Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Godfrey's legacy: it's not all bad!

We were never Paul Godfrey fans. We always found him to be unctuous and self-aggrandizing, and we felt as though he milked his role as the Jays' President and CEO for as much public profile as possible.

(Pop Quiz: name five other MLB team presidents. No Googling.)

There were plenty of dubious decisions that we could put in a paper bag, set ablaze and rest at his feet. Singing "God Bless America" at the SkyDome. Those awful focus-grouped black uniforms. Inviting the hordes of Red Sox and Tigers fans to buy tickets before they went on sale to the general public. Getting distracted by the possibility of an NFL team in Toronto. Becoming a supplicant to the MLB head office for a measly $5 million per year. Refusing to pay over slot for draft picks when every other team in the division does.

Yeah, it wasn't all good.

And yet, there are at least a few things that Godfrey oversaw that were undeniably good for the Toronto Blue Jays, and that helped move the franchise in the general direction of respectability. To wit:

The Stadium, Part I: Godfrey helped engineer the purchase of the SkyDome by Rogers, a move which has had a significant impact on the team's bottom line. They are no longer forced to pay rent, and have complete control over the stadium, which leads us to...

The Stadium, Part II: Take a second, close your eyes, and envision the state of the SkyDome in 2000. It was drab, with literally tons of exposed grey concrete fascades, pool table felt on the field, and little of the wow factor that the stadium had when it opened. Seriously, the place was turning into a dump. Since then, they've pumped a bit of life into the place, adding auxilliary scoreboards, a new JaysVision board, painted over the grey concrete, added the level of excellence, put FieldTurf down on the playing surface, improved concessions, created a massive JaysShop...the Dome was well on it's way to becoming the next Olympic Stadium, but Godfrey helped salvage it and gave it a new lease on life. It made the Dome/Centre the sort of place where someone would want to spend a summer afternoon which leads us to...

Attendance: After years of slippage, the Jays' attendance has increased every year since 2002. They're not attracting the four million patrons per year that they did in the salad days, but the team's relevance in the marketplace has grown over the past seven seasons, even as the number of professional and semi-pro sports options in the GTA have increased (Raptors, FC, Bills, Rock, Marlies, the multitude of junior hockey teams). The Jays still put more bums into seats than any other franchise in the city, and interest in the team is growing, even as their on-field performance stagnates, which brings us to...

Media Presence and Ratings: It wasn't so long ago that TSN and CBC had essentially abandoned the Jays, leaving Rogers Sportsnet holding the bag with more games than they could reasonably handle. But television ratings have improved to the point where both have come back on board, and all three channels have put more resources into their broadcasts. They are not always artistic successes, but more people are watching the Jays on TV these days, and in an era of disintermediation when the ratings for virtually all sports have taken a hit, that's no small feat.

We've made some assumptions in the previous paragraphs on Paul Godfrey's involvement in the team's day-to-day business. It could be that he locked himself in his office to watch his beard grow all day, and let his minions (such as the now-departed brother of Kevin Elster) take the lead and get all of these positive things done.

Still, when we look at the state of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008 and compare it with where they were in 2000 (or more to the point, where they might have gone), we think it's indisputable that they are better off now. And we're at least willing to give Paul Godfrey a bit of credit for that.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice post, and "unctuous ?" First I've heard of the word, and I'm sure that I'll never hear it used more appropriately

Tao of Stieb said...

Our use of "unctuous" may be unctuous itself.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's just the "unctuous" nature of the word

Brendan said...

Yes...more scoreboards to show us...cellphone ads...good times.

sager said...

Unctuous ... It insists upon itself.

Fine post, though.

eyebleaf said...

Unctuous, I had to dictionary.com that one, yo.

as for Paul Godfrey, he was good for business, and as President that's really what mattered, right?

Tao of Stieb said...

Brendan:

Sorry, but complaining about the fact that the team sells ad space on the scoreboards is lamest thing that we've heard this week.

There isn't a stadium in the world that doesn't blast advertising at you incessantly, so we think that you're being a wee bit precious to complain about this as though it is a Rogers phenomenon.

Besides, you can't walk down a street in downtown Toronto without being inundated by "out-of-home" advertising, so it's not as if the Rogers or Nicorette or Home Hardware ads are a shock to the system.

Unless you live in a log cabin an hour north of Kenora. In which case, we apologize.

Brendan said...

Sure it's a lame complaint, but it was meant more to mock that they often show adds instead of a pitcher's stats when he enters the game. It goes along with the selling tickets to the Sox and Tigers fans first, and having Yankees swag selling exclusively in kiosks outside the stadium. So the complaint wasn't about the ads themselves per se, but about the culture and priorities Rogers and Godfrey have when it comes to the stadium and the team.

What's truly precious is all the love Godfrey's been getting from the media over the last couple of days. It boggles the mind. He helped squeeze us taxpayers to get the Skydome built, made a bazillion dollars when he skipped over to Sun Media *almost immediately* after giving them a no-bid/no-contest sweetheart investment deal as Metro Chair, then was part of the group that bought it for a song when it plummeted in price.

Sure sure, he's been good for business for the Jays, and i appreciate that, I was happy with the increased payroll, but really, he's just another corporate backroom weasel. He couldn't have cared less about whether the team won or not.

Colin said...

I don't have a problem with the ads on the boards, but it does annoy me that they won't use at least a couple to put up some stats. I get so used to having everything at my fingertips while watching from home that it really annoys me watching the game "blind". I do like the improved Dome though

Oh, and the Rock and the Raptors have been here since before 2000, and they didn't completely suck for the entire time before that.

Tao of Stieb said...

@Brendan - Point taken, re: the Godfrey love in. Maybe we're just feeling generous today.

But we fully acknowledge that if we lived in Ontario or Toronto as the Dome was being built at considerable tax payer expense, we might not be quite so sanguine about his role in acquiring it for a song (a $26 million song).

@Colin - There are a few things that they keep posted on the scoreboards at the Rogers Centre that actually enhance our enjoyment, such as the pitch count, plus, the break down of balls and strikes. It's nice at-a-glance information, and something they didn't always do. Also, having the batter's stats on the auxiliary scoreboards, and updating the players' state on the JaysVision (including OBP and SLG!) are nice touches.

Tim in London said...

I was at a Sunday game last week and the stadium does look way better. That enormous screen would be even better if any replays got shown for the fans. I'm assuming b/c it was a CBC game? I asked the camera guy below us and he said he had no idea why they weren't being shown. As an aside, how is that possible?

Tao of Stieb said...

They rarely show replays because MLB doesn't want 30,000 freelance umpires giving providing informed input and feedback to the professional umpires on the field.

Also, they keep the screen static during at bats so that the hitters aren't getting flickering lights in their line of sight.

Yes Im Peter Ing said...

I have to speak up on this one.

It’s true that Rogers/the Blue Jays did not invent the phenomenon, but the argument can be made that they did perfect it, and in doing so took it to a level of intrusiveness not seen anywhere in baseball, or even sports.

Rob Neyer did a piece on the Jays back in 2006 when he was in town for the SABR convention. One of the things he made note of in his column was the extent to which the aggressive and non-stop “sell! sell! sell!” mentality of the Jays’ game-day presentation completely overshadowed and really ruined a day out at the ballpark.

I’m willing to bet that Rob Neyer has been to his share of ballparks; so if the extent of ad-placement at Jays game was enough that he made note of it, especially in this day in age of corporate whoredom where anyone should be used to it by now, then chances are what has gone on at the Dome day-in and day-out for the past few years isn’t by any means typical.

There’s ad placement, and then there’s seeing ad placement as the raison d’etre of the entire game-day “experience”. Under Godfrey’s watch, the Jays definitely fall under the latter.

Everything they do is motivated by the opportunity to force more and more ads, logos, slogans, and product placements down the fans’ throats.

This goes back all the way to the Jays’ decision to fire Murray Eldon. The move had nothing to do with quality, and everything to do with moving games more in the direction of a three-hour ad. Voice-wise, there’s not a hint of difference between Eldon and Langton; the two sound identical. Performance-wise, there’s no comparison. Three years in, and Langton still averages nearly a blunder a week. Against the Yankees, he mispronounced Joe Girardi. Girardi! How does a veteran of Major League Baseball PA duties not know how to pronounce that? That kind of knowledge should be compulsory to even land an interview for the gig, let alone hang onto the job for going on four years.

The reason the Jays made the change was because Langton can kibbitz with Ryan Greer and aid in the ever-constant sales pitch. That’s the only reason. The fact that Langton’s performance when it comes to filling the role of a traditional PA guy is well below par matters little. The Jays are more than happy to suffer a drop in quality in areas that actually matter as long as the sales nonsense stays efficient.

This is also seen when it comes to the Jumbo Tron. It’s been pointed out time and time again how the Dome’s surplus of display-board space is put to dismal use (a batter’s stats shouldn’t have to be taken down in order to display an out-of-town HR notice when there are twenty-five aux-board panels displaying the exact same Rogers ad), but aside from that, it’s the fact that what little effort the team does put towards the portion of the presentation that relates to the game is so shoddy, while the ad spots and promotional bits never seem to hit a hitch.
The management of information on the Jumbo Tron is a joke. Much like Langton, the errors that pop up average out to at least one every few games. And we’re not talking small stuff, either. Some of it is downright ridiculous. You’ll be watching a game in the mid-innings, only to look up at the Jumbo Tron and find out that half of the Jays double-A pitching staff have all-of-a-sudden been inserted into the batting order, complete with Brett Cecil batting leadoff and Gustavo Chacin hitting clean-up. It’s funny the first time you see it, but the first time I saw it was three years ago; it’s still happening on a regular basis. Is no one paying attention?

It seems that Godfrey and co. have put so much effort into making sure the promotional aspect of the game goes off without a hitch that they’ve completely neglected what matters.

There’s other stuff, too. The Ks, for instance. Why do we only get Ks on Pizza Pizza give-away days? This stuff isn’t difficult. It takes little to no resources or man-power to have someone hang Ks each game, and it goes a long way to creating a more authentic environment. Even Interbrew had Ks out every home game when they were in control. The message Rogers is sending is that baseball traditions are only worth doing when they can be exploited for profit and used to sell more crap. That right there sums up the Jays’ approach to creating a game-day experience. The ball game is merely coincidental in the Jays efforts to jam more and more product placement into every pause and break.

And it’s not as if this doesn’t affect the team. We all remember BJ Ryan complaining about the chants of “Pizza! Pizza!” which took place during a crucial ninth-inning at-bat. Yet despite the complaint, the team didn’t back off the schtick, and continues to this day urging the fans on to chant for free crap at integral points in the game. Does this happen anywhere else?

The Jays don’t even try and hide the product placement, either. Every game begins with Ryan Greer telling us, “we got contests and promotions!” The organization doesn’t just expect us to get excited about getting free shit, they expect us to get excited about the promotion in and of itself! “Oh! Did you hear that, honey? Promotions! And here I thought this was going to be boring.”

It’s typical that the Jays have launched an ad campaign emphasizing the social aspect of attending a Jays game – the moments in between the games. What’s funny is that the Jays game-day approach has totally nullified any attempt at socialization at all. They pump the sound at such high levels that when Greer comes on the mic with another give-away, or more ads are played out the Jumbo-tron, it’s difficult to carry on a conversation with the person next to you. I find myself constantly having to cut myself off during a conversation at Jays game in order to wait for the mid-inning schtick to end before I can continue.

There's more - a lot more - but I've already gone on to long.

Anyway, here's to the end of the Godfrey era. Good riddance.

Stedron said...

Equating the singing of God Bless America to the travesty of whoring out the Boston and Detroit series is a little harsh. Do you not want any American Jay fans? Should I change my allegience? Would you like for the Jays to leave MLB, be the founding team in the Canadian Baseball League, and then you can plan your road trips to Medicine Hat?

I didn't go to a game in Toronto this year - so I'm just assuming here - but they haven't started singing God Bless America at every game have they? If they have (which I doubt) then you have every right to question that. If you're bitching about singing it after September 11th, then that's pretty fucking weak.

Tao of Stieb said...

We'll come back to Peter later, but @ Stedron:

Yes, they sang God Bless America after 9/11 at the SkyDome, although that has long since passed.

Without casting aspersions at Americans, we didn't get why they felt the need to inject this into the middle of a baseball game. We not heartless, and we agonized for the victims of the attack for years afterwards...but why inject this into the middle of a baseball game in Canada?

And just to be clear: our least favorite part of the in-stadium experience at just about any sporting event is the national anthem. We think it injects an element of jingoism and nationalism into an area where it just doesn't belong.

If you are proud to be American or Canadian, then put a flag on your lawn, or a pin in your lapel. But don't assume that our reticence at having these national anthems forced upon us at a sporting event makes us somehow disrespectful or unpatriotic.

The anthemizing of these events offends our delicate sensibilities far more than Ryan Greer shilling for Nicorette, Pizza Pizza, UPS, or whatever.

Stedron said...

It's about 90 seconds long. Get over it. I used to enjoy when the Expos came to Cinci just because I would get to hear the Canadian anthem. It's different to me. It's interesting. But to get back on topic, it takes less time than Jeter takes between every pitch, so what's the big deal? Not worth getting bent out of shape over. It's impossible to not come off as Mussina-ish to complain about something so trivial.

Tao of Stieb said...

A 90 second anthem between innings might seem trivial, but someone else's 90 second anthem on your home soil is something else altogether.

Then again, maybe we're still smarting over the War of 1812.

(Now please feel free to fill in the rest of the comments section with "aboot" jokes, or comments about how Canada is "America Jr.", or how we're "America's Hat"...we love that.)

Stedron said...

Dude, the only reason I am at all offended by you complaining about God Bless America is that I have been a Canada fan my whole life. I root for the Jays and the Leafs (though I know that doesn't get me any points around most of these parts.) In my earlier years, I took a ton of shit for rooting for the Jays. I started following the Jays in '85 at age 7. It was just quirky at the time, but I was 14 in '92. It was me against my entire middle school during the World Series. In their eyes they were for the Braves and America, and I was for Toronto and communism (14 year olds don't know much about foriegn policy.) I try to visit Toronto at least once a year. I've had good fortune in that everyone I've encountered have not been your typical "big city types." I love it up there. I was pumped when there were rumors about Scotia Bank buying my bank so I may have an opportunity to move to some lovely burb like Mississauga. (I'm a big fan of urban sprawl.)

Then here, where the Jays are the common thread and I think I'm among friends, you want to complain about 90 seconds of God Bless America being sang on your soil? If you want to use that as a rebuttal to some Masshole making aboot jokes, then fine, but to use it (unprevoked) how you did is offensive to someone in my unique position.

You say you agonized over the victims of 9/11 for years afterward. I didn't even do that, but if someone wants to observe the event, I'm sure as hell not going to stop them. Same with the Anthem. I think standing for the Anthem is a little pointless, but I do it every time because I don't know if the guy next to me fought in a war, or lost friends or family in a war. It's more about respect for my fellow man than patriotism or "jingoism."

That got a little personal, so I'll try to be more rational in my calling bullshit on your example:

A) If someone decided to put a bomb in Alanis Morrisette's vibrator and blow up half of Ottawa, I promise you that the U.S. NHL arenas would play whatever song Canada decided to use to observe the event. As ignorant as most Americans are with their nationalism, I still can't imagine anyone complaining.

B) You're using this as an example against Godfrey. Do you honestly believe this was his decision, and not something mandated by MLB - which you know -operates mostly in the U.S?

Be a better neighbor Tao. I love Rush and Neil Young. We don't all think you guys ride moose to school.

Tao of Stieb said...

Ok, let's see if we can clear this up.

First off, our "agonizing" comment was probably overwrought, and we were probably over-egging the pudding there. Let's say that our sympathies were with those affected, directly or indirectly with the attacks. (Our point was probably to establish that this wasn't some knee-jerk anti-America sentiment, in which Canadians are too quick to indulge.)

It wasn't appropriate to go there or to use that sort of sophistry, so we apologize for that.

As we're thinking about it, it probably wasn't the singing or the song that bothered us so much as it was Godfrey's reaction when fans questioned it. Moreover, Godfrey was a fervant supporter of the Iraq war, publicly stated that Canada should have been involved, and was vaguely critical of Carlos Delgado's quiet protest against the War and the US military's actions in the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

We weren't incredibly put out by the singing of God Bless America, but we would have preferred some other sort of commemoration or recognition. (Singing about God and country in the context of a conflict which people were fighting over religious differences makes us a bit antsy.)

Ultimately, what we were trying to get across was that we disliked Godfrey's politics and we didn't like when they bled over into the business of the Blue Jays.

In any case, your point is well taken, and we'll do our best to be better neighbours. We love America, and have found most Americans to friendly and welcoming. (Except for those bastard-people who work at the Atlanta airport...those fuckers are RUDE!)

We especially love the American Jays fans. It takes a certain level of crazy to hold yourself up to that level of scorn.

Group hug?

Stedron said...

Group hug.

That clears things up for me. I was not aware Godfrey voiced such political views. I would probably be annoyed with that if I were in your shoes, and could see how the singing would encapsulate his misplaced opinions.

For the record, I would like to stick a sharp stick in the eye of that guy that sings God Bless America at Yankee games.

Tao of Stieb said...

Ronan Tynan is the fat bastard tenor who the Yanks still trot out in the 7th inning stretch to do an interminable version of the song.

Blairsy said it best about Tynan last year (in response to an email during a liveblog from an exceeding handsome blogger) :

"Ronan Tynan is a gaseous, over-wrought wind-bag. One of the highlights of sitting in the pressbox at Yankee Stadium during the playoffs is watching the fat old warbler chow down on free grub and drink gallons of water in the luxury suite next door and flash his World Series ring around. He's a horrific front runner."

And that's why Blair's our favorite.

The Ack said...

This is why he's my favorite:


"Chicago's too damned cold. People are too big and walk too slowly. It's Winnipeg with better shopping ... and without the aspects of Winnipeg that makes it near and dear to my heart. I'm too old to drink till I vomit. I'm too wary to chow down nightly on hormone-laced steak. Too white and too Manitoban to understand blues."