Archive for the ‘Rogers Communications’ Category

jetercheque

Don’t worry, don’t worry. I have no intention of writing too much here about last night’s big story — Derek Jeter’s storybook walk-off single to win his final game at Yankee Stadium, and the subsequent Twittergasm from a baseball universe replete with a particularly virulent strain of Stockholm Syndrome. It was a cool way for a great career to end, and hard as it is to resist my better instincts (almost), nobody who got a warm fuzzy from it needs me wagging my finger about the absurdities of how we got to that point.

Instead, I’d like to write about a pair of articles that take the long view on Jays’ troubles, one of which, at least in one way, completely misses the mark, and another that speaks a little to those absurdities, but is mostly just bizarre for its existence.

We’ll start with the second one first, and take a look at Michael Grange’s latest from Sportsnet, where he attempts to answer the question, “Why can’t the Blue Jays have a Derek Jeter of their own?”

My answer — and, essentially, Grange’s? In short, they just can’t. Jeter is Jeter because of New York.

On one hand there is the media spotlight, which undeniably shines bigger and brighter there, especially where the city’s marquee franchises are concerned. His outsized myth has surely been perpetuated by of it — and because of his tremendously savvy negotiating of those tricky waters. But on the other there’s the fact that he landed with a franchise that’s not only deep into the myth-making business, but one that’s capable of keeping any player it wants for as long as it wants. A franchise that’s capable of surrounding him with great teammates, year in, year out.

Capable and willing.

People talk about Jeter’s championships and his having played every season on a team with a winning record a little too much as though those things were a function of him and not of the massive advantages of resources possessed by the organization that he happened to play for. He was undoubtedly a greatly contributing factor, but to become what he has become required the good fortune of landing where he did.

In New York, Carlos Delgado doesn’t stand head and shoulders for years above sub-par teammates on bad teams, only to find himself lowballed out the door by a front office tasked with cutting costs for a billionaire telecom giant owner cynically operating the club to squeeze out dollars and cheap content and equity to its shareholders’ greatest benefit.

In New York, Roy Halladay doesn’t grow tired of losing year after year as the fairly-paid face of a perpetually bereft franchise, forcing the hand — by making clear his intention not to extend his contract — of a front office living constantly on the margins and dying for an influx of minor league talent to a system bankrupted by years of trying in vain to succeed on the cheap long after their secrets had left the barn.

We’re still paying for the short-sighted choices that led to those mistakes, and we’re still seeing a franchise operated — albeit with different methods — in a grotesquely cynical way. We need only look to this season’s payroll quandary to see how unresponsive, tone deaf, and counterproductive ownership’s slavish pursuit of the quickest route to the best-looking short-term bottom line is, and to know how little has changed from the days of Rogers’ deepest “we make as much with a $70-million payroll as we would $120-million, so why risk investing?” cost-cutting.

The amazing thing is, Grange sees this and he says it. Though maybe not in so many words.

Twitterer Emily Dawn sums it up best“Why the Blue Jays can’t have anything good,” by The Company That Owns The Blue Jays and Won’t Give Them Any Money to Pay Good Players.

Pretty much. And while some will surely be quick to point to the fact that the Jays’ payroll is among the top ten in baseball (albeit not among the top two in their own division), that alone really isn’t enough to give them a pass on sitting on their hands this season with a team that was so close.

That isn’t, however, to give Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston a free pass, either. By the end, J.P. Ricciardi would have eaten his own babies (while at his home in Boston, of course) to have a top ten payroll, and here Anthopoulos has it and we get this??!?

It’s understandable that in the abstract some fans can look past ownership and point the finger at management, but the thing is, having a payroll that high for a brief one- or two-year bump isn’t really the same as being a high payroll team. The margins for error are much thinner.

Ricciardi was undone in many ways by the failures of his big ticket players, as Anthopoulos may inevitably be as well. That’s because the way Rogers does it leaves its GMs no room to paper over their inevitable missteps. Ask Derek Jeter how many horrifically bad contracts have been on his team’s books during the years he’s been there — how many mistakes that would be far more egregious than anything Ricciardi and Anthopoulos have done put together, were it not for the fact that in New York poorly allocated money isn’t reason for ownership to fold their arms and pout while secretly hoping for a new excuse to drastically scale back payroll. It’s reason to fix it by whatever means necessary.

That’s not the reality of our situation here — and that leads us precisely into the second article I wanted to look at, which comes from Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun.

Predictably, he’s much more overt than Grange in hammering away at the corporate facade. But in my view he goes too far.

“It’s been pretty convenient during all these years of missed playoff action for the Jays’ fan base to lay the blame on the organization’s failures on the feet of the manager and GM,” he writes. “And you have to figure that Rogers loves the fact that when things go south with their ball team, everyone automatically blames John Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos. Nobody at Rogers is ever held accountable. And frankly, who do you even blame at Rogers? When it comes to the Jays, it’s a faceless entity. Who speaks for Rogers when it comes to the Jays? I guess it’s Paul Beeston, who keeps telling us that Rogers will kick in whatever money’s needed when the time is right.”

Interesting points, undoubtedly. Important ones. But ones that too badly miss some of the complexities of being a Blue Jays fan in a way that’s easier to make plain by looking at another, earlier paragraph, where he’s really got things hopelessly wrong.

Rogers continues to play the game that Toronto is some sort of small or medium market and therefore can’t spend the money that the Yanks and Red Sox — two teams that are constantly in the post-season — always do. And the amazing thing about that big con job is, Rogers has actually succeeded in brainwashing a large portion of the Jays fan base, who believe it’s important for this multi-billion dollar corporation to watch their nickels and dimes. If this was New York or Boston, fans would be howling if those teams didn’t go for at least one of Lester, Scherzer or Shields … and in a serious way, not just paying lip-service.

Fans aren’t “brainwashed” into believing “it’s important for this multi-billion dollar corporation to watch their nickels and dimes.” Fans understand that Rogers is going to act small market whether we like it or not, and as such, the team needs to be mindful of dollars. That’s the prism through which the moves are assessed by the armchair GMs out here — we all know that it’s ridiculous they operate this way, but a great many sports fans are smarter and more curious in 2014 than to limit the thought they put into how the teams they love operate to HURR DURR THEY SHOULDA SPEND MORE. That just scratches the surface of the problem, and repeatedly bleating that futile whine gets old real quick — except maybe for Toronto Sun readers.

And in what way would us fans be serious about our howling, and not just paying lip service? Would it be by not showing up? Not buying tickets at all? Not watching? Because plenty of fans and would-be interested parties do exactly that, and Rogers doesn’t really care — not as long as the equation balances when it comes to what they put in and what they get out of the club. Every once in a while they give payroll a bump, whip up some excitement, sign some advertising contracts, and then wait for equilibrium, letting yearly payrolls rise and fall as a function of how much they feel needs to be given in order to maintain it.

Yes, fans signed off on A.A.’s asset-accumulation phase, and many of us understood and defended the club’s refusals to get involved in the markets for big ticket free agents. But it was never about the idea that Rogers would be sunk by too many rich baseball players — which is, of course, preposterous — but that the Blue Jays would be sunk when ownership decided to turn off the financial taps (as essentially was the case in 2014). And that was understood because we’d seen them do it before, and because so many of us know from our dealings with Rogers as a cable company, a phone company, and an internet service provider that, when it comes right down to it, they do not give a fuck what we think.

That’s why we can’t have nice things.

pelley

Keith Pelley

Fascinating stuff in a piece on Tuesday from Simon Houpt of the Globe and Mail, as he follows ongoing CRTC license renewal hearings:

The traditional economics of broadcasting are disappearing, and only TV channels with multiple sources of revenue – from both advertising and subscriber fees – will be able to make money on sports in the future, according to Keith Pelley, president of Rogers Media.

The costs of sports rights “have escalated at a gargantuan rate,” Mr. Pelley told the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which is weighing the renewals of 17 Rogers-owned TV services, including City network and Sportsnet. In the United States, rights costs “have doubled over the last 10 years. And it’s also happened in Canada.”

Mr. Pelley added that the conventional TV business is collapsing, amid a flood of programming and an exploding array of advertising choices for marketers, and that Canadian broadcasters’ reliance on U.S. programming is an unsustainable long-term strategy. “That’s why I feel so good we’ve acquired hockey. It allows us to reduce our reliance on U.S. programming, because I don’t believe, over the air, that’s where we’re going to make our money long-term,” he said.

The hockey broadcasts will allow City to cut its expenditure on U.S. programming by about 20 per cent, he added.

So, on one hand we’re being told that Rogers Media — the division that also controls the Blue Jays — needs to stem losses from an outdated traditional broadcast network with a too-small reach and, which Pelley later concedes, began trying to expand into a true coast-to-coast network “five to seven years too late.” (And, in that gloomy scenario for the division, it would almost make sense that everyone is being asked to tighten their belt.)

On the other hand, though, without saying so, Pelley is explaining to us just how astronomically valuable their no-bid Jays rights are. The value of those rights to the holders has doubled over ten years, he claims, yet when adjusted for inflation, the Jays were running bigger payrolls — thanks to commitments made at the end of the InBev era — in 2001 and 2002, than they were for all but one (2008) of the next ten seasons.

Much of the reason that the Jays even exceed that level again in 2013 was the fact that new revenue was on the horizon, with MLB’s new national TV deals about to begin pumping an additional $26-million into every team’s cash flow. Take that gift of $26-million away and the 2013 Jays still weren’t running as high an inflation-adjusted payroll as they were in 2002. (According to the Bank of Canada, the Jays 2002 payroll of $76,864,333 was worth $97.34-million in 2013 dollars. That year the club ran a big league payroll of $119.28-million. All figures per Cot’s.)

And yet the value of the TV rights — not subject in this two conglomerate town to actual forces of the market, as they’re kept entirely in house with Rogers — was in the process of doubling. Meanwhile the value of the franchise as a whole — which was purchased by Rogers for $120-million in 2000 — jumped to $950-million, according to a report last fall from Bloomberg.

That same report ranked the Jays as making the 22nd-most money off of TV rights out of the 30 MLB teams, despite the fact that the data from TV Basics ranks Toronto as the fourth-biggest market in the United States and Canada, and that the club’s games are televised nationally, pulling viewers from all over the country — who they gleefully market themselves to as “Canada’s team.”

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rogerscentre

In a twist that makes me think again about the possibility of the front office using the media as an instrument to exert pressure on Robbers Communications, Alex Anthopoulos was on Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590 on Friday, preceding his club’s home opener against the New York Yankees, and like Paul Beeston earlier in the day he confirmed the payment deferral scheme first reported by Ken Rosenthal last Thursday at Fox Sports, and — most intriguingly — was coy when it came to the question of who initiated it.

In response to Stephen Brunt broaching subject, the GM explained:

“How the money would have been allocated — how that would have been done — regardless, if something like that was to happen or not, that wouldn’t have been hidden. So, if anybody restructures their contract or defers money — like you talk about, Stephen — the union would have to sign off on that. That’s made available to everybody, no one would have been hiding anything at all. And there’s things we may choose to do, from a payroll standpoint, from a contractual structure standpoint, that might make more sense for us. But irrespective of the fact, we had the ability to sign him, this is where he told us he wanted to be, and we were prepared to go forward with it.

What the fallout from that is, or this story, I know where a lot of people want to go with it, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we have the dollars to sign the player. Again, how that money was going to be allocated, how it was going to be done, those are things I would keep to myself.

What gets me here, and should get every Jays fan, is the fact that the door was wide open for Anthopoulos to say that this was solely a player-initiated thing, that it wasn’t necessary, that ownership is great, that the dollars were there, and that everything is peachy between the Jays and the corporate monolith that controls their cash flow and owns the network that clutches the no-bid contract for their TV rights that is astonishingly valuable in this era of live event programming being the only thing of any worth in TV, and other clubs auctioning off their own rights for multiple billions — much like the NHL rights deal Rogers itself recently signed. Yet he unequivocally doesn’t.

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tedstatue2

In a move that ought to be unfathomable — but, of course, is entirely fathomable because of the company we’re ultimately talking about here — in Ken Rosenthal’s latest for Fox Sports, he tells us that last month Blue Jays players offered to restructure their contracts in order to help the team free up the payroll necessary to get Ervin Santana’s name on a deal, and his arm into the club’s rotation.

It was as if the Toronto Blue Jays passed around a hat, trying to collect enough money to sign free-agent right-hander Ervin Santana.

Several Jays players discussed deferring portions of their salaries to clear payroll for Santana last month, according to major league sources.

Apparently the talks didn’t get past the conversation stage — Rosenthal spoke to an agent who explained that even if they did, they wouldn’t likely have been able to get the scheme past the union — but that’s not really the point, nor is that whole bit even the damn kicker here. We’re also told that “it is not clear whether the impetus for the talks about deferring money came from the players or from the Jays’ front office. The players, however, likely would not have engaged in such discussions unless they believed the team was unable or unwilling to pay Santana $14 million.”

Um… what?

There’s a chance that management may have come to the players with this?

There… really can’t be, though, right? Not really.

I mean, sure, there’s a chance of anything, but this is just Rosenthal covering his bases and making as clear as possible what the information he has is, even though it almost certainly must have been a suggestion coming from players desperate to see the team sign their friend, make good on their commitment to actually try to be a competitive baseball team, and add to a rotation in desperate need. Right???

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boras

It’s hardly anything we haven’t heard before, and wholly self-serving coming from an agent — especially one with clients (Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales) still adrift in free agency and weighed down by anchor-shaped draft picks — but Scott Boras made some interesting comments last night to Ken Rosenthal for a piece at Fox Sports, skewering Rogers like he was a fan… or… I dunno… had some kind of financial stake of his own in their spending…

“There is no one who has the asset base of Rogers,” Boras told FOX Sports on Sunday, referring to Rogers Communications, the Jays’ parent company.

“It’s a premium city. It’s a premium owner with equity. And it’s a very, very good team that with additional premium talent could become a contending team.”

Boras added, “They’re a car with a huge engine that is impeded by a big corporate stop sign . . . a successful and committed ownership that needs to give their baseball people financial flexibility.”

Part of me really wants to believe that this is simply another salvo in an ongoing war between Boras and Paul Beeston, which has been going on since as far back as the Bill Caudill fiasco, and the agent is just trying to make life difficult for his adversary. However, I think Jeff Blair is probably hitting closer to the truth when he tweets, “If I told my client to turn down a $14 million qualifying offer like Boras did, I’d be looking for someone to blame, too.”

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ujlooks

There is zero excuse for the Blue Jays to not sign a free agent pitcher this winter. None. Not when their position is so advantageous when it comes to the guys with draft pick compensation. Not when cheap jack Baltimore feels a contract is worth giving up the 17th overall pick — and associated pool money — for, but the Jays won’t give up pick 49.

None.

I don’t even necessarily love the contract the Orioles will give to Ubaldo Jimenez — assuming he passes his physical — or the idea of locking him up for four years. I also don’t think it’s nearly as far fetched as many fans do that Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Todd Redmond, Kyle Drabek, and whoever else may end up filling out the rotation can be very good for this club. There is a tendency to forget just how very pedestrian relied-upon AL East pitchers like Felix Doubront, Ryan Dempster, Jason Hammel, Scott Feldman, Phil Hughes, David Phelps, Jeremy Hellickson, and Roberto Hernandez have been while in the rotations of very successful teams. All of them — save Feldman (15), Norris (9), and Phelps (12) — made at least 23 AL starts last year. And all of them failed to generate one full -win of value, according to Baseball Reference.

But we all understand that a club has a better chance to make it through the grind of a season with more, better options in the rotation. We all know how vital it is for a team to accumulate quality assets, even in areas of depth, and the possibilities that opens up.

The Jays could still “line up on value” — as Alex Anthopoulos is fond of saying — with Ervin Santana, but he is now their final hope to turn the 49th pick in next year’s draft into a tremendous win-now market advantage, and teams like the Mariners are reportedly lurking. To piss the opportunity away and expect us to open wide and swallow shovel-fulls of P.R. tripe is an affront to a fan base so beaten down by years of mediocrity that the only bar they ask their club to hurdle is that they at least just fucking try.

It would be premature, and I’d be too taken by inchoate rage right now if I wagged my finger about the club coming to regret yet another hammer blow to consumer confidence, or tried to conjure a grim financial future for the club coming out of this possibility. The fans aren’t going to disappear, the TV numbers will be strong until the club fades, and if they manage to be competitive, all will be forgotten. Not much will change for the failure to land one of these truly unsexy pitching names, but that almost would make it worse. I mean, isn’t it preferable to be lovable losers who at least try than to be losers who can just kind of go fuck themselves? Soulless, corporatist, bottom-line worshipping scum of the earth, searching with no dignity for value in the narrowest possible terms?

The world is full of that kind of stuff at every turn, of course, and to keep our sanity we all try our best to work out livable compromises with the behemoth, but when it repeatedly punches our guts in one of the few places we fans turn to for escape, it’s hard not to get awfully bitter about the experience. You’re playing in the fourth largest city in North America, in an un-capped league, in a sport where TV rights deals are worth many multiple billions, and this is really all you can give us? Indifference to your product or any connection with our psyches beyond piddly, bush league marketing and game ops, and the patronizing admonishment that we should be happy you at least tried last year?

That’s a lot to put on the failure to sign one of two pitchers who each could quite reasonably be fairly crappy, but to me that’s what it would signal, and some days I have less confidence than others in any of the inept, manipulative handlers of this organization to identify, let alone care enough to reverse the rot.

Granted, for all our eye rolling about value for value’s sake, the Anthopouloses of the world are right that it’s dangerous to let such big picture considerations matter so much when it comes to roster construction, but they do matter.

Again, though, it’s too soon to say any of this. The signing of Ervin Santana could still come along and erase this potential narrative. There’s no reason to think it couldn’t — worries about payroll parameters or the Canadian dollar remain reasonable yet entirely unfounded at this stage — but if it doesn’t, I can’t help but think that the club will again show to have been blind to its own failures of messaging. Whatever downsides would come with blaming stingy ownership or a sinking dollar seem trivial, to me, compared to the disgust, disappointment, and, worse, the apathy that will come from the insistence that they needn’t do anything, and that they trust their young arms so much more than Baltimore does their own, much better prospect, Kevin Gausman.

That sort of moment, should we run headlong into it in the next week, will fade into memory like they all do, I know. Surely the club will weather it like they always do. But for fuck sakes, here we are again, like November 2012 never happened. And how many of these moments — even just these potential moments — must we endure? It’s not a whole lot of fun leaving so much emotional investment to the mercy and whims of humourless corporate shitheels, even when there’s still a chance they might do right by it. Anthopoulos, for all his good intentions, sometimes seems as powerless as we are, and with payroll supposedly so inextricably linked with the revenue the club can generate, I fear that maybe this time the diminishing returns on selling false hope will genuinely start to be felt if this is the path they choose to take.

I mean… who needs this?

morrisses

It was just over a week ago that we were hearing, from Jerry Howarth, via Jays Journal, that Jack Morris would be back with him in the Jays’ broadcast booth this season.

At the time, here’s what I wrote:

Apparently the favourite of revisionist historians everywhere was only considering leaving — as reports earlier in the off-season had suggested — if he’d been elected to the Hall Of Fame. Since he wasn’t — which, OK, OK, would have been fine too (who cares!) — he’s going to return. And you know what? I was not keen on the hire when it was first announced, based mostly on a few clips I’d listened too, some poor reviews from Twins fans, and reports that were quick to highlight the negative. But I found him a whole lot more enjoyable to listen to than I gave him credit for. Old school, yes. A little to quick to point to dispelled notions that only aid his legacy, sure. But pretty alright, on the whole.

I probably could have been even stronger in my praise, really. But so much for that, as earlier today Eric Fisher of SportsBusiness Journal tweeted that Morris was returning to Minnesota, and now the Twins have sent out a press release confirming exactly that.

Morris is a native of St. Paul and had worked on Twins broadcasts for several years, so it’s pretty much impossible to begrudge him for going back. It sure doesn’t do a whole lot to change the growing narrative about Rogers bizarrely getting tight with money on what should be a crown jewel property for them, though, does it? I mean, the broadcast and the club are obviously independent things, but if they’re not fighting harder to keep guys like Morris and Dirk Hayhurst when the States come a-calling, you can’t help but wonder what that says about the resources available to other baseball-related areas, like… uh… the team itself — especially in light of the fact that the club has done nothing this winter.

Granted, we don’t know what happened here and what the plans, if any, are for a replacement in the booth, or someone to take Wilner’s duties if he slides over into Morris’s chair. I should probably also grant that if the Jays were under some kind of asinine new budget crunch, I’m not sure that doing nothing would be indicative of that — surely there are ways that they could have moved some money around to free up cash to improve the club with, if that was the case — and, of course, the off-season isn’t over yet, and we’ve suspected all along that it would play out exactly as we’re seeing, at least with respect to starting pitching. And this is still better, I think, than seeing them trade away more of their top young assets.

So the time for pitchforks and torches this is not. Yet.

But hoo boy, it’s going to be a real fun year for screeds if the corporate sphincter has tightened up on this club so quickly and preposterously after seeing what kind of dent the Jays can make in this market when ownership doesn’t resign fans to swallowing the same false hope that has been peddled for, literally, two decades. Hoo fucking boy.