The Toronto Blue Jays are the only MLB team without a dedicated radio broadcast this season. Instead, the team is simulcasting their TV broadcast on the radio, announcing that move just before the season with a frankly unbelievable citation of pandemic restrictions (which has not stopped any other team from having a dedicated radio feed; it’s much more believable that this move was made to reduce the expenses associated with the radio broadcast). That shift to a simulcast was widely blasted at the time, and the criticism for it has continued throughout the broadcasts so far. But, according to a recent interview that Rogers Sportsnet vice president Rob Corte gave to Gregory Strong of The Canadian Press, it’s “so far, so good” to date from the company’s perspective:
The network’s commentators had to pivot from a television-only style to one that would be inviting for radio listeners as well. Rob Corte, vice-president of Sportsnet and NHL Productions, is pleased with the early results.
“So far, so good,” Corte said in a recent interview. “We’ve had a few discussions about how we can make it a little bit more ‘radio’ at times without compromising the television product. But it is a fluid process and we’re constantly tweaking it and looking for ways to get better as the season goes on.
“We’re not quite there yet but I’m happy with the progress. But as I said, there’s still a little bit of a way to go before we find the sweet spot where we’re completely happy.”
Well, at least they’re not claiming to be “completely happy” yet. As Strong’s piece points out, there have been numerous instances to date where the television commentary has been completely unsuited for a radio audience, including three specific uses of “see” from analyst Buck Martinez on a single late-April broadcast of a Jays’ game against the Washington Nationals. Radio viewers, of course, cannot “see” what Martinez is referencing. And language like that illustrates just how poor this approach is for a radio broadcast; if the commentators try to describe things in enough detail for radio, they’re vastly overexplaining for the TV audience. TV on the Radio is a good band, but it’s a terrible sports broadcasting strategy.
Strong’s piece also has the note that Rogers refused to make the broadcast crew (Martinez, Dan Shulman and Pat Tabler) available for interviews, which is definitely something normal to see alongside “so far, so good.” And a further indication of how this is not “so far, so good” comes from the response to Strong’s article. An interesting collection of responses there were to the @yyzsportsmedia tweet on this; here are just a few of those.
TV on the radio does not work and it is unfair to ask it. I’ve tried several times this season in the car and as many as three or four pitches can go by before you get the count. Being a “bit more ‘radio’ at times without compromising the television product” is not possible.
— Brian Gray (@BNGray) May 14, 2021
I don’t enjoy it at all. Less descriptive than a straight radio broadcast. I can look past the mistakes like “as you can see” but I want to know more about what is going on. Hard to get a picture of the action while listening.
— Movie Merc (@Moviemerc) May 14, 2021
No, it’s not going well. Vin Scully proved that it could work, but with a two-man booth, conversations are started and take precedence over the play-by-play. As a result, pitches are missed, defensive alignments ignored, wind in or out not mentioned, etc.
— Chris Mayberry (@maybo01) May 14, 2021
Earlier in the season Ryu struck a guy out while Tabby and Buck talked about the 1980 KC Royals. Games without Shulman are utterly brutal. Makes zero sense as they are still paying Wagner. @Rogers reputation as cheap and shortsighted is enhanced
— Craig Morton (@morty162) May 14, 2021
It really says something when one of the best broadcaster voices in baseball (@DShulman_ESPN) can’t make what works on TV work on radio at the same time. IMHO the reason Buck isn’t commenting is because he doesn’t like it. Clearly, neither do any of the fans. Cc: @sportsnet
— Mark Ellis (@MarkEllis_TV) May 14, 2021
Often three or four pitches into an at bat before they even mention the count or that game action is even happening. Finishing plays (ie., out, hit, walk, etc) Obvious things to a tv viewer don’t get mentioned. (Score, count, outs). Listen only with MLB at-bat also running.
— Stephen McKetsy (@steps75) May 14, 2021
From an outside point of view, what’s particularly annoying about this move is the distinction between the rationale Rogers is citing and what seems much more likely to actually be the reasoning at play. The Rogers press release on this in February started with “In an effort to minimize travel and closely adhere to team, league, and government protocols related to the pandemic.” That is not a believable reason; as mentioned, the pandemic has not stopped any other MLB team from having radio broadcasts. And Ben Wagner, who was scheduled to work on the radio broadcasts, is still at the team’s “home” stadium in Florida, providing updates and segments for this new TV/radio approach.
And special Canadian government rules can’t really be cited here, with the Jays playing home games in Florida right now, with their TV broadcasts being done remotely, and with many other MLB teams doing radio broadcasts remotely. If Rogers had felt like doing a real, distinct radio broadcast, they absolutely would have been able to do so under the current regulations in every applicable jurisdiction. And despite Corte’s comments, it’s frankly not possible to make a feed that will be the “sweet spot” for both radio and TV listeners. Those are different audiences with different needs. Anything in the middle will be at least a partial disservice to both audiences.
The most logical conclusion here is that Rogers decided that the annoyances they’d create and the listeners they’d lose by simulcasting a TV feed as a “radio broadcast” were less significant to their bottom line than the amount of money they’d spend on a real radio broadcast. And they’re the team’s rightsholder for both TV and radio (as well as the team’s owner), so they’re entitled to make that decision. But the attempts to dress this up in pandemic precautions and to claim that they’re working towards a “sweet spot” of one broadcast that works in both mediums are just lame excuses.
The true message to radio listeners is that Rogers doesn’t value them. Or, at least, Rogers value them enough to provide them with a real radio feed, unlike every other single MLB team. (It’s notable that even teams that didn’t even have terrestrial radio for a while continued with a distinct radio feed available through streaming.) A distinct radio broadcast is a bare minimum for a MLB team, and the lowest bar imaginable; no one’s even discussing the quality of the broadcast at that point, just the existence of it. And yet, this company managed to limbo under that bar.
And on that front, the other silly thing with this pandemic excuse is that it allows Rogers to say they haven’t decided yet on restoring a separate radio feed in 2022 or continuing with the simulcast. Sure, maybe they haven’t made that decision yet. But it’s not going to be about the pandemic. This year is a valuable petri dish of data on just how annoyed people will get about a subpar simulcast, how many listeners will leave as a result, and if the bottom-line savings there are enough to justify the move, or if it’s worth trying to move back to the way things were. We’ll see what they eventually decide there.
[The Canadian Press, via Global News]