In a change from last year, the Toronto Blue Jays’ radio rights-holder will not resume in-person broadcasts of road games as the team enters the playoff stretch drive.
The decision was confirmed by a Sportsnet spokesperson via email.
The network used remote coverage in 2022 before shifting back to traditional in-person road broadcasts for most of the second half of last season.
In 2023, radio broadcasters went back to a pandemic-style setup of calling road games while watching the action on a screen at Sportsnet’s studio in Toronto.
“We will continue with our current approach for the regular season,” said Sportsnet’s senior communications manager Jason Jackson. “We have not yet finalized our plans for the post-season.”
The Blue Jays are in the thick of the playoff race in the American League. Toronto entered play Friday with a 77-63 record and a half-game lead on Texas for the final wild-card spot.
Remote radio broadcasts were the norm in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic due to health concerns and travel restrictions. The Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Angels are the only Major League Baseball teams that still use remote calls.
It wasn’t clear why Sportsnet decided to stick with remote broadcasts this season. Interview requests for primary play-by-play man Ben Wagner and Sportsnet brass were declined by the network.
In an age of shrinking newsrooms and tighter budgets, many Canadian media outlets have cut down on road coverage of sports teams to varying degrees.
“The easiest thing to trim is travel,” said Mike Naraine, an assistant professor of sports management at Brock University. “We’ll stop sending people on the road, we’ll cut coverage here and there. It sacrifices the end experience for the consumer.”
Sportsnet is part of Rogers Sports & Media, a subsidiary of Rogers Communications Inc. The Toronto-based telecom giant also owns the Blue Jays and Rogers Centre.
An earlier request to speak with senior vice-president Greg Sansone about a variety of sport and broadcasting topics — including Blue Jays coverage — was also declined.
“Greg simply wants the work done across the Sportsnet network to speak for itself,” network spokesperson Meghann Cox said in an email.
Naraine said proper analysis can be more challenging without an on-site presence at games, along with the ability to read between the lines and survey body language.
“Being there and being able to capture the environment and capture all the variables as much as possible, that’s what’s lost at the end of the day,” he said.
“Regardless of the medium, it’s about the ability to critically analyze the key pivotal moments that shift and change.”
In addition to audio streaming options, Blue Jays radio broadcasts are heard across Canada on Sportsnet Radio Network affiliates and the Toronto-based flagship Fan590 all-sports station.
Remote radio broadcasts can come with a roll of the dice. Unforeseen audio difficulties or television feed issues can sometimes impact the call of the action.
Last April, a studio fire alarm was to blame for 10 minutes of beeping noises that were heard during a remote call of a Blue Jays’ road game against the St. Louis Cardinals.