A conversation about MLB, on the field, off the field.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

From the basement October 23

Blue Jays

The only team - in any sport - I root for is the Jays. I hop on the Senators bandwagon Game 1, Round 1, ( even fly a flag on my truck, until it falls off, which is typically around the end of Round 1 ) and hop off within seconds of their final playoff game. I was a fan of our Triple A Lynx but it wasn't the same as the Jays. Ultimately the AAA team exists to support the big team, which I found a disincentive to investing in it emotionally. I was a Renegades / Riders fan when the CFL was here. I watch NFL, if anything I'm a Bills fan because for years all their games were broadcast in this market. Today I couldn't name 4 Bills players. Still I remain a fan of the Jays. Unfortunately I'm not optimistic about the future of baseball in Toronto. My pessimism has nothing to do with a disappointing 83 win season just ended - they were unlucky, good health is good luck - in fact I think they can compete for a playoff spot into September next season. Longer term I think there are some fundamental reasons that the Jays franchise will struggle.

The NFL in Toronto

Lots and lots of talk in Toronto concerning the NFL coming to town. The talk centres around whether or not it will happen - it will - and the resulting impact on the CFL. I haven't read any opinion on the effect the NFL in Toronto will have on the Blue Jays but it certainly won't be positive.

The Blue Jays already compete with the Leafs and Raptors ( the Argos are irrelevant ) for dollars, on an individual fan level and on a corporate level. When the NFL comes to Toronto the Jays will find selling tickets, suites, signage, sponsorships, merchandise, a whole lot more "competitive". The sports pie is only so big and the Jays piece will certainly be smaller than at present.

In the short term both the Jays and the NFL will share a facility but everybody knows that a new NFL only stadium will be constructed. When the NFL stadium is complete the Rogers Centre will compare poorly, in comfort, concessions, signage, suites, club levels etc. Corporate Toronto, which is to say corporate Canada, will turn their noses up at the drab, old, ghetto, Rogers Centre.

There's only so much oxygen and the NFL will suck up a lot of it. Fans have limited time and appetites for sports. To think that a lot of Toronto sports fans won't be devoting time and attention to the NFL - in the initial seasons particulary - is naive. Are the Jays en route to becoming #4 - of the big 4 - in the Toronto sports market?

The Rogers Centre

The Rogers Centre is crap for baseball. This problem exists regardless of whether or not another football stadium is ever constructed in Toronto. It always was a shitty place to watch baseball, even when the Jays were drawing 4 million per year. It's too big, too sterile, too much cement. I always felt like I was watching a baseball game in a shopping mall, right down to the food - MacDonalds. It was very novel and popular initially, the roof opened and closed ( a quantum leap forward from the Olympic Stadium ), the structure was mammoth, the jumbotron was not to be believed, the team was exciting. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.

Read my lips, it's the stadium, stupid. The contemporary / retro baseball stadium is the biggest single factor in the unprecedented popularity of professional baseball ( MLB, MILB, Independent Leagues ) and the Jays don't have one and are not likely to get one. The Jays remain one of few teams in MLB playing in the now antiquated multi purpose facility. ( Oakland and Florida are desparately trying to get out of their multi purpose facilities. ) People love the new stadiums, more intimate, seats closer to the field, fewer seats, better sight lines, better concessions and a baseball "retro feel". Of the 79 million fans who went to MLB games this season, most I would agrue, could care less about baseball. People go with friends, family, co workers, suppliers, customers. They arrive late, leave early, eat, drink, chat, maybe watch some of the game, maybe not, and they love it. People like the atmosphere, the escape, the diversion.

But the importance of a stadium goes beyond mere attendance. Attendance isn't the key figure. The key figure is how much revenue a team generates per game and that involves much more than turnstile clicks. It's about ticket prices, suite prices, signage, sponsorships and the like. The newer the stadium, the greater the opportunities and Rogers Centre is now considered old, soon to be 20. ( Daniel Snyder is talking about his need for a new stadium and Fed Ex Field is only 10 years old! )

The AL East

I wish the Jays would / could leave the AL East. If this franchise played in any other division it would be compete for a playoff spot with some regularity. This has more to do with the magical parity elixir of luxury taxes, revenue sharing, wild card than anything the Jays are doing. But the Jays, O's and D Rays are at the biggest competitive disadvantage in MLB, playing the evil empires ( yes they number 2 now ) close to 1/4 of their schedules. I don't know how long it's been since an AL East team other than the evil empires made the playoffs but it's too long and is killing interest in the Jays.

I don't know if Rogers sees it that way though. The Yankees ( 10,000 per game above league average as a road draw ) and Red Sox are obviously very popular in Toronto both at the gate and on TV - they are the superstars of MLB. I haven't seen any speculation about realignment in a long time, contraction never happened and nobody foresees expansion, so maybe Jays fans are stuck with it.

The Suits

Ted Rogers will be part of the ownership group that brings the NFL to Toronto. What does this mean for his Blue Jays? I am in the camp who believe that Mr. Rogers boosted the Jays payroll the past handful of seasons simply because he was tired of owning a middling baseball team, he decided he wanted to win. I suspect his NFL franchise will become his new favorite play toy and that the Jays will suffer from his neglect ( his money ).

Bob McCown told his audience this past Friday that Jays President Paul Godfrey is on the way out. ( In so many words he said that. ) McCown is a credible guy - especially on matters Toronto sports -, he wouldn't intimate that without some sound knowledge. The better question is, who is his anonymous source and what is the motive of that anonymous source? Is Rogers trying to embarrass Godfrey, nudge him toward the door? Further evidence that there is something to this speculation is Godfrey's silence these past few weeks. Nobody has been more publicly associated with Toronto's desire to lure the NFL to town than Godfrey, for decades he has been pounding the drum. But now, when speculation is more rampant than ever and the NFL is making official announcments about Bills games in Toronto, Godfrey is nowhere.

If Godfrey is on the outs with Rogers ( Mr. & Corporation ) that isn't good for the Jays. Mr. Rogers hiring of Godfrey - and Godfrey's willingness to take the job - were an indication that Mr. Rogers was taking more of an interest in his baseball team. The recent increase in Jays payroll was also an indication that Godfrey had some schlep upstairs. If Godfrey leaves I will interpret that as a sign that Mr. Rogers is losing interest in baseball and the payroll will decline.

Moneyball

Paul Godfrey drank the Moneyball Kool Aid and hired one of Billy Beane's disciples - J.P. Ricciardi. Godciaardi did a marvelous sales job in Toronto. They told anybody and everybody that J.P. would compete with the evil empires because - just like Beane - although he had less money, he was smarter, he understood Moneyball. ( It was better than selling Buck Martinez as the savior. ) One big problem, everybody else read the book too. Opinion amongst the baseball geeks is that by the time Moneyball was published most of the teams had, in varying degrees, adopted the basic principles of it. Yes Billy Beane, Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, Bill James, J.P. et. al were ahead of the curve, but as Rob Neyer said not long ago ( I'm paraphrasing probably ) re. Moneyball, the low hanging fruit has been picked. In other words, everybody's doin it, so you ain't got no advantage any longer. Godciaardi knows Moneyball? Good, get in line. In fact, the Jays increased payroll the past handful of years - and Godciaardi's public lobbying for the increase - is an admission that Moneyball isn't the magic cure any longer.

2 comments:

Diesel said...

You bring up a lot of interesting points w/r/t the Blue Jays, though I'm not sure I agree with all of them or (more importantly) the logic behind them. To wit:

- Revenue is not a zero-sum situation. Just because corporate dollars will stream into an NFL franchise doesn't mean those same dollars will stream out of the Jays. The problem the Jays face is a lack of interest in the team and an unsuitability, in the minds of potential spenders, of the product for their purposes. If the NFL and MLB seasons ran into each other to any great degree, I would agree that the competition couldn't help but hurt the Jays. But the bottom line is that the Jays are competing with other entertainment venues for corporate sponsors in the summer, and fighting a losing battle. The truth is that the Skydome/Rodgers Centre hurts the Jays in this capacity more than the presence of an NFL team ever would, probably by a factor of 10.

- Riccardi's inability to compete has less to do with Moneyball being old news than it does his ineptitude as a forward thinker. Moneyball was never about OBP, anyway; it was about sound management and asset allocation. Yes, the Jays' presence in the AL East certainly makes the hill tougher to climb, but not impossible; the A's would have been competitive in the AL East for most of their halcyon seasons. Riccardi needed a bigger payroll because his player development system has done little in the last five years, and he's been forced to overspend on free agents in an effort to improve the team. High-priced free agents are almost never a good deal, as the Jays are finding out, and they'd be much better off spending the money on scouting and development, as the Devil Rays have. When, in two years, the Rays are a serious playoff contender, it will be almost completely with homegrown talent on the field. The reason for their success will be the same as the reasons behind the success of the A's, Indians, Twins, Tigers and Angels in recent years. There is no direct correlation between payroll and quality; there is one between management acumen and quality, however.

Those differences in opinion aside, you're hitting the nail on the head with a lot of stuff here, and it's all bad news for the Jays, the team of my youth (I grew up in Toronto). I don't forsee the stadium situation changing anytime soon, which means the organization will have to resort to excellent management if it wishes to be relevant again. And I am not sanguine about the chances of the latter becoming the case, either.

Keep up the good work, and clean out the basement every so often.

- Disel

Pete Toms said...

Hey Diesel, thanks for reading and commenting. How does a Torontonian end up in Phoenix?

I agree, the stadium is a much bigger problem for the Jays than the impending move of the NFL to Toronto. ( I didn't list my concerns in order of importance ). Isn't it revealing that in 04 Rogers purchased the stadium for a mere $25 million ( reputedly )? Astounding.

As for JP's draft record, see my posting from January 30, I agree it's poor. Interestingly, JP has deviated from the Moneyball dogma the past few drafts and has chosen more high school players, in fact Travis Snider is the best Jays prospect in sometime.

Thanks again, your comments are well informed and much appreciated.