August Long Weekend: A Tale of Baseball and Politics
August long weekend is the best weekend of the year. It’s the one holiday that celebrates nothing. There’s no pressure to have a party, go to an event or do anything at all. A weekend in the summer that’s longer because July gets tiring and most people are on vacation, so everyone thought it would be a good idea to give the people that don’t get a lot of vacation at least one day off in August.
However, Sunday August 2nd 2015, the most insignificant long weekend of the year saw two events that will focus Canadians on two things that most find tremendously tedious and boring – baseball and politics.
I’ll start with baseball since it’s less divisive – there’s only one team in Canada. Earlier that week the Toronto Blue Jays made a flurry of moves that netted them the best shortstop in baseball, the best starting pitcher in baseball and a handful of character guys that will help the team off the bench and in the bullpen that compliments an already star studded roster. Those moves sparked a buzz in the country and a sell out at the Rogers Centre Sunday afternoon. The afternoon affair against the K.C. Royals saw the benches cleared and the manager and bench coach ejected. The Royals pitchers threw near the head of the Blue Jays’ star third baseman and all the new players and old rallied together to win and truly became a team. The baseball world understood that something had happened, something that hadn’t happened in 22 years – a pennant race was underway. For those who don’t understand what that means, and why should you, it means the only thing anyone will be talking about is baseball for the month of September and the beginning of October, with the exception of another thing that happened that Sunday morning.
The Prime Minster of Canada, potentially jealous of the Blue Jays, made news by popping over to Rideau Hall and calling an early election. So, what does that have to do with baseball? The new Fair Elections Bill allows parties, if they can afford it, to spend twice as much as in past 37 day elections. With an 11-week campaign, parties can spend more than $50 million and will spend much of it on TV ads. With Netflix and alternative streaming services what could people possibly be watching on TV?
This fall Canada will be watching a lot of baseball on TV, Rogers Sportsnet to be exact. As a nation, Canada will be more fanatical about baseball than ever, even more than in 93, the NHL pre-season will be an afterthought. Baseball is an interesting sport when it comes to TV ads because it’s a reliable live platform for advertisers. A game has at least 19 commercial breaks between half innings plus 5-10 more for pitching changes. The commercials have found a way into the rhythm of the game that compliments it. This raises the value of a commercial spot for a Blue Jays game and the political parties will spend the extra money they have due to the longer election period, on TV ads for Jays broadcasts.
But there’s a catch. Many people don’t have traditional TV anymore. In 2013, Rogers signed a 12 year $5.2 billion contract with the NHL for national rights to broadcast NHL games. They outbid their main rival TSN, which led to a major transition in the way Bell (the TSN parent company) and Rogers package their main channels. Sportsnet and TSN used to be part of basic cable packages and viewers could watch sports without really having to think about the cost. After the big NHL TV deal, Bell and Rogers slowly transitioned their sports channels to speciality packages forcing consumers to pay more for things they were used to watching for less. While many people already had speciality TV packages and didn’t notice, many others didn’t, and refused to pay extra money or cancelled their TV service in outrage. But they still wanted to watch sports… so what are the alternatives? Streaming online, a friend’s house or your neighbourhood sports bar.
Rogers also owns the Toronto Blue Jays and they have the exclusive rights to all the Blue Jays games and all this exciting baseball that is about to happen will air on their specialty sports channels. So what does that mean in the context of what I’ve been babbling about? Get to your sports bars, go to your friends’ houses, cheer on the Blue Jays and get ready to argue about politics every half inning and pitching change. Canada is going to geek out this fall and I can’t wait.