rogers Media, which itself was a small part of the company, dwarfed by fellow divisions Rogers Cable ($3.7-billion in fiscal year 2012 revenue) and Rogers Wireless ($7.3-billion). Forget that he, then, probably hasn’t even looked at the Jays budget yet. And forget that, for all intents and purposes, the club’s 2014 budget is basically set already, and that Pelley told the Globe and Mail in September that the change in leadership should have no effect on the Jays’ offseason course.
Forget all of that, and just look at how hopelessly vague and open-ended this all is.
He could ask for a cut of some indeterminate amount at some as-yet-unspecified time, because now Rogers really cares about the bottom line, as opposed to how they were just pissing away money before???
Ewan Ross of Blue Jays Plus does an excellent job of doing some rough math on the expected revenue stream increases the Jays have seen in the last year, which underpins why such talk simply doesn’t make any sense, but I don’t even think that’s necessary! All the worry seems to be centred on utter vagueness and the scawwwwwwy fact that the new CEO has a reputation for cost slashing and is from the UK– where they totally don’t understand anything about the emotional connection fans have with sports teams or its power as an economic engine???– and presumably doesn’t know or care much about baseball. Y’know, unlike his fucking noted baseball fan predecessors Mohamed and Ted Rogers Jr.
Recent layoffs in editorial at Rogers Media are disheartening, but to connect the two, as frightened fans often try to do, is plainly asinine– a point driven home by today’s announcement. The Jays are maybe not the same kind of pillar as the entirety of the NHL schedule, which Rogers now owns, but they’re a huge piece of content, especially for a full third of the year, from May through September.
Yes, during Spring Training and the first month-and-a-half of the MLB schedule the calendar for Rogers-owned channels is going to be crowded, as this mock up tweeted by Sportsnet this morning shows, and has led to some wondering about how the games will be accommodated– A separate JaysTV channel? Launching of a CanCon version of the MLB Network? Moving some games to CBC or another network?
This end of the deal could complicate things for viewers, and potentially increase the cost it’s going to take for some to get the full slate of Jays games for certain cable subscribers, and that’s something we’re going to need to keep our eyes on. But whatever the case, the Jays aren’t going anywhere. And, I strongly suspect, neither is their payroll.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to see why.
I mean, how likely do we really think it is that a company investing so heavily in sports media is going to hire a new CEO that not only doesn’t share that vision, but is going to swiftly dismantle key pillars of what has already been built? How much investment in the club, the stadium, and other sports properties– including this week’s rumblings of NFL interest that has MLSE fingerprints all over it– does Rogers have to make before we stop getting terrified at every turn that the Jays’ budget is about to disappear? Sure, they’ve probably earned our distrust through years of small market thinking, but regardless of who is in charge, this is very, very clearly a new era.
Slashed payroll? I’ll believe it when I see it.
Image via Think Quarterly.