Thursday, November 30, 2023

Shame on Rogers for firing Ben Wagner

In firing Ben Wagner, Rogers Communications has shown utter disdain for radio broadcasting and for the  legions of  Toronto Blue Jay fans who grew up listening to the Jays on radio.  In a statement yesterday, Rogers confirmed that the company had declined to renew Ben Wagner's contract.  How disappointing!

The Blue Jays were built on radio.  Fans will never forget the easy on-air banter and the chemistry between the late great Tom Cheek and his partner Jerry Howarth.  In February 2018, Jerry retired from broadcasting for health reasons after 36 years of calling games for the team.  Jerry has strongly criticized Rogers' decision to dismiss Ben, which he described as "embarrassing."

Ben has been the voice of the Blue Jays since Jerry's retirement, including during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Like all broadcasters at the time, he had to deal with COVID restrictions.  Sportsnet said that the decision to streamline production was made to minimize travel during the pandemic, and to follow league and government protocols.

Ben remined with the broadcast team during this difficult time by providing live hits from the Blue Jays' temporary home at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida.  He also served as a live contributor to radio and television segments.  Unfortunately, Sportsnet continued to scale back the radio coverage of the Blue Jays, even after the pandemic eased.  Frankly, Ben has not been treated fairly, or with much respect.  Rogers has never given  him a real chance.  The writing has been on the wall for some time now.

In 2022, Sportsnet covered road games remotely.  Ben Wagner called the games from a a screen at the the studio in Toronto, before returning to traditional in-person broadcasts for the second half of the season.

In 2023, however, remote coverage returned,  Sportsnet was one of  only two MLB franchises to not send radio personnel to road games. - the other being the Los Angles Angels.  Jerry Howarth was "very disappointed" with that decision.  He stated, "You don't get any kind of picture of what's happening regarding a ripple effect of a play, a call, emotions, people that are involved in the call one way or another because you are not there.  You can't see that.  So you can't fully appreciate what is happening at that very moment."

During the 2023 season, Ben  usually worked Toronto games solo, without being accompanied by a regular colour commentator, as is customary across the major league. A rapport between announcer and colour commentator is a necessary ingredient for baseball broadcasting.  Rogers did not allowed that to happen for Ben Wagner.

We don't yet know what is being planned for the radio broadcast.  Sportsnet does not intend  to announce its plans until "prior to the start of the 2024 season," according to an email from a network spokesman.  However, I wouldn't be the least surprised if the games are simulcast with the feed on television. 

Baseball is made for radio description.  Doesn't Roges understand that the television feed is not the same.  Dan Shulman describes what viewers can see on their TV screen .  Radio requires a different type of description because the visuals aren't there.

It seems to me that Rogers has too much of a monopoly on ownership.  According to Adam Seaborn, head of partnerships at the Toronto-based media company Playmaker Capital, having a team owner that also owns the TV and radio network and the stadium "creates a culture of cost-cutting as opposed to competition."  Seaborn went on to say that "if the team was owned by a random billionaire, the radio rights would go up for bid every five to ten years, and the highest bidder would be forced to put a guy on the road and put together a top-notch broadcast."

Rogers has made some cruel, bonehead moves in recent years.  The corporation is penny wise and pound foolish.  In September of 2022, they sent popular TV commentator and former Blue Jay Pat Tabler packing.  He is now a colour commentator for selected Cleveland Guardians games.  Back in 2020, Sportsnet suddenly cut ties with longtime radio personality Mike Wilner, a Toronto native.  Mike is now a baseball columnist with the Toronto Star.

Then there was the Roger's messy handling of former Blue Jays president Paul Beaston at the end of his tenure with the club.  He never complained, but he also deserved better,  Ben Wagner also deserved better.  I wish him well.  I hope he finds another broadcasting job soon, where is appreciated by his employees.

- Joanne