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!)