Archive for the ‘Rogers Communications’ Category

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For years I’ve had a “ballpark pass,” the ultra-cheap vestige of Paul Godfrey’s house-papering era that allows me entry to every Jays game, save the home opener, for about $100. Or… technically it’s not just “entry,” but a seat in the 500s in the shadowy part that’s actually behind one of the stadium lights — which, for the price I pay, is extraordinarily more than fair.

The point of mentioning all that is that I must admit up front that I’m flying a bit blind when it comes to stuff about ticket prices this time of year. I do end up purchasing a bunch of single game tickets anyway, but those aren’t on sale just yet, and more importantly enough about me, the effing Jays are actually raising ticket prices!!!!

At least, that’s what the internet is telling me. To wit:

And here’s a claim from the comments here yesterday, thanks to Jayfan34:

Not related directly, but note the Jays finally posted their 2015 season ticket info. My tickets went up by over 12%! Like to hear their justification for that one, it better be used to improve the on-field product.

Remember tweeting a couple weeks ago the Jays were probably raising prices and waiting for a day they could bury it, looks like game 1 of the world series was where they buried it.

You can also see a Twitter conversation about it here.

This is pretty much the extent of what I know. I don’t know which tickets have gone up by what, or what anything cost last year, and while I’m sure I could do a research project and look it all up… why? It seems pretty clear that prices are on their way up, and I’m sure more of you can fill us in from here on those sorts of specifics. I’d expect that single game ticket prices will be raised as well, but that’s purely speculation.

Speaking of speculation, I could offer up a few reasons why this is happening, not that any of those are going to be particularly satisfying to the most-loyal-of-the-loyal folks who actually fork out big dollars to go see this team every year — and who understandably aren’t exactly optimistic that the money they’re being asked to pour into the club’s coffers will actually be used to make the kinds of on-field improvements that could have put them into serious playoff contention this season, if only ownership hadn’t decided that watching their product die on the vine was more palatable than ponying up an extra 10% or so on payroll that could have made a truly significant difference.

To be fair-ish, prices aren’t outrageous and haven’t gone up for at least a couple of years now (a fact that I could be more specific about if, like I say, I actually knew anything about this). To also be fair, the Canadian dollar is sagging, and as much as they ought to be hedged for those kinds of fluctuations, a company that pays out in US dollars and takes in Canadian ones is always going to be impacted by a thing like that — or so they can claim?

Thirdly, Rogers as a whole saw their third-quarter profit drop 28% according to a report this morning from Christine Dobby of the Globe and Mail. That doesn’t exactly mean that they’re “struggling” — “profit fell 28 per cent to $332-million or 64 cents per share, compared to net income of $464-million or 90 cents per share in the same quarter last year,” we’re told — and the company “reported positive signs on revenue,” but this is at the very least something resembling a reasonable pretext for a price raise. Especially given that “the company’s media division – which includes its stable of magazines and broadcast assets as well as the Toronto Blue Jays – reported flat revenue of $440-million.”

It’s hard to unpack what any of that really means for the Jays, but tangibly for fans it means that the prevailing thought is not only that the time is finally right for prices to go up, but that they can get away with it. Yikes.

Whether they’re right about that will be a very, very interesting question to watch over the course of the upcoming winter, but I’m willing to bet that an act of good faith from ownership on the payroll front* would go a long way towards answering it in the way that we all want it to be answered.

 

*I know, I know, tenth highest payroll in baseball and all that. But I’m sorry, it’s just not that simple. In fact, below is how I responded to a comment on the subject a few weeks ago, after reader TorontoMPH wrote, “The ‘terrible’ owner let the payroll go from $80m to $120m during the ’12-13 offseason, and got rewarded with a last place finish. I was as frustrated as anyone at the inactivity, but who knows what Alex promised to get the greenlight on the Marlins deal. Perhaps he got told “go ahead, but you sink or swim with what you got – there’s no more cookies in the cookie jar..””

And it makes them a good owner that they followed through on strangling the front office’s ability to do anything by not raising payroll a cent after the first year didn’t work out? That they would rather let their product die on the vine than spend a little more and give it a legitimate chance to win and actually make the kind of money they hoped for in the first place? That they didn’t believe the pre-2013 moves took them close enough to warrant more investment?

The “tenth highest payroll” thing gets tossed around a lot, and you’re right that it’s very possible that AA was hoisted on his own petard this year, but you’re not really a big spending team if you just do it once and then claw it back immediately.

The Marlins’ last four years of payroll are $57M, $101M, $50M, $45M — I don’t think we’d call them big spenders. They’re opportunistic spenders, and content to feed off other revenue sources the rest of the time and not much care how the team does. I know the Jays are going to stay well above where they were in 2012 for a few years, because of the long-term commitments, but to me they’re a lot closer to that than they are to being an actual big payroll team commensurate to the size of the market and the value of the TV rights, regardless of what the payroll number happens to be at the moment.

So… y’know.

Hey, and while we’re here, sorry for the lack of frothing outrage on this subject. Not sure if it’s because I’m just so used to Rogers or if it’s the fact that I’m not a season ticket holder proper, or even that I can’t not acknowledge that Jays tickets really are still a pretty damn good deal, but I didn’t have it in me to go apoplectic here. Maybe it’s that I still somehow have too much faith in the pipe dream that they might not actually fuck this whole off-season up.

Image via.

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If you’re like me you won’t necessarily find it easy to get through all the stuff about the fabulously opulent lives of entitled, drape-wearing heirs to astronomical wealth that fuels so much of the first part of Kelly Pullen’s current Toronto Life cover story, The Man Who Would Be King, nor will you avoid a bit of nausea at the glowing terms given to Ted Rogers’ efforts to build his empire “one precarious piece at a time,” with its less-than-humble beginnings as he borrowed against the wealth of his father’s estate and was supported further by a father-in-law, a British lord. But as Jays fans it is very much worth pushing through such feelings, if you have them, because what lies inside the piece is a pretty tremendous work of journalism.

While ostensibly a piece on Uncle Ted’s son, Edward S. Rogers III, by the end of it Pullen has lifted the veil on not only Edward’s aspirations within his father’s company, but the power struggle that’s taken place within it during the years since Ted’s death, and how the company currently sees itself and where it is headed.

Even though the Jays barely rate a mention — Edward likes going to baseball games, we’re told, and the club is named as tenants of the Rogers Centre in a simple list of places and things in Toronto that bear the company’s name — it offers some important background on trying to understand the relationship between ownership and the club, and what we can potentially expect now that the days of conflicts between Edward Rogers, his sister Melinda, and former CEO Nadir Mohamed are over, with former Vodafone U.K. head Guy Laurence firmly in charge.

The results of all this digging are… actually maybe somewhat hopeful.

Here are my Coles Notes on the parts of the piece to do with the power struggle, with a slant towards all that seemed pertinent to the Jays:

- Edward was in charge of Rogers Cable in the early 2000s, and didn’t like how Mohamed came in to run mobile just as it was becoming a tremendous growth industry. At the time cable’s growth was good, but not exploding the way mobile’s was, especially after Rogers became, for a time when it first launched, the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in Canada.

- Partly due to the successes of mobile, Uncle Ted made it clear that he wanted Mohamed to run the company after his death. When that time came, Edward put his name forward as a candidate to the CEO search committee anyway. Wary of having the company founder’s son — and a member of the board of directors, and one of its biggest shareholders — looking over his shoulder, Mohamed negotiated a multimillion dollar golden parachute for himself when he was given the job. If there was ever an impasse between him and the board, and it determined that he needed to go, he’d be paid very handsomely. And, in fact, though his exit a year ago was billed publicly as a retirement, it was more the result of a failed power play — “and neither side could say for certain whether he’d quit or been let go.”

- The background to Mohamed’s departure is this: Both members of the Rogers family who are involved in the business (Ed and Melinda) bristled at the new hierarchies Mohamed imported when he arrived. The Rogers siblings lost power, and people from Mohamed’s mobile division got better jobs than those from Edward’s cable division when the two were merged. In response to this, we’re told that Edward and Melinda intentionally created confusion among other employees (especially because of their status as primary shareholders) by disagreeing with Nadir, snubbing mandatory meetings, etc.

- That wasn’t his only difficulty. From Pullen’s piece: “Mohamed’s role became more challenging as the competitive advantages Rogers had enjoyed began to disappear. Bell, for years the most lumbering, bureaucratic organization in the country, now had a new CEO, George Cope, who was on a mission to make the company more nimble. In 2008, Bell and Telus teamed up to build a new national wireless network that would give their customers the same roaming capabilities as Rogers (as well as access to the iPhone). And the effects of the federal government’s 2008 decision to open the market to other wireless carriers were now becoming clear: the new entrants, whose operations were mainly centred in Toronto, had taken a bite out of Rogers’ business. The years of unbridled growth at Rogers had led to a kind of complacency within the company and a lack of investment in itself. Its internal software systems (for customer or tech support, for example) were in need of upgrading. Even the company’s branding seemed stuck in the ’90s.”

- In 2011, the Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan put their stake in MLSE for sale, which ended up being “ the only major acquisition Rogers made during Mohamed’s tenure,” despite the fact that, to his mind, ”buying a sports team wasn’t on strategy. Rogers was in the ­connectivity business, not the ego-driven, high-risk sports ownership business. His solution: mitigate the risk. He and George Cope agreed to a joint bid of $1.32 billion and split MLSE 50-50.”

- The split with Bell on MLSE happened “much to the chagrin of the family, who were growing tired of sitting on the sidelines. Edward and Melinda were especially disappointed: they had wanted all of OTPP’s stake.”

- Not long after that deal was secured, Mohamed proposed a five year plan to the board of directors that would have cut both Edward and Melinda Rogers out of the company hierarchy. It’s painted in the piece as Mohamed trying to force the board’s hand: to either give him the company or the golden parachute. They chose the latter.

- Given the timing of everything that has happened between the club and ownership — the Jays’ late 2012 expenditures came before Mohamed’s retirement was announced, and the money seemed to dry up as soon as he left– his departure is sometimes viewed as a pivotal, and negative moment for the club, but considering Mohamed’s supposed aversion to his company’s heavy involvement in sports world, despite the opposite public face, I’m not sure that’s necessarily the right reading.

- Rogers’ massive NHL rights deal was announced almost a year ago, as Mohamed’s tenure was winding down. According to the piece, the company was essentially between CEO’s, though this was a time when Edward had “the new locus of power, and people began buzzing around his office more.” Despite Ed perhaps feeling that the time was right for him to take his rightful place atop the company his father had built — something the piece suggests he still wants now, as he “stands offstage, waiting in the wings, eager to restore the family name” — it’s at this point that Guy Laurence enters the picture and takes over as CEO.

- Laurence was a compelling figure, made it clear that he badly wanted the job, was liked by a Rogers family he was keen to ingratiate himself to, and it was thought that “his radical management ideas sounded like just what was needed to rejuvenate the Rogers brand.” He began his tenure in December of last year, precisely around the time the picture seemed to change for the Blue Jays, whose talk of needing to add multiple players shifted into revenue-neutral deals and the sound of crickets. Laurence’s first order of business was to get to know the company as best he could, so he went on a listening tour.

- From Pullen: “While he was conducting interviews and town hall meetings, Laurence kept his own counsel. He was sphinx-like—­listening to everybody but confiding in no one. In late April, he compiled his report, a 20,000-word document he presented to the board. The findings weren’t entirely surprising, but they put the internal issues like poor customer service into high relief. Everyone was worried the company had lost its way, that it had become slow and risk-averse. Dispirited employees were envious of Telus, with its slick branding and high customer retention rates. They were tired of working for the most loathed company in Canada.”

-  The fact alone that they hired Laurence in part on the basis of upper management’s concern for the brand — unlike the complacent preceding years — would seem good news for Jays fans given what should be obvious about how a well-funded and successful club would reflect on ownership, as opposed to the perception that currently persists. Something else to be hopeful for, if one can allow oneself to read it that way: the company may have been in a minor state of paralysis while Laurence did his listening tour and compiled his strategy report. That may not mean anything for a piece of the puzzle as small as the baseball team — perhaps not as much as the sinking Canadian dollar — but if it didn’t impact their operating budget directly last winter, it may have impacted their willingness to ask for more.

- Two things that have characterized Rogers’ ownership of the club as much as anything have been their aversion to risk — especially financially, and especially when it comes to fears of throwing good money after bad the way that seems necessary as long as they’re not going to have the patience for a sustained, lengthy, brutal rebuild — and the way the team’s fortunes and actions — the lack of spending, the lying company men at the top if the organization, the failure to move faster on the turf issue that has been painfully obvious at least since free agent Carlos Beltran spurned them following the 2011 season (though, really, since Troy Glaus forced his way out of town in 2007), the astonishingly tone deaf placement of the Ted Rogers statue outside the park, etc. — have made the parent company appear utterly loathsome. If Laurence wants to be less risk averse and is more brand conscious, even if they’re a minor blip on his radar, this could turn out to be a good thing for the Jays.

- There is another possibility, though, and not a particularly good one: interestingly, despite the good relations and quick ingratiation, once Laurence came in he made the same sort of power play that Mohamed did, trying to remove the Rogers family from the day-today operation of the business. And this time the board complied. Along with outside-the-box thinking, Laurence is known best for cost-cutting, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for the company’s baseball club — or anyone but its shareholders, really. It doesn’t help either that moving Edward farther away from the centre of power removes someone who actually likes baseball, and who presumably wants to see the brand and the team do well — after all, he was, it has been reported, the one who promised Jays players at a team event in the spring that money would be available at the trade deadline if the club was still in contention.

- There is still reason to hope, though. Laurence’s “strategy, dubbed Rogers 3.0, includes fixing customer service and accelerating growth. Laurence believes that the NHL broadcasting rights are a project the entire company can rally behind, and one that can be leveraged to help resuscitate the Rogers brand. The rights may not substantially raise ad revenues, but Laurence is hoping they’ll translate into increased revenue in cable and mobile.”

- In theory those same ideas should apply to the Jays, though the parallels are not perfect. They take in money in CDN for example, but by far their biggest expenditures (payroll) are in USD, making them especially vulnerable to fluctuations on the currency market. Plus, MLBAM already has domain over much of digital rights aspects of the game, limiting the way the company could exploit that revenue stream — though obviously a better product ought to lead to more demand to watch on cable and through whatever means Rogers can devise to get digital viewers through their proprietary services.

- The baseball club seems poised to remain the red headed step child of the Rogers family, at least where sports are concerned. It’s perhaps even a bit unsettling to read of just how big their hockey play is to the company — for example, just about all Rogers-owned publications, “even decidedly un-sporty ones,” are being required to produce hockey content — while baseball is entirely an afterthought, both in the piece, and presumably in the top floor hallways at Bloor and Jarvis. However, if “critics of the NHL deal [who] say it has quickly transformed Rogers from a communications company into a sports marketing company” are right, in addition to the company’s greater willingness to take risks, and the keenness on un-poisoning their brand, fans can at least feel a little hopeful for their teams that sports and the marketing is such a central focus of the behemoth, I think. Even those who are fans of the “wrong” sport. I hope.

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Shi Davidi has an interesting, informative piece up today at Sportsnet which has been titled, presumably by an editor, “Lack of trust impacted 2014 Blue Jays all season.” It’s certainly something that’s going to get people talking, even if Shi himself is careful not to overstate the impact of the human element on a not-great team playing not-great baseball.

In fact, if one were so inclined, as much as anything it can be read as an indictment of Rogers and the way the budget for this club has been so badly mismanaged either by a front office who left themselves absolutely no room to breathe after the big additions prior to 2013, or an ownership group failing to recognize how suffocating it is to have made such a quick about face with respect to payroll.

The Ervin Santana mess is a put forth as a catalyst for the trust issues that plagued the club in this doomed season, but it’s framed, essentially, as a failure of ownership. “Had the Blue Jays not needed to muddle through the various layers needed to pull off the [deferral] scheme –negotiating a contract with the right-hander, earning union approval on compensation for the players, gaining the green light from ownership – Santana would have been theirs long before Kris Medlen suffered the elbow injury that prompted the Atlanta Braves to act,” he explains.

We’re also told about the now-infamous remarks from higher ups — reported elsewhere as being uttered by Edward Rogers III himself — at a team function, when “the players received what they interpreted as a promise of money for a contender at the deadline if needed.” When the time came, of course, the money was nowhere to be found. And as much as we can all agree that it’s probably a good thing that the Jays didn’t trade any of the young pitching depth that materialized for them this year, maybe if they hadn’t so ineptly handled the Santana situation — if they had been given the resources to do it right and he actually wound up in their rotation — they could have been comfortable enough with their depth to do so, putting themselves that much farther ahead and eliminating this layer of distrust.

Later in that same section of the piece Shi brings up the example of Martin Prado, who “would have cost the Blue Jays nothing but a token prospect and money, and while at $27 million for the rest of 2014 plus the next two years he’s expensive for what he is, the versatile infielder would have provided a needed upgrade at second base or third base plus strong roster depth in the seasons to come. The New York Yankees picked him up instead.”

We had a lot of discussion about Prado around here at the time, and though I was not entirely sold on him as a player — and, believe it or not, a little vocal about that — ultimately the issue was what it always seems to be with this organization. On August 1st, I wrote a piece titled Let’s Think About What Happened At The Deadline and addressed it:

The Yankees getting Martin Prado (and the $3.67-million he’s owed this year, plus $22-million for the next two, plus a $1-million trade bonus) certainly is a move where the mythical financial resources Alex Anthopoulos always insists that he has — as he did again Thursday, speaking with reporters in a post-deadline conference call — may have come into play. But let’s maybe sit back and think about all this for a moment.

Let’s think about Prado and the money he’d add to what’s strongly presumed to be an already tight 2015 budget, which to this point hasn’t yet found room to accommodate a Melky Cabrera extension. Let’s think about potentially blowing the ability to resign Melky in order to take on the age-31 and 32 seasons of a right-handed 3B/LF whose last four seasons by wRC+ have looked like this: 89, 117, 104, 81. Let’s think about a guy whose best defensive position is already manned by Brett Lawrie, and a guy whose value is strongest against left-handed pitching, where the Jays are already quite strong with the much cheaper Steve Tolleson and Danny Valencia.

Prado was a guy who made perfect sense for a team like the Yankees — a team that consistently has the resources to go out and fix the sorts of mistakes that are utterly inevitable in this business — and little sense for the Blue Jays, who need to be far more mindful of their resources and of cost-benefit analyses.

That predicament is what also necessitates all the scrap heap moves that Alex Anthopoulos frequently makes. It’s not that “he has no plan” or whatever bunk fans want to invent to justify how crazy it makes them when the club takes a simple flyer on a guy, it’s that he doesn’t have the resources to go get a Prado, so he has to constantly try to spin straw into gold.

This, according to another section of Davidi’s piece, has implications in the clubhouse, as well.

“Anthopoulos was understandably grinding to find every incremental gain he could, but by so frequently shuffling out player A for player B – like going from Kevin Pillar to Brad Glenn to Cole Gillespie to Nolan Reimold only to eventually end up back at Pillar; or bringing in Brad Mills to get pounded – all he did was leave guys looking over their shoulders, unsure of their status,” he explains. “True, they were being given opportunities, but they were often of the swim-or-sink variety.”

I don’t doubt this is true, but let’s not miss the forest for the trees here. Is the problem Shi is talking about really the shaky trust of ballplayers impacting their performance because they’re constantly having to look over their shoulders, or is it that the Blue Jays had little other option but to field the likes of Pillar, Glenn, Gillespie, Reimold, and Mills?

Is it that the players felt betrayed by the lack of trade deadline activity, or was it that the front office didn’t have the resources to make anything but small, cash-neutral moves?

Is it that the players felt uneasy and disgruntled because ownership wasn’t committed to winning, or was it that ownership wasn’t committed to winning?

The tidbits from within the room are plenty interesting. The intangible, human element stuff will always create passionate discussion because it’s impossible for anyone to say just how much impact such things actually have on a team or a player’s performance. But as cute a device it might for a piece like this, painting the 2014 Jays’ problems as being anywhere near rooted in issues of trust and psychology would completely miss the mark.

Fortunately, I don’t think that’s really quite what Shi is doing here at all. I think that, apart from the piece’s title, he’s being appropriately cautious and evenhanded in how he addresses all the intangible stuff and how entirely peripheral it really is. But I also think there are a lot of people who aren’t going to see that way.

 

Image via Best Of Toronto. Consider this your Playoff Post.

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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.

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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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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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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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