Rogers Sportsnet Slammed for Dropping Blue Jays Radio Voice Wagner
Rogers Sportsnet has announced that it will not renew the contract of popular radio broadcaster Ben Wagner.
Howarth had been a fixture in the radio booth for 36 years, making Wagner’s tenure a notable shift for the team’s fans. Sportsnet plans to reveal its radio broadcast strategy for the 2024 season shortly, as confirmed by network spokesman Jason Jackson.
Wagner, a 43-year-old from New Paris, Indiana, began his broadcasting career in 2004 with the Class-A Lakewood BlueClaws. Before joining the Blue Jays, he spent 11 seasons with the Buffalo Bisons, the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate.
Known for his diligent preparation and insightful questions, Wagner’s ability to enhance broadcasts was notably affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted traditional sports broadcasting practices. Since 2020, Sportsnet has not fully resumed its pre-pandemic protocol of on-site radio broadcasts for away games.
The announcement made on November 29, saw lots of upset and angry responses on X from listeners on the move. Just check them out below:
An update on Sportsnet's baseball radio broadcast: pic.twitter.com/49ezaZ21kM
— Sportsnet PR (@SportsnetPR) November 29, 2023
Howarth slammed the Rogers decision speaking to the Toronto Sun.“It was so disappointing for me to not see Ben travel with the team,” Howarth said. “That is so critical for a broadcaster to both prepare and gain insights down on the field to take up to the radio booth for the audience, let alone calling the game on sight rather than in a studio for accuracy’s sake. That was embarrassing for me to see that happen to Ben and the audience across Canada.”
Sports media analyst Adam Seaborn suggested that radio play-by-play might be losing its priority within Sportsnet’s strategy, noting a shift away from investing in traditional radio broadcasting. In 2021, Sportsnet controversially decided to simulcast TV broadcasts on its radio network, leaving Toronto as the only major-league market without a dedicated radio crew. This decision was attributed to pandemic-related travel and safety protocols.
Wagner adapted to these changes by contributing to the broadcasts from the Blue Jays’ temporary locations in Dunedin, Florida, and Buffalo, New York, before the team returned to Rogers Centre. However, the 2023 season saw a continuation of remote coverage for away games, a practice not commonly followed by other Major League Baseball teams.
The departure of Wagner comes amid a broader discussion about the evolving nature of sports broadcasting, particularly in situations where a single entity, such as Rogers, owns the team, stadium, and broadcasting network. This consolidation has raised questions about the commitment to quality broadcasting and the future of radio play-by-play in the sports media landscape.
The Blue Jays are set to begin their 2024 season on March 28 against Tampa Bay, with Sportsnet’s new radio broadcast plans yet to be announced.