Why Do The Blue Jays Talk Big But Act So Small?
The week of infamy has begun for Toronto Blue Jays fans. Three years ago their team was a powerhouse, seemingly on the brink of a trip to the World Series.
This week, the week before MLB’s 2019 trading deadline, finds the Blue Jays gone from powerhouse to house of cards. The power and the glory of the José Bautista days has vanished as the team owners trade anyone and everyone who has a pricey contract.
The defenestration of the Jays began on the weekend as the team dumped its golden-boy pitcher, Marcus Stroman, for, in the vivid words of Paul Simon, a pocket full of mumbles such are promises. Veteran infielder Eric Sogard was also given his get-out-of-Toronto-jail card. He was sent to the Tampa Rays for players so valuable they’re both called To Be Named Later.
It’s clear the team is making a spirited run at the toothless Tigers of Detroit for the honour of being MLB’s worst squad (which might be tough seeing how Detroit has just 30 wins so far). More than that, Rogers is making a payroll purge to guarantee that those empty seats in September won’t be a point of contention at the next stockholders’ meeting.
As it has so often in the past, Rogers is turning its pockets inside out like that man on Monopoly’s Chance card. See? No money here to run a proper team. We’re just poor, modest Canadians trying to keep our heads above water. Don’t blame us we can compete with the Yankees or Red Sox.
That narrative is so much bunkum, of course. The Blue Jays’ represent the fourth largest urban market in North America. The Golden Horseshoe has about eight million people within 90 minutes of the Jays’ home park. They also have a monopoly on the 37 million citizens of Canada who are forced to take Rogers’ telecasts of the punchless Jays.
They can compete with anyone should they want to. But they let on to fans that they’re just poor Canajuns when, in fact, they are gutting the team because they’ve gotten themselves into such hot water with their $5.2 billion NHL TV/ digital contract. The millstone Rogers acquired from Gary “We Can Get It For You Wholesale” Bettman is strangling the company’s financial flexibility.
As we’ve said here before, the Rogers staff cuts of Bob McCown, Bob Cole, Daren Milard, Gord Cutler and many others are symptoms of the panic infesting the inner sanctum of Rogers. The poor old phone salesmen are groping for answers. And one of them is to rob the Blue Jays— and their fans— to keep from having to sell off parts of the broadcast contract.
That’s just business, you might say. Okay. But don’t let anyone tell you they’re a small market, limited, resources-stretched franchise (as the Raptors did when they let Kawhi Leonard walk to Los Angeles Clippers). Toronto is a big market. A very big market with abundant resources to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox.
It’s the very antithesis of the situation being faced by the city of Calgary, which will know by midweek if they are helping to build a new arena for the hometown Flames. Cost: $275 million of the proposed $550 million is the ante with such more to come in infrastructure etc.
Building an arena for— or in partnership with the Flames well-heeled owners— was never an easy sell. Now it’s made worse as property taxes have shot up by much as 30 percent in some cases (my own went up 18%). Having said no to the dream of hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics, Calgary citizens are clearly in an ornery mood. They’re not overwhelmed by the glitz and glamour of pro sports at the moment.
A new arena is an issue that’s been circulating in Calgary since 2005 when Flames Entertainment president Ken King told listeners to my radio show that the Flames would be in a new building by 2013— at the latest. Deadlines came. Deadlines went. Shovels never went near the ground. Costs zoomed even as the civic economy was savaged by the oil collapse and the cancellation of several pipelines.
It’s a lousy recipe for selling a huge commitment of public money. But if Calgary wants to keep its precious bragging point of an NHL team, it needs a new arena. Playing in the decrepit Saddledome or in a building where they cannot reap all the revenues their competitors get from their stadium complexes is a ticket to losing the team.
So Calgary tax payers and their feckless politicians have to ask themselves the opposite question now being asked by Toronto sports fans. “Do you feel big league? How much are you prepared to pay for it?”
Toronto can afford the luxury of a shiny sports franchise. Calgary is at its breaking point, pushed to compete with markets that dwarf it in size and corporate support. How much do they want to pay for a good civic feeling? Do they want to spend like big shots to stay in the league?
We are about to find out.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them is now available on brucedowbigginbooks.ca