Wednesday, 2 September 2015


Talking Baseball: A National Conversation

Here’s hoping Canada is Camelot, that our short summer, in the words of Broadway lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, “lingers through September.” Then again, Camelot did not end well for either Arthur or J.F.K. Current conditions in Canada are, to warble the least, more than “a bit bizarre.”

Holy rollers here in Alberta are frantically rereading the Book of Revelations seeking references to wildfires, drought, recession and mishaps involving bitumen transportation. The recently elected and woefully inexperienced provincial government has been walloped by nature, world events and the partisan screech of Big Oil. There’s a spooky sense that Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party has come to terms somewhat with ceding 44 years of uninterrupted power. The old blue guard didn’t just dodge a bullet but a howitzer shell.

News from the nation’s capital is just plain weird. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a confirmed paranoid autocrat, was apparently blissfully unaware of the machinations of his former and current chiefs of staff, both of whom actively moved to quash an embarrassing legislative scandal without informing their micro-managing boss or even reading their e-mails to each other. The blindly committed right is in denial about a recent New York Times op-ed piece entitled The Closing of the Canadian Mind detailing nine years of calculated Conservative suppression of dissenting voices in this generally polite and apologetic democracy. Mr. Harper is a trained economist yet he is incapable of defining the ‘recession’ to curious reporters because he is now on the hustings, serving double-doubles at Tim Hortons, having decreed what might be the longest federal election campaign in Canadian history, a personal war to be won by obfuscation and attrition.

The grace in all this icky, grimy grimness is that the national conversation has been so far mercifully dominated by baseball. The American League Toronto Blue Jays were generally regarded as an afterthought asset of one Canada’s most reviled corporations. Rogers Communications is a dominant media conglomerate that considers ‘customer service’ an oxymoron. (To interject a personal note, Rogers seriously rogered my hockey viewing habits last winter by virtue of its exclusive Canadian broadcasting contract with the National Hockey League.)

Attendance is up at home games in Toronto, Jays television ratings have skyrocketed and team merchandise is flying off shelves and racks. At this moment in time the Jays have extended their reach well beyond their traditional fan base in southern Ontario. The Jays’ surge to perhaps peak popularity owes a lot to the 21st century pro sports landscape in Canada: the proliferation of cable sports channels, the advent of digital devices and platforms, and the simple fact that they are without competition being the only Major League Baseball club left in this country.

The evil entity that is Rogers is staring at two colossal marketing opportunities. First, hammer home the concept of the Blue Jays as Canada’s national baseball brand. Develop a secondary logo that doesn’t reference Toronto for usage in our other nine provinces and three territories. A tired national gag is that Canada remains a working federation because everybody’s united in their hate for Toronto. Second, every single Rogers ad involving a visual, whatever the product or service, should be tagged with a Blue Jays logo. It’s impossible to manufacture the buzz and goodwill the 2015 ball club created during the dog days of summer. Ride the tails of those double blue double-knits and begin subtly altering the perception of a widely disparaged corporate brand.

Baseball is played for keeps in September and ultimately October. The Blue Jays are legitimate contenders after an insanely hot August, here be monsters with Louisville Sluggers. The magic of a close pennant race is its immediacy; games are so frequent that the minutiae in a box score summary become part of the daily conversation. Division standings refresh themselves every evening following the final pitch. Any distraction from workaday drudgery in a slumping economy is no small grace. A home run call during a game that really matters is more compelling than any stumping politician’s network sound byte. Here’s hoping Canada’s boys of summer are still playing ball when Canadians go to the polls on October 19th. And here’s hoping Harper supporters would rather stay home and watch baseball instead of voting.

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