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Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Sergio Santos shows off his tatoos at Jays Spring Training in Dunedin, Fla. on Tuesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Sergio Santos shows off his tatoos at Jays Spring Training in Dunedin, Fla. on Tuesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Usual Suspects

Will Rogers let Blue Jays get lost in the shuffle? Add to ...

It has come to our attention that some parties disagree with our analysis of the Toronto Blue Jays' TV revenue dilemma under Rogers Communications. Namely, the Blue Jays themselves and their acolytes in social media.

In the piece we pointed out that increased market competition is resulting in enormous windfalls for MLB teams when they renew their regional TV rights. These teams are using this money to sign free agents and push their payrolls into the stratosphere previously occupied only by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. But the Blue Jays have sunk to the lower third of MLB payrolls - this despite having the seventh-largest MLB market.

If we may characterize the objections to our tome, they might be summed up as the Rich Uncle Theory - as in, “we’re a little tight for dough, but we have a rich uncle who we can tap for cash”. Rogers, the Blue Jays and like-minded folk contend that with a rich corporate uncle like Rogers, the size of the TV rights and team payroll is not relevant. With Rogers bursting with cash, the team can access it anytime with a snap of GM Alex Anthopoulos’s fingers.

Except this Rogers uncle doesn’t seem to be hearing the plaintive cries of the ball team any more than our rich uncle is sending us Maserati money. Yes, the Jays are investing in development and drafting, and that’s admirable. But on other levels their enthusiasm seems faint. Free agents aren’t the only barometer of franchise health, but the inability to attract the game’s impact player to a large market like Toronto’s is not encouraging.

With the price of contracts for elite players getting jacked up elsewhere this winter, even keeping the Blue Jays’ homegrown players is going to test Rogers’ corporate strategy in the future. Will Rogers pay the going rate then? No guarantees.

Payroll is just the start. There are other issues Rogers money could address as well: the artificial turf of the Rogers Centre - just one of two such surfaces left in MLB - that causes free-agent stars such as Jose Reyes to say, “No mas” is another area where dollars seem scarce. Ditto the game-day presentation at the concrete anachronism by the lake. And then there is the long-term issue of what to do about Rogers’ stadium that’s getting older and was never very warm for baseball.

Here’s the Blue Jays' dilemma. They’re nice TV content for Rogers Sportsnet six months of the year - except it’s largely the wrong six months of the year for ad revenues. Their asset value to the larger Rogers world is not significant. With the Rogers mothership now partially owning the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC, the baseball boys are more likely to get lost in the shuffle - not get extra attention - than before. They’re already behind the curve of MLB spending. Chances they catch up to even the midpoint of MLB payrolls? Especially when business with the mobile phones is in flux.

We’re actually looking forward to this Blue Jays season. There are plenty of reasons to watch Brett Lawrie and Co. The Yankees and Red Sox are (relatively) vulnerable. Talented Tampa Bay is competing with a payroll even smaller than Toronto’s while Baltimore stumbles with a higher payroll. Mike Wilner of Sportsnet Radio Fan 590 will yell at some lame caller. But until Rogers shows itself ready to pay the freight for a World Series contender we’re not going to get carried away.

Culture Clubbed: We have talked previously about the differences in hockey culture between Canada and America. NBC Sports analyst Billy Jaffe discovered the dividing line after commenting on the miserable effort by Washington in a 5-0 loss to Carolina. Jaffe used the word shinny to describe the Caps’ awful effort. Apparently shinny is not a well-known term in America, and websites like the satirical Deadspin began mocking Jaffe for using a word with two Ts instead of two Ns on live TV.

After considerable mirth at Jaffe’s expense, someone contacted Deadspin to explain that shinny is a version of hockey whereas the other word is not. Deadspin backed off - sorta’. Tweeted Jaffe, “It's not that I didnt feel the Caps weren't playing- ahem - poorly...but I would never use a word like that on air. Always respect the biz.”

Ron Gone: Speaking of words that resemble shinny, former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski got caught using the wrong word on air this season. Now he’s lamenting getting tossed from ESPN’s Monday Night Football (He was given a five-year-deal and other duties by ESPN to ease the pain.) “I'm going to miss it,” Jaws told a Philadelphia radio station. “There's no question in that. It's a high-profile position, it's Monday Night Football. I've had the seat for five years and enjoyed every second of it.” Really? He’ll miss all those one-sided snoozers that ESPN was stuck with? And listening to Jon Gruden’s man crush on every guy who can do up a chin strap? Okay.

Ken Do: Good to see our old CBC Toronto colleague Ken Daniels toughing it out with a cold on NBC’s Hockey Day In America on Sunday. We’re biased, of course, but never could understand how CBC let him go to the Detroit Red Wings TV network. He’d be a strong No. 2 in the current Hockey Night In Canada roster. Listening to Daniels and sidekick Mickey Redmond is a treat.

Channel Hopping: Bob Weeks reports that after 18 years, SCOREGolf is moving from Sportsnet Radio FAN 590 and the Rogers network to TSN Radio. “Without getting into too much of the business mumbo-jumbo, it just made sense for us to put all our assets - TV, radio and internet - into the same camp and that camp will be TSN,” writes Weeks, who does reporting for TSN already.

“For most people across the country, it means our SCOREGolf Show, a daily 90-second golf show will be on a TSN or Bell station near you although in some cases, it will stay on the Rogers network.”

NBC Ratings Down: Good news and bad news for NBC’s new Sports Channel venture. Good news is that ratings are up 7 per cent on the NHL broadcasts to an average of 333,000. Bad news is that viewership for the former Versus Channel is down 21 per cent overall from January 2011 to January 2012. Losing UFC to FOX probably didn’t help ratings, but the network hopes its association with Major League Soccer and IndyCar can make up that difference.

“We knew coming into this that if we were going to change this network and create, basically, a new sports network from scratch, we’re going to have some short-term issues ratings-wise,” Jon Miller, president of programming at NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network, told the Sports Business Journal. “But understand at the end of the day, it’s a long race. And slow-and-steady wins it.”

Armour Plated: Final note on ESPN firing a 28-year-old editor Anthony Federico and suspending anchor Max Bretos for using the expression “chink in the armour” when referring to Asian American NBA star Jeremy Lin. Federico says he never thought about the headline as punny or cute, and only realized the connotation later. Bretos, meanwhile, is married to an Asian American woman. So it’s not what it first appeared. But when political correctness demands, reason goes out the side door.

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