Sportsnet The Fan 590's Blue Jays radio logo.

Canada’s Rogers Sports and Media owns MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays and the TV (Sportsnet) and radio (Sportsnet The Fan 590 in Toronto, plus many of the stations in the Blue Jays Radio Network across Canada) that carry their games. That’s now led to the Jays being the only MLB team to not have a distinct radio broadcast. (That can be confirmed via this list of the current broadcasters for each team.) Rogers announced Friday that they’re  “streamlining” their Jays broadcasts for 2021 (read: killing the radio feed and replacing it with a simulcast of their TV feed). And, amazingly enough, they’re trying to blame the COVID-19 pandemic for this, citing travel and production issues. Here’s that announcement:

“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.”

“Travel” doesn’t really seem to be a question here with any relevance to the radio broadcast. It would be in a normal world, but 2021 is not normal, including for the Jays, who plan to split their home games amongst Dunedin, Florida (to start), Buffalo (where they played last year), and perhaps Toronto if governmental regulations allow that later in the year. But that’s not something affecting the broadcasts; last year saw local radio and TV broadcasters across MLB markets working from home facilities for away games.

And specific to the Jays, even their home games in Buffalo last year were called from Toronto studios by Wagner and Mike Wilner (who Rogers let go in November). And as per that TSM story, the remaining Jays TV feed (and its radio simulcast) will have again Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez calling games off monitors in Toronto, with Pat Tabler contributing from his home in Ohio, similar to what they did last year. So it seems silly to say that they’re not having a separate radio feed “in an effort to minimize travel.” The real logic here seems to be about saving money. And if that is the actual reason for this move, even if this release only mentions 2021, it seems unlikely that a real, separate radio feed will return in 2022.

Beyond the unsupported comments from Rogers about making this move over travel and pandemic restrictions, this is a poor idea in general. There are huge differences between TV and radio play-by-play; the visual element involved in TV means that broadcasters don’t have to be as descriptive of everything the way they are on radio. Using the same feed for both mediums seems likely to produce an inferior product for both. And there are a lot of people who love baseball on the radio rather than the TV version; that’s not going to be the same with a TV simulcast. While there are always some people happy to chirp that “Radio is dead!”, that really isn’t the case for live sports games, and for MLB in particular.

In fact, the biggest previous move in this direction was a much less significant one, with the Oakland A’s announcing ahead of the 2020 season that their radio broadcast would only be available digitally in their home market thanks to issues finding a terrestrial affiliate. But that was still an independent radio feed with the expected team of radio broadcasters; all that changed was the distribution platform. And that still irked a lot of people, and the A’s eventually changed course six games into the season and signed a terrestrial deal. Going away from a separate radio feed altogether and just repurposing a TV feed feels much bigger, and much more likely to create strong backlash. Here’s some of the backlash that popped up on Twitter Friday:

The idea of simulcasting a TV feed on radio has been done in some sports, particularly with some NHL teams. But that generally hasn’t gone over very well. And baseball seems like a particularly bad sport to try to bring this to. We’ll see how it works out for Rogers.

[Toronto Sports Media]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.