December 1, 2010

Toronto: where professional sports go to be embalmed

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Soccer, Sports — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:51

Scott Stinson looks at the less-than-impressive results turned in by Toronto’s various sport teams:

It makes business sense, of course, since Rogers, which already owns television networks and other content platforms devoted to sports, would own almost all the city’s sports properties, too. But would Toronto fans be any closer to a winner? Fans in this city have long lamented the inability of the bottom-line oriented current owners, dominated by the giant Ontario teachers’ pension plan and assorted business types, to build winners on the ice and the field. The franchises have been hugely successful in terms of making money, but woefully unsuccessful in the pursuit of championships.

Leafs: Zero playoff appearance since the NHL lockout of 2005. No Stanley Cups since 1967.

Raptors: In 15 years, they have won 11 playoff games. And lost three franchise players.

Toronto FC: Zero playoff appearance since club was formed in 2006.

[. . .]

So maybe Rogers would be different. Maybe it would want winners, since winners drive ratings. But the Jays haven’t sniffed the playoffs since Rogers bought them in 2000 (admittedly a tall order in a division that includes New York and Boston), and Rogers’ other sporting venture, the lease of eight Buffalo Bills games over five seasons, is thought to be a financial disaster.

It’s a pretty stark example of how disconnected the financial success of the business is from the sporting success of the team, isn’t it?

Update: Do check the comments, where “Lickmuffin” is holding forth about the iniquities of professional sports in general. It’s good, entertaining reading.


  1. Give me a break. Who in their right mind really believes that pro sports is about making the playoffs or winning championships? Who really believes that the performance and final standings of a team at the end of their season has anything to do with the kids on the field / ice / diamond / pitch?

    The current owners have calculated the sweet spot for this market. They know exactly how much they need to spend to keep this market’s gullible, trailer-dwelling, beer-swilling, trashamuffins entertained and paying for that entertainment. They also know the size of the viewing audience and the upper limit they could get for the TV rights, even if they had a winner or winners.

    Paying more to build a winning team would be a huge risk — this market, even if you consider all Canada to be the market for the Toronto teams — is simply too small for them to recoup the costs needed to build a winning team. So, they build a mediocre product — one that they know that the slack-jawed Johnny Sixpacks will gobble up out of some vague and misguided sense of loyalty or spirit.

    I understand the need for professional sports. I understand that we need to give people who accomplish nothing in their lives something about which they can opine authoritatively. I understand that, along with the daily bread of welfare, we need to give them the circuses of organized sports to keep the underclass compliant and docile and buying whatever the ruling classes throw at them. Please do not insult our intelligence by suggesting that the owners actually want to “win” a “championship.” They are just in it for the money, and they know exactly what they need to do to generate a stable and predictable return — and it has nothing to do with winning games.

    Comment by Lickmuffin — December 1, 2010 @ 14:04

  2. Wow. I guess I hit a hot-button for you. 😉

    Comment by Nicholas — December 1, 2010 @ 14:08

  3. At least you’re not making a case that the outcomes are already pre-decided before the sport season starts . . . or is that the next comment?

    Comment by Nicholas — December 1, 2010 @ 14:09

  4. That indeed is in the next comment. I think it’s pretty obvious that the teams purchase their final standings. In real markets, where you really will see a return for increased investment, it makes sense to build your brand by buying the championship. I mean, really: you are a team owner with tens or hundreds of millions tied up in the team. Are you really going to leave your ROI up to the kids playing the game? Really?

    What I am looking forward to with the Rogers purchase of the teams is all the negative option billing. Everyone within a 90-minute driving radius of the stadium will be billed for seats for each game, whether they attended the game or not.

    Comment by Lickmuffin — December 1, 2010 @ 14:15

  5. I might buy this (pun unintentional), except that finishing at the bottom of the standings usually means you get better draft picks for the following season. Better also equals more expensive draft picks. There’s always the risk that the hot new forward/guard/quarterback/pitcher/striker/whatever prospect turns out to be a waste of space . . . but the money doesn’t generally come back for a wasted pick (JaMarcus Russell is the current poster boy, taking over from Ryan Leaf).

    In cities other than Toronto, teams that finish last get punished at the box office. No, really, it’s true. In most places, when a team is struggling, the punters stay at home. Toronto fans support their teams to an irrational level.

    Comment by Nicholas — December 1, 2010 @ 15:36

  6. Irrational? We do recall that “fan” is a short form of “fanatic”, yes? What would be a rational level of support for a fanatic to express? =) And would it not, by definition, be in excess of the norm?

    Comment by Chris Taylor — December 2, 2010 @ 07:57

  7. Related visual evidence of the irrationality of Toronto fans: http://www.blogto.com/sports_play/2010/12/visual_proof_that_the_toronto_maple_leafs_suck_/.

    Comment by Nicholas — December 3, 2010 @ 16:39

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