A year after telling everybody he was only taking the job on an interim basis, Paul Beeston agreed last October to assume the position of president and chief executive officer of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre on a permanent basis. One of the architects of the Blue Jays' back-to-back World Series wins in 1992-'93, Beeston now has a very tough task ahead of him: convincing fans that a team that has traded away its best pitcher-Roy Halladay-can play meaningful games through the fall. Puffing on a cigar in his private box at the Jays' Dunedin Stadium, Beeston talked with Jeff Blair, moments before Halladay took the mound-in a Philadelphia uniform.
Very simple question: How do you sell the team to fans this year? Hopefully we will be a good, young, aggressive team that will run out every ball and hit the cut-off man and make errors of aggression as opposed to anything else. We have to build like we did before. People will be part of the ride and identify with these players.
Do you really think you can sell hope? I don't think we can necessarily sell "hope." I think people need to see an end result, and once we start winning, the people will come out. I have to go to another sport for an example and that's the Chicago Blackhawks. I mean, 3,500 season seats …less than 10,000 people [in attendance] What did they do? They drafted well, signed a couple of free agents. They've got some of the best, exciting young players in the game and now they're drawing 19,000, and you can't buy a seat. That was Chicago. They had to see a winner.
You're not discounting as many tickets at Rogers Centre this year. How come? What we're doing with ticket pricing is plowing the revenue back into the organization. If we're doing it when we're not playing well and we do get to the point where we are playing well, we'll generate the revenue to keep it going. That will put us back into what I would call the "big market caucus." At some point in time, what's good for the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cubs and the Dodgers [will be]good for the Blue Jays. The only way we'll increase the revenue is by winning, but we want the infrastructure in place. Baseball is still the most inexpensive sport in North America.
A lot of people pick on the Rogers Centre, but you've made changes, specifically a new artificial surface that allows for quicker turnaround time after events. Are you confident the venue can generate more revenue? People forget that the Rogers Centre has a lot going for it, not the least of which is its location. But we want to use it more. We want to have more rock shows and sporting events, whether it's soccer, cricket or football games. The Rogers Centre and the Blue Jays are inextricably united in revenue, which goes back to the baseball team: The more revenue we can get, the more we can plow it back into the team. Because you can get lucky, but under the system we have, you better have high salaries if you want to win.
Hypothetical question: What would have to happen for Rogers to sell the team?
I can't answer that question. All I can do is tell you what they tell me. The Rogers family has been terrific-very supportive to members in the organization. Edward and Melinda [Rogers]are both very supportive. Nadir Mohamed, Phil Lind and Tony Viner don't only understand the content part of it, I think they understand that Ted Rogers, in a lot of ways, did this for the city of Toronto. I don't think they see this as any social corporate responsibility-because this is not a charity-but they understand it's good for the city and the brand. If we win, we can make the Jays a coast-to-coast property again.