Communications giant helped build winning team since 2000
12/02/08 5:09 PM EST
The winter took a somber turn for the Blue Jays on Tuesday, with news coming that Ted Rogers, the founder of Rogers Communications Inc. and team owner, passed away overnight at his home in Toronto. He was 75. Rogers purchased the Blue Jays in 2000, hoping to breathe some life into a franchise that had struggled since last winning the World Series in 1993. Rogers quickly showed that his famous drive wasn't limited to his communications empire. Under his leadership, Toronto was able to make significant improvements on and off the baseball field.
After acquiring the Jays from Interbrew for $160 million, Rogers approved significant increases in team payroll in order to help Toronto compete more realistically with the deep-pocketed Yankees and Red Sox in the American League East. In the eight seasons under Rogers, Toronto has enjoyed four winning campaigns.
"Canada lost one of its good soldiers today," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said. "Even if it's not from a business standpoint, when you look at this guy, they don't make people like this anymore. This is a guy who was not afraid to take risks. This is a guy who was not afraid to take chances.
"He built a vast empire, but I don't think he ever forgot where he was from. He was absolutely great to me personally and professionally. I think the Blue Jays are what we are today because of him."
Ricciardi, who was brought to Toronto to be the team's general manager in 2002, was given more financial flexibility over the past few seasons in order to pursue top-tier players. With Rogers at the helm, the Jays were able to increase team payroll to an estimated $97 million in 2008 from $45 million three years earlier.
In 2006, Toronto's progress included a second-place finish in the division -- the club's highest placing since '93. The Jays are currently riding a run of three consecutive winning seasons, marking the longest such streak for Toronto since 1998-2000.
"Major League Baseball is saddened by the loss of Ted Rogers, whose stewardship of the Blue Jays maintained the franchise's great tradition," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "Ted's spirit of philanthropy has left a tremendous legacy.
"On behalf of all his friends in baseball, I extend my deepest sympathy to his wife, Loretta, their children, their grandchildren and his many friends."
In 2004, Rogers also purchased the team's stadium, SkyDome, which was renamed Rogers Centre and has undergone numerous upgrades over the past four years. This past season, the Blue Jays remodeled their home clubhouse, which is considered by many players to be one of the best in baseball.
Dating back to 2002, the Blue Jays have also enjoyed an increase in attendance every season. The team hasn't reached the postseason since 1993, but the club has made significant strides in the years under the current ownership. Ricciardi said Rogers was instrumental in that regard.
"He brought order," Ricciardi said. "Obviously, that's important from a leadership standpoint. If you look at the last three years, what he's been able to do for our payroll, allowing us to get in the mix with the Yankees and the Red Sox in the division, it's all because of him.
"We wouldn't own the stadium if it wasn't for him. The clubhouse wouldn't have been done if it wasn't for him. He has been really supportive of all the things we tried to do here. We all owe him a debt of gratitude -- not just the Rogers employees, but the city and the country as well."
Rogers suffered from congestive heart failure that saw his health deteriorate over recent years. The board of directors for Rogers Communications will form a special committee to lead a search for a new chief executive officer. For the time being, Alan Horn, the chairman of the company, will continue to serve as the acting CEO.
"Ted Rogers was one of a kind who built this company from one FM radio station into Canada's largest wireless, cable and media company," Horn said in a release from Rogers Communications. "A leader also in giving to the community through his and Loretta's many philanthropic initiatives. He will be sadly missed."
Rogers was a pioneer in the communications industry, building Rogers Communications into Canada's largest wireless retailer. In the 1960s, he created Rogers Radio Broadcasting Limited -- later acquiring the country's leading FM station, CHFI-FM -- and started Rogers Cable. By 1985, Rogers had formed Rogers Wireless, which operates a national cell phone network.
Rogers Communications is currently worth an estimated $18 billion and includes roughly 24,000 employees. His achievements in the business world netted Rogers one of the country's most prestigious honors in 1991, when he was named an officer of the Order of Canada.
Beyond the Blue Jays, Rogers was recently involved in Toronto's initiative to bring the National Football League to the city. This year, Rogers helped orchestrate an agreement that will have the Buffalo Bills playing eight games at Rogers Centre over the next five seasons, including this coming Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Ricciardi indicated that the team's chain of command isn't likely to change drastically due to Rogers' passing. Ricciardi said the Jays currently report to Paul Beeston, the team's interim president and CEO, who in turn seeks approval for team decisions from Tony Viner, the president and CEO of Rogers Media, and Phil Lind, the Rogers vice-chairman.
"It's not going to have a big affect from the baseball standpoint," Ricciardi said. "I haven't been told anything different."
Rogers is survived by his wife and four children, Lisa, Edward, Melinda and Martha.
"Our sincerest condolences to Loretta, the children and the grandchildren," said Lind, who worked alongside Rogers for nearly four decades. "He will be missed by so many. Though Ted was relentless in business and building this company over the years, he was also very much a family man.
"His impact on family, community and country was as impressive as his business success."