By Rob Ficiur
Immediately after finishing high school I got a job a Woolco. (The fact that my Mom worked there was a great reference.) One of the perks of working at Woolco was that you got 10% off on all of your purchases. The discount was part of the company’s way of compensating their employees. Years later when we had our babies, Mom would stop by on the way home from work and show us something that she could not walk past. She had to get it for one of the grandchildren. Now that I am a grandparent I understand how hard it is to pass by an item that would be just perfect for that grand baby. It is a good thing that I don’t work at Woolco (now called Wal-Mart) because I would lose money.
When we start talking about home town discounts for sports stars you are entering a different world; not 10% of your purchase. Most of the players on the opening day roster of the Toronto Blue Jays players will make more this year than I will earn in my life. That is the reality of pro sports. It is also the reality of elite business and movie stars.
On day one of training camp, Toronto Blue Jays all-star outfielder flipped a contract negotiation bat at the Blue Jays management. Bautista, who will be a free agent after the 2016 season, told reporters that there will be no home town discount if and when he signs with the Blue Jays past this season. Bautista said he told management how much he wanted in order to sign a long term contract with the team.
Negotiating through the media is not new and is never effective. Rookie Jays GM, Ross Atkins told reporters over and over again that he would not comment on Bautista’s contract demands. After each denial the reporters asked the same question in a different way and got the same response. Real negotiations, for any athlete take place behind closed doors.
The most provocative tidbit in Jose Bautista’s public contract discussions was his declaration that he would not take a home town discount. Over the last five seasons Jose will have made $14 million per year. He contends that the Jays have already had a discount because his play has been on par with players making more money. The Jays have had a discount as such. For his next (and probably last) contract, Bautista wants to get full value for his services. Do the Blue Jays want to pay over $25 million a season for five years for a player who will be 40 years old when the contract ends?
In baseball there is no salary cap forcing teams to spend less money. The Blue Jays can pay whatever they want. Bautista is also right – he has been the leader of a team that has filled the stadium and made the Rogers company a great deal of money. That is their discount.
Over the years there have been a few players who have signed for less than market prices to stay where they were. In May 2011, Curtis Glencross re-signed with the Calgary Flames a $10.2 million dollars over four years. At the time the Flames were right up against the salary cap. For personal and professional reasons Glencross thought Calgary was the best place to play
Eric Cole and Dan Cleary had similar numbers to Glencross when they signed free agent contracts that same summer. Cole got a four year contract at eighteen million. Cleary signed on for about 500,000 more per year than Glencross. In 2011 the salary cap was going up every year and there was no reason to think the future would be any different.
As injuries slowed his career down, Glencross missed another pay day. When that four year deal expired in July 2015 most thought he would get another similar contract. For the first time since the NHL moved to a salary cap system, teams began staying away from aging veterans. Younger players can fill Glencross’ third line roll at half the price. Looking back Curtis regretted taking the home town discount in 2011.
Defining a home town discount is a relative term. How much is Jose Bautista or Curtis Glencross worth? Each athlete is worth whatever price someone will pay them. As the NHL salary cap levels off there will be more veteran players who get fewer dollars when signing new contracts. A star player like Jose Bautista will get the big dollars after age 35 because at least one team will take the risk.
Blue Jays fans want Jose around for another five years. We can’t define what a home town discount is – we just know he is a star ball player that we want coming to the plate when the game is on the line.