Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When you keep adding 2 + 2, the possibilities are infinite

Pete Toms' lengthy article posted yesterday on the Biz of Baseball is a thoroughly researched, 3600-word piece that deserves a certain degree of respect. It pulls together a lot of strands and ultimately weaves together the story of how the Blue Jays' tenure in Toronto may be short-lived. The piece is so well written and researched - and we hold Mr. Toms in high enough regard - that we feel like we need to do something more than just call "bullshit".

But that is pretty much what we're about to do.

In a nutshell, you can find our argument in the title of this post. What the article does is stack up like Jenga blocks an oppressive amount of facts on top of some vague speculation and media opinion, and leaves us with the notion that the Blue Jays are about to go tumbling down south of the border, as did the Expos and the affiliated minor league teams in Canada.

To us, it just seems like there's been some essential information overlooked in the article. For a little more detail, we offer the following specific arguments.

A Canadian media company and a Global media company are not the same beast
One of the first arguments made is that Rogers is the last of the media companies to own its own franchise, while the Disneys, NewsCorps, Tribunes and Time Warners of the world have bailed out.

At a glance, we can see the connection, but in truth, Rogers' business model very different. While those media companies are content producers (filmed entertainment, online, TV, newspapers), Rogers' biggest bucks come from content distribution (broadcast distribution, mobile networks) and consumer products (mobile devices and everything else at the Rogers Video stores).

For multinationals like NewsCorp and Disney, the Dodgers and Angels created a lot of extraneous and decidedly local content, which barely registers as a priority for them.

The clear example of this dichotomy would be Ted Turner's Braves, who were a vital piece of his emerging media empire from the 1970's through the 1990's. Braves games were a cornerstone of TBS's evolution into the Superstation, but once Turner was sucked into the Time Warner family, the Braves became an undesirable, Atlanta-centric relic of the pre-merger days.

For the Tribune, keeping the Cubs and Wrigley and WGN all wrapped together in a neat package might have made sense if it weren't swamped in a ridiculous amount of debt and tossing any asset it can overboard in a futile attempt to stay afloat.

The clear distinction with Rogers is that they are a national company with national media holdings, including a national network of Sportsnets that need compelling local (i.e. Canadian) content.

Moreover, Rogers is a company that has a far more direct connection with consumers than most media conglomerates. While the Blue Jays aren't exactly the beating heart at the center of the Center of the Universe, it seems to us that Rogers might not be eager to pull up stakes and offload the team in a rush and risk alienating those same customers to whom they market cell phones or DVRs.

"There is greater consensus amongst the Toronto sports media that the Blue Jays will soon be on the market."
Much of that media speculation came in the days (and hours) after Ted Rogers passed away, and to be frank, nobody knew what they were talking about at that point.

Moreover, you had a lot of people within Rogers who were freaked out by the instability of losing Ted, and some of them anonymously vented those insecurities. We wouldn't exactly take that to the bank.

Media companies don't need content...unless they need content
Amongst the speculation, Toms points to a Jeremy Sandler article that features an anonymous quote stating:

"It is natural for media companies to get out of ownership of sports teams and stick to their core competencies," said the official who asked not to be named. "They're selling them because they can compete for content now."

But this is stated one paragraph after Sandler notes that Sportsnet carried 100 games and the Fan 590 carried all 162, so there is a certain rational dissonance there.

At the risk of repeating ourselves, Rogers is a Canadian media company which is compelled by federal regulations to air a certain amount of Canadian-produced content. Would Rogers really want to cut loose a property that nets them more than 360 hours of Canadian content for their television enterprises and more than 650 hours of CanCon for not only the Fan 590, but for a whole slew of stations along their network of News talk stations?

Sure, they could let the team go and then reacquire the rights from the new owners, but doesn't that seem a bit more troublesome and less secure than the situation that they have now?

The Beest - Interim CEO or Calculating Overlord?
This is where the article starts to go off the rails a bit. Toms ties together the firing of Bart Given with the hirings of scouts (not a stretch), but then ascribes to them some element of Paul Beeston's ambition to be the permanent overseer of the Blue Jays.

What proof does he have? Snappy Jeff Blair's huge big picture view of the shifting sands of Toronto's sports landscape, which features Beeston as the central unifying figure that brings all the pro sports franchises together into one TorontoSportsCollosus. It's like something out of Tolkien.

But here's an obvious question that bears asking: If Paul Beeston wanted to reach out and grab the precious ring that is the Jays' presidency, wouldn't he have grabbed it already? Wouldn't Rogers have given it to him months ago if he really truly wanted it? Couldn't he have had it and named his price?

And if all of those questions are answered in the affirmative, then why the charade of all of these interim shenanigans?

Isn't it at least plausible that Beeston is doing what he says he's doing, and seeking out someone to take the Jays' top job?

The MLSE Merger
We can totally see it happening. Maybe. But it would be a sad day.

The Stadium Issue
Sure, the Rogers Centre isn't one of the new-fangled old-fashioned parks with fewer seats and pseudo-retro styling. But Rogers got it for a song and has plowed a significant amount of money into upgrading it.

The stadium experience has vastly improved over the past few years, and there won't be any significant push from anyone other than cranky baseball purists to replace it with a new publicly funded stadium for at least another 10 years.

Besides - Have you seen the size of the Rogers store that they have there now? You think they're gonna rip that thing out of the building any time soon?

And by the way: no other city in North America is going to build a park for the Blue Jays to move there any time soon.

A Final Thought
Part of what motivates this latest round speculation is the inertia of the Jays offseason. There are thoughts that yanking back on the reins is a sign that all sorts of changes are in the offing.

But when we look at the team's prospects over the next few years, we're left asking ourselves why the Jays would plow a bunch of money and/or years into a free agent this year when it is as plain as the moustache on Dave Stieb's face that their fortunes look good in the years beyond 2009.

Why mortgage your future payroll and lineup flexibility on an overpriced free agent when you have a number of highly-regarded and inexpensive players on target for 2010. And they'll join a team that will feature a (fingers crossed) fully manned and healthy pitching staff.

It sucks as a Blue Jays fan to think in those terms, but that seems to us to be the most sensible explanation and the most prudent path for the team to take.

(Our apologies for the length of this thing...but congratulations for those of you who made it the whole way through!)

20 comments:

Lloyd the Barber said...

You're the man. I'm thoroughly impressed, though the article still scares me.

The cloak and dagger Beeston stuff is definitely a reach, especially the part about him lording over Riccardi.

Anonymous said...

Neither of you know what you're talking about.

But for some no-name reporter guy, having an inflammatory thesis has benefits


How do you think Naomi Klein sells books ?

Pete Toms said...

Hey, TOS, always liked your blog name.

Thanks for reading my piece and thanks for the thoughtful response.

It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me either why RCI would want to sell the Jays (the "related party transactions") but RCI is feeding this speculation to the Jays beat writers....ok, not super recently, but December ain't that long ago either....

I'm not sure baseball is leaving Toronto, nobody is, but....if RCI decides it doesn't want them...well, it's gonna be a dark day for us Jays fans unless MLSE wants them ( and I think, no ).

At Anon, being compared to NK makes me laugh, I can't stand her or her husband. Canada's entitled classes at their most smug and irritating. I was also referred to as a "pointy head" today at DJF ( am I allowed to speak of that blog here? ) which also made me laugh. I fancy myself as more of a stoned guy in his basement.

Anyway, as much as RCI has disappointed us Jays fans ( and back in 2000 I thought they'd spend gobs of money on payroll to drive up audience for the broadcasts....but...well we know how that turned out ), I think it's them or bust.

Cheers.

Pete Toms said...

Hey, TOS, always liked your blog name.

Thanks for reading my piece and thanks for the thoughtful response.

It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me either why RCI would want to sell the Jays (the "related party transactions") but RCI is feeding this speculation to the Jays beat writers....ok, not super recently, but December ain't that long ago either....

I'm not sure baseball is leaving Toronto, nobody is, but....if RCI decides it doesn't want them...well, it's gonna be a dark day for us Jays fans unless MLSE wants them ( and I think, no ).

At Anon, being compared to NK makes me laugh, I can't stand her or her husband. Canada's entitled classes at their most smug and irritating. I was also referred to as a "pointy head" today at DJF ( am I allowed to speak of that blog here? ) which also made me laugh. I fancy myself as more of a stoned guy in his basement.

Anyway, as much as RCI has disappointed us Jays fans ( and back in 2000 I thought they'd spend gobs of money on payroll to drive up audience for the broadcasts....but...well we know how that turned out ), I think it's them or bust.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

Pete Toms,

Don't worry, your article was pretty good.

I was just questioning your integrity as a human

Anonymous said...

Or maybe just more than the flaws in your logic, which Tao hovered through

stonedog said...

My impression of the Jays off-season was that JP's been told that he will probably be replaced when a new team president is found, so let's not screw over the new guy with unnecessary contracts to dodgy free agents. Ricciardi sounds like he's about ready to go home and be a dad anyway, and I can't blame him - I wouldn't want his job.

We all know Rogers is still making scads of money, and all your points are valid and pertinent, Tao. They'd need a really compelling reason to sell, and let's face it, with the Leafs and Raptors sucking, the Jays are the only other game in town, so...

Anonymous said...

I would say that NK is more of a manipulative tight-ass

Paul said...

I laud both sets of commentary. It's this kind of discourse that keeps a fanbase going, and one the expos in question didn't have.

Tao of Stieb said...

A thought about the scads of money that Rogers makes: they make it from cell phones. Really. A lot. But on cells and Blackberries... And lord, don't we know it.

Rogers makes some good coin from cable, a bit from their specialty and pay channels, a little less from radio and they break even on their over-the-air stations (Omni and City).

And believe us when we tell you that the mobile kids don't like to play sharesies with the cable kids, and they only play nice with broadcast when they have to, and none of them want to give a Rogers-red penny into the Jays.

(And really, can you blame them?)

Also, the fact that there are this many entrenched interests within the company helps fuel some of the leaks.

And thanks for commenting Pete...we appreciate the dialogue.

Anonymous said...

That makes me sad. So the Toronto Rogers Jays are this significant marketing tool, but no one wants the responsiblity of charging the batteries at night

Colin said...

The thing that worries me is that Ted Rogers understood this, he understood that a baseball team was an excellent marketing tool, and he understood how they could be tied into cross-promotion and branding.

That said, who knows if the new guy, if and when he come forward, will see things the same way. Especially if that person is not a baseball fan. Maybe he'll see the Jays as an albatross to be dumped ASAP.

What might be the Jays' saving grace is that they have become quite entrenched in Rogers. If Rogers sells then they must find someone without any interest in relocation. Mostly because without the Jays the Rogers Centre instantly becomes worthless, the Argos simply aren't an anchor tenant and I'm sure they'll be out of there as soon as another option comes up. Besides, they'll also lose a lot of good will from their market base.

What I can see is Beeston is simply taking his time to familiarize himself with the team, because the day a new president is named he moves into a dark office deep in the bowels of the Rogers Centre and begins the process of uniting the sports properties in Toronto.

I'm not sure I can see a full-out merger with MLSE, unless Rogers buys MLSE out (and in this economic market that seems unlikely even ifr we all know the Leafs will be profitable even if Canada dropped into the Third World), I see it more as a long-term agreement. Cross-promotion, Rogers logos everywhere, all the games on Sportsnet/theFan590, a red-brick road from the Rogers Centre to the Rogers Centre B (formerly known as the ACC), I can see it all. You could double the price of Leafs season tickets and boxes and throw in Jays season tickets and boxes, they'll still sell. The synergy of it all is intense.

And one last thought, for all those who complain about the Rogers Centre and want a "baseball stadium". The Rogers Centre may be older, and it may be concrete everywhere and it may be missing real grass, but I like it. Sure, a "baseball stadium" would be nice, in July, but in April and September it can get mighty cold. Besides, a "baseball stadium" would have less seats and I don't know about you but I like being able to walk up to the ticket sales in the middle of the second inning and not worry about getting a seat. While a "baseball stadium" might bring better crowds, which would be nice for the noise level, I like not having to line up for 3 innings to use the washroom, and I like that if the people beside me are pissing me off I can just move a few rows back. Also, I like that I never have to worry that my night might be ruined by the weather, as far as I'm concerned a stadium without a roof is a step backwards. As for the grass, I seriously have never understood this one. When I go to a baseball game it's to see the baseball, not the fucking landscaping.

Pete Toms said...

Colin, I wonder the same, what the hell would RCI do with the stadium sans Jays? And I think you're right about Mr. Rogers also. I think Godfrey realzied that Mr. Rogers wasn't long for this world and without his support the beancounters at RCI ( rightly or wrongly ) were gonna gut it or sell it ( or both ). Which leads me to Beeston....this guy has nothin better to do than get his butt handed to him in the AL East with a relatively tiny payroll (we've only seen the beginnings of this) and no dough to spend in the draft? A bit off topic but Jordan Bastian wrote since I sent this post in to BOB that the Jays are the ONLY team this offseason to not sign a SINGLE free agent to a major league deal. But, we got the near 40 pitcher from Japan so....

TonyC said...

Great post Tao !

Anonymous said...

There is a distinct possibility that the Jays will move if sold. Can anyone believe that the cheapskate Rogers made a 500 mill profit last quarter and they won't sink a dime back into the team. If they suck for the next few years(I think that they will) then attendance will go down NOT up. IN addition, there is no guarantee that they will be good next year either. Case in point, they will have no shortstop or catcher signed for the 2010 season. Also , who is subbing for Rolen who most certainly will be on the DL. On NY radio, a lot of pundits have postulated that the Jays will be one of the teams that will be selling and trying to get rid of Wells, Halladay, etc so on. I don't know about Doc, BUT if the Jays can get rid of that obscene salary that wells makes then that would be a gift, if anything.

Bruno Van Rottweiler

Colin said...

They have a couple of catchers in the minors who have a shot at cracking the 2010 lineup, otherwise they'll find a free agent. As for shortstop they'll either resign one of their guys or find a new FA.

Jose Bautista is Rolen's sub, and Scutaro can play 3B too, if Rolen is injured they have it covered. They also have a nice young player who tore up AA last year (Scott Campbell) who it would appear they are converting from 2B to 3B.

Unless they get hit by some serious injuries this team has the potential to do some serious damage in 2010, and anyone who thinks below .500 is a given this year is an idiot and probably didn't pay much attention last year. BP's third order wins standings had them at 92 wins and third best in the AL (and fourth in baseball!), and that's a far better predictor than the actual schedule. The loss of Burnett and Marcum does not guarantee a drop of 11 games, especially if Wells stays healthy, Ryan recovers fully, and Hill returns, not to mention potential development from Snider and Lind.

Playoffs are a stretch, but sucking is a whole different animal.

Colin is Stupid said...

Colin you are just stupid.

Colin said...

Well now you've convinced me, I can't believe how wrong I was. The Jays will suck because all their players are terrible and signed to bad deals and it's only a matter of time until the team uproots and flies the team and the Rogers Centre to Nashville.

Anonymous said...

The jays lose about 25M a year but as has been pointed out here, as a marketing tool and as a broadcast entity they take in more than they lose...however RCI has no incentive to spend wads of cash to finish third so they will be a perpetual b-class team. Which will do for RCI at least until they can start filling the Dome with Buffalo Bills fans then all bets are off on the Jays ownership...if only that RIM idiot were a ballfan..

Anonymous said...

Sorry Tao but I was at the international bowl a while back and they are tearing the Rogers store out of the stadium. I saw it with my own 2 eyes.

I don't get it... There must be thousands of people moving into the area. Do they prefer renting from the no name shop on Front vs Rogers?