For Blue Jays owner Rogers, signing Shohei Ohtani is about more than just baseball

The Toronto Blue Jays are reportedly one of the last teams still in the running to sign baseball’s superstar Shohei Ohtani. Baseball insiders say it will take between $500-$600 million to land the Japanese phenom.

But for Rogers Communications, the company that owns the team, this isn’t just about baseball. They want Ohtani to come to Toronto to help sell ads and cellphones, not just jerseys and Jays tickets.

“The halo effect for the Rogers corporation would be very, very real,” said Adam Seaborn, a sports media analyst and the head of partnerships at Playmaker Capital.

It can be hard to describe Ohtani’s level of fame. He’s probably the best two-way player in the history of the game — he pitches and serves as a designated hitter. 

WATCH | Could it be Shotime in Toronto? 

Baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani may be coming to Toronto

The hottest baseball player on the planet, Japanese free-agent phenom Shohei Ohtani, is in talks to leave the Los Angeles Angels after six seasons, and the Toronto Blue Jays have emerged as a serious contender to land him.

The economic impact

He has an enormous following around the world, and fans fly in from as far away as Japan to watch his games. About 50 Japanese media members are credentialed to cover Ohtani on a full-time basis.

A study by a well-known Japanese economist found Ohtani’s broad economic impact as a member of the Los Angeles Angels was around $337 million US in the 2022 season alone.

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“He is frequently referred to in the press as a unicorn, as if he were singular,” Major League Baseball historian John Thorn told the CBC Radio program The Current over the summer. “But unicorn simply means one horn and is an imaginary beast. Ohtani comes as close to an imaginary beast as we have ever had in baseball.”

Experts say bringing in someone like “Shotime” Ohtani would have an immediate impact on the many business lines that Rogers has that have nothing to do with baseball.

It would help their TV properties because games would draw much bigger audiences. Rogers also owns the broadcast rights to every Blue Jays game. So they would stand to make yet more money from higher commercial sales.

Drone shot of Rogers Communications headquarters at 1 Mt Pleasant Rd, Toronto on 22 Oct 2021.
Rogers Communications, the company that owns the Blue Jays, is a $32 billion empire that could leverage the Ohtani signing to boost its core businesses. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Leveraging Ohtani’s fame

The corporate giant could leverage Ohtani’s fame to boost every business line in the company.

“You would see Ohtani in cable and wireless ads for Rogers’ core business. And even if you don’t, he’s playing down at the Rogers Centre on Rogers Sportsnet. On the Rogers Radio Network,” Seaborn told CBC News.

So, everyone is scrambling to get in on the Ohtani sweepstakes, but it’s being widely reported that the Blue Jays and the L.A. Dodgers are the last two teams in the running.

Rogers has recently spent a pile of money boosting its baseball operations — some $300 million has gone to renovating the Rogers Centre, and the team’s U.S. training facility in Dunedin, Fla., got a $100 million US facelift last year.

Rogers centre renovations.
Rogers has spent some $300 million renovating the Rogers Centre over the past two years. (Blue Jays Media handout)

Brian Cooper, the chair of sports and entertainment marketing agency MKTG Canada, says the company’s board would have to sign off on whatever offer the Jays make to Ohtani. 

But he says it’s important to remember that the sports side of the company is a fraction of its bigger business lines. So, whatever the cost, it can be spread out across the larger corporate empire.

Instead of thinking of a $2 billion baseball franchise spending $500 million on a player, Cooper says it’s more like a $32 billion telecommunications giant giving one of its branches permission to spend company money.

“They’re paying another one of their revenue pillars, so it’s in-house trading, right?” said Cooper, noting that when one part of the business can feed off the other “you can split it among different budgets. It makes a ton of sense.”

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Cooper says a big free-agent signing like this can spark a sort of virtuous cycle.

“There’s more interest, there’s more viewership, you sell more hotdogs, there’s more attendance, there’s more brand awareness, there’s more content to put online,” he said. “And as a result, you get more sponsors that say, ‘I want to be a part of this.’ “

Meanwhile, Rogers knows it can increase its international presence through Ohtani.

NHK, one of Japan’s biggest broadcasters, aired every Angels game last season. That is, every game until Ohtani suffered an elbow injury that ended his season in September.

So, Rogers would be in a position to make another broadcast deal through this single signing.

A professional baseball player holds a bat while standing in the dugout.
Los Angeles Angels designated hitter Shohei Ohtani inspects a bat before hitting against the Blue Jays in the first of a three-game series in Toronto, on July 29. Ohtani, also a pitcher, had elbow surgery in September and is not expected to return to the mound in 2024. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Jays’ national audience means a larger reach

But if Ohtani is such a huge draw, how have the Toronto Blue Jays emerged as a potential front-runner? A big part of that is a matter of reach.

Unlike every other American team, the Blue Jays broadcast every game to an entire country. Seaborn says that means Rogers can offer a bigger audience for baseball’s biggest star.

“On an average night, more people during the summer watch a Blue Jays game in Canada than watch a Yankees game in New York or watch a Dodgers game in L.A.,” he said.

But for all the savvy business sense stacked up around the board table at Rogers headquarters in Toronto, Ohtani has proved a remarkably astute entrepreneur himself. And for all his fame, he’s also an incredibly private person.

Ohtani’s camp has repeatedly refused to divulge even basic information ranging from the type of elbow surgery he underwent this winter to the name of his pet dog.

So, Rogers, and all the Blue Jays fans out there, will just have to wait to see where Ohtani signs, because it’s a sure bet this news won’t leak.

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