The Toronto Blue Jays are the only team in Major League baseball that doesn’t offer local beer at their baseball games.
Obviously, this sucks.
People who like baseball often also like beer. People who like to go support their local baseball team might conceivably also like to support their local breweries.
The Toronto Blue Jays organization apparently doesn’t give a shit about these people. Instead, they are happy to award exclusivity to the foreign-owned entity that was willing to cough up the biggest chunk of dough for the right to be the only beer sold at the Rogers Centre (if you’re still not sure who exactly I’m talking about, look no further than that glaring Budweiser logo that adorns most of the Toronto Blue Jays’ left field).
There was of course a glimmer of hope recently in March of 2013 when I broke the news that Steamwhistle–the folks making baseball-ready pilsner literally across the street from the Jays–would finally be allowed to sell their beer at the Rogers Centre.
Of course, being able to drink Toronto beer at a Toronto baseball game was short lived and almost exactly one year later, conceivably because the folks at AB InBev had had enough “competition,” I was breaking the news that the Good Beer Folks had been unceremoniously given the boot.
There’s been some rumbling in the interim–notably a petition created by Phil Cacace, the owner of the great Toronto bar, Tall Boys, some scant media coverage, and at least one perennially-irascible Toronto beer writer who has made a point of raising the issue on twitter every once and a while but, for the most part, we’re all pretty much resigned to accepting watery lager to drink while we take in live games of Toronto’s generally watered-down version of professional baseball.
And while it’s profoundly shitty that the Jays can’t even be arsed to provide us with decent local beer to sip while we watch their team prolong the longest current post-season drought in the Majors, is it actually possible that it’s not just dickish, but also…illegal?
Stephen Brooks, the Toronto Blue Jays’ senior vice-president of business operations was quoted in a Toronto Star article yesterday in which he was justifying raising ticket prices to see a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 21 years.
“Brooks says he has heard the criticism [about local beer] and is aware of it, but the Jays have an “important” exclusivity deal with Budweiser that precludes other beer vendors from selling inside the stadium. “We have over 25 different beer offerings (all owned by Budweiser) and we’re looking to add a couple other beers that I think will be interesting to fans.” Brooks said he couldn’t speak to how other clubs manage their contracts with beer vendors.
This isn’t really “news” given that, obviously, the company who’s name adorns a large section of the stands who is dumping buttloads of dirty, dirty money into the Rogers Centre would expect to enjoy some benefits as a result, but the fact of the matter is, Ontario’s liquor laws explicitly forbid exclusivity.
It’s point I touched on in an article I wrote for Torontoist back in the day (‘scuse me while I flog this dead horse a little more) on the shenanigans surrounding tap line purchasing. You can’t, by law, provide incentives, cash or otherwise, in exchange for exclusivity in a licensed establishment. As The Liquor License Act states:
A manufacturer of liquor or an agent or employee of a manufacturer shall not directly or indirectly offer or give a financial or material inducement to a person who holds a licence or permit under the Act or to an agent or employee of the person for the purpose of increasing the sale or distribution of a brand of liquor.
Furthermore, it seems like any establishment that does so is at risk of losing their license to sell alcohol. Specifically, Section (4)(b) of the Act says:
A licence to sell liquor shall not be issued to a person who by reason of an agreement, arrangement or understanding with any person is likely to promote the sale of liquor or to sell the liquor of a manufacturer exclusive of any other manufacturer.
So are the Jays breaking the law?
It’s a tough call. Often, sports facilities that have exclusivity to one brand will get around the law by having one other brand on hand. Another perpetually-losing Toronto sports franchise whose facilities I once toured proudly boasted to me of their loyalty to one brewer and when I asked about the law, I was informed there was literally one six pack (one six pack!) of a competitor’s brand somewhere on the premises. I was also told “Good luck finding it!”
So the Jays are likely also skirting this rule by hiding something other than AB-InBev products somewhere onsite, but it still seems like they’re operating in, at best, a morally ambiguous area and perhaps even a legally grey-ish zone.
Whenever I’ve spoken to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) about such issues, they’ve said they’re not in the business of interpreting legislation for me (despite the fact that the quotes I’ve pulled seem pretty straightforward) and that there are actually no set fines or penalties for infractions, rather infractions are examined on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, they typically only investigate infractions about which they receive complaints. They don’t have an active “AGCO Patrol” walking the beat, checking out tap lines and looking for diversity in beer selection. Presumably, there’d have to be a lot of complaints registered to the AGCO about the apparent unfair lack of selection at the Rogers Centre before the AGCO checked it out and/or anything actually changed.
Incidentally, complaints about liquor infractions can be forwarded in writing to AGCO Customer Service at:
Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario
90 Sheppard Avenue East
Toronto, Ontario M2N 0A4
or by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
More information on the complaints process is available here.
Photo credit Ian Hunter.