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Dear Joe Natale: It’s Time to Sell the Blue Jays

Dear Joe,

Congratulations on recently becoming Rogers CEO!

I know you’re busy improving customer service, so I don’t want to take too much of your time. And as a Rogers customer, thanks for that in advance, by the way. Big job.

I wanted to talk to you about the Toronto Blue Jays.

It’s time to sell the team.

Corporate ownership of an MLB team is unusual. It’s just you and Atlanta. Seattle used to be, but they sold last year. Given the amount of corporate money out there, it’s a bit odd, don’t you think? It’s probably because teams don’t produce enough profit to justify their current market value to shareholders. Things that bring status to the super-rich do not normally come at a bargain.

Why would you want the team, anyway? It doesn’t help your brand. Remember the summer of 2015, when everyone in the country fell in love with the Blue Jays? After Rogers approved taking on additional contracts at the trade deadline? They all credited Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston and were really angry at you for bringing in some “corporate” people from Cleveland to push them out. Even when it goes well for the Blue Jays, it doesn’t go well for Rogers.

I get that the content is valuable to you. But you can extract much of the benefit the team produces for you without actually owning it. Lock in a low-cost long-term TV contract, including the digital content that drives traffic to your digital properties. Keep the building and sign a long-term lease, which maintains the naming value as well. (Even though many of us will continue to call it SkyDome. Sorry). Negotiate for some promotional rights. Keep your name on the tickets, even! It’s all there for the taking, Joe.

Will doing those things reduce the value of the asset? Of course. But there’s cachet to owning a sports team, and I’d predict that because of that, the reduction in price would be less than the economic value of some below-market long-term contracts. That would make the deal even better for your shareholders.

And what an asset you have to sell! The price of sports franchises has skyrocketed. The Miami Marlins are about to be sold in the range of $1 – $1.3 billion USD. Billion! The Miami Marlins! That’s gotta be a bubble, right?

Here’s more reasons why the Jays may be at peak value:

  • More than ever, it’s Canada’s team, which has huge value. A 35 million person market! But how long will that last? Canadians from outside the city don’t generally love cheering for Toronto, so what happens when a plucky upstart team returns to Montreal?
  • The team led the league in attendance last year, and will probably top 3 million fans again this year. What happens next year if they finish this year below .500? Why wait around to find out?
  • Osuna, Donaldson, Stroman, Sanchez, Vlady Jr. – new owners pay extra for having marketable stars that they can work to lock up. You’ve got that in spades right now.

Fan interest, stars, a huge market – this thing sells itself.

What about demand? Hoo-boy! There will be lots of demand. Your good friend Edward Rogers will get a group together, no doubt. So will Paul Beeston. Paul Godfrey? All the Pauls! There are more than three dozen Canadian billionaires. Surely there are a few baseball fans in there.

You will have to be true to your shareholders and get the best possible price, but let me make another suggestion. You can absolutely leverage this for Rogers’ brand if you prioritize selling to a Canadian group (or individual) who loves baseball and wants to run the team as a passion, not as a business. If you find us our own Arte Morino, Ted Lerner or Mike Illich, Rogers can be a hero by selling the team that they could never be by owning it.

Also, the team needs it! If a new owner took over, they’d probably look to make a splash. Sign Josh Donaldson to an extension? Go after Bryce Harper or one of the other superstar free agents available soon? Run payroll up to $200 million a year for a few years while the farm system gets re-built? These are absolutely things a new cashed-up owner might do to keep attendance high. The Dodgers followed this approach after their early 2012 acquisition, and were up 800,000 fans by 2013 (which they’ve kept through continued investment in players and management). With a national audience to buy merchandise and the capacity to draw four million fans locally, there’s no reason the Blue Jays can’t join the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox at the top of the sport.

Let’s be honest Joe – are you prepared to take a plan like that to your board? To really support this team the way it deserves to be supported? The way a passionate Canadian baseball fan would?

You’ve got a peak value asset, the ability to extract value through a lease and a TV contract and a honeymoon period at the beginning of your tenure. Not to mention a way to earn the undying gratitude of a desperate fan base.

Do the right thing, Joe. Do it now.

Best Regards,

Every Blue Jay Fan, Everywhere

Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

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4 comments on “Dear Joe Natale: It’s Time to Sell the Blue Jays”

niveb

Excellent. From a fiduciary point of view Rogers is almost bound to put this team on the market. Unfortunately half the media in Toronto has a vested interest in maintaining Rogers’ connection.

Arjonn

So… who’s going to start up the crowdfunding campaign? :p

Roger Maloney

Great idea as I see it. Rogers doesn’t want to spend the big bucks to compete with the big boys like the Yanks and Boston so cash out now and let an entrepreneur take the Jays to the next level.

Kongos

Crowdnfunding: if 5.6 million Canadians each pitch in $250, that raises about enough to buy the team. Doesn’t leave any money left over for the fancy contracts, though.

I’d chip in my $250 to help get rid of Shatkins.

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