Sunday marked the first day of MLB Spring Training baseball, delighting MLB fans who had anxiously awaited the return of professional baseball to North America. The Toronto Blue Jays opened their spring slate against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. The Jays defeated their Grapefruit League and AL East Division rivals by a score of 6-4.
The game was one of ten games to be broadcast on Rogers SportsNet, an arm of the team’s owner, Rogers Communications. However, apparently only the three home games on this schedule (March 21, 22 and 28) will be produced by the SportsNet broadcast team. The others will be aired using the opponent’s TV feed, forcing fans to endure extensive coverage of Aaron Judge‘s yoga routines if they want to see the Jays in action.
This issue has been overshadowed by Rogers’ decision to end dedicated radio broadcasts for 2021, blaming travel risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an effort to minimize travel and closely adhere to team, league, and government protocols related to the pandemic, Sportsnet will be streamlining production for the 2021 season by simulcasting TV broadcasts on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and across the Sportsnet Radio Network. Blue Jays fans can now enjoy the legendary voices of Buck Martinez, Dan Shulman, and Pat Tabler on both TV and radio. Ben Wagner remains part of the Blue Jays on Sportsnet broadcast team, joining Jamie Campbell, Joe Siddall, Hazel Mae, and Arash Madani in covering all the bases throughout the season.
According to Awful Announcing, this will make the Jays the first MLB team without a dedicated radio feed. While Shulman is certainly very capable of handling simulcasting duties, I agree with Awful Announcing writer Andrew Bucholtz’s conclusion that the move will likely result in an inferior product for both TV viewers and radio listeners. Others have weighed in with similar concerns:
From the time I can remember, I’ve been listening to baseball on radio. Indoors, outdoors, in the car, late at night. Now the Blue Jays are giving us a television simulcast. The intimacy will not be the same.
— steve simmons (@simmonssteve) February 26, 2021
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) February 27, 2021
Broadcasters have already adapted to the pandemic by calling all games from the home stadium, using video feeds for away games. Blue Jays broadcasters stayed in Toronto last year and did not travel to Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York, which the Jays called home for the 2020 season. I agree with Bucholtz that the pivot to simulcasting seems to be an effort by Rogers to save money, which raises questions about its overall strategy for the Blue Jays. It is strange for the broadcasting budget to be cut while the team has increased the payroll to build around young stars Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, signing former Houston Asterisk George Springer to anchor the outfield and offense.
It also betrays Rogers’ disrespect for the longstanding tradition of broadcasting baseball on the radio and radio’s importance in bringing the games to fans as they travel and go about their daily business. Original Jays radio broadcaster Tom Cheek, a Ford C. Frick Award honoree known for his call of Joe Carter‘s walkoff home run to win the 1993 World Series, is a beloved icon of longtime Jays fans. Cheek’s banner on the Blue Jays’ Level of Excellence has been on display at Rogers Centre since 2004. The decision to simulcast Jays games dishonors the legacy of broadcasters like Cheek, and it is disheartening to think that other teams and broadcasters may follow suit if Rogers’ decision delivers the desired financial results.
Toronto, Canada – June 28, 2016: Sign of Toronto Blue Jays by Lester Balajadia / Shutterstock.com.