Law & Batting Order with the Blue Jays

Abilities in both law and business have helped Matthew Shuber lead complex initiatives for the Toronto Blue Jays, including a recent rebranding that fans say was a grand slam

Bottom of the ninth. Philadelphia closer Mitch Williams stood on the mound, trying to save a one-run lead with two runners on base. Cleanup hitter Joe Carter was at the plate for Toronto with two balls and two strikes. It was game six of the 1993 World Series, and Carter, held hitless in his first four at bats, made contact, sending the ball 379 feet and over the left field wall for a series-ending home run. The Toronto Blue Jays were back-to-back World Series champions.

It remains one of the most famous moments in franchise and baseball history, and Matthew Shuber can still remember hearing radio announcer Tom Cheek celebrate on air: “Touch ’em all, Joe! You’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life!”

Back then, Shuber was a university student. Today, the Toronto native is vice president of business affairs and legal counsel for the Blue Jays. He recalls falling in love with the team in 1985, when the young franchise won a team-best 99 games to capture its first division title. However, after realizing that a career on the baseball diamond might not be in his future, Shuber nurtured his growing interest in law, attended law school, and was called to the bar in 1999. A few years later, he became Canada’s only corporate lawyer in Major League Baseball.

The home opener of the 2014 season. Elements of the Blue Jays' rebranding are evident throughout Rogers Centre. (Photo by Michelle Prata.)
The home opener of the 2014 season. Elements of the Blue Jays’ rebranding are evident throughout Rogers Centre. Photo by Michelle Prata

Shuber, who joined the Blue Jays in 2003, splits his time between legal duties and business affairs, and the organization embraces this hybrid model because working at a stadium is different from practicing law in a corporate high-rise. “Every lawyer in sports gets involved in many business initiatives because so many unique things happen here,” Shuber says. He’s the primary contact with the league on a host of business issues, he’s involved in all contracts and negotiations with outside entities, he develops business relationships for spring training and facilities, he leads compliance management, he handles all of the day-to-day legal issues, and he deals with ticketing, marketing, and sponsorships. In short, Shuber gives independent, cross-departmental business and legal advice and serves as the lead on major initiatives, key contracts, and external negotiations.

Pitcher RA Dickey dons the new uniform during a game.
Pitcher RA Dickey dons the new uniform during a game. Photo by Michelle Prata

Having one person who is not solely focused on one component of the business—but instead works across all departments—allows the organization to complete better deals while staying aware of the impact each deal has on the franchise as a whole. “This structure helps us ensure we are putting everything we do in the broader context,” Shuber says. “I sit in the middle and deal with each project, initiative, and issue from two perspectives. There is a mix of business and legal in everything that I do.”

On the legal side, Shuber says, common issues he encounters include negotiations, litigation, and IP management. A professional baseball team must tread lightly in some areas. “We manage certain things in a slightly different way than an average corporation,” Shuber says. “We’re a business, but one for which people have strong passions.” As new media and social networks expand quickly, his department works to stay vigilant and strike the right balance between policing and interacting, bearing in mind that social networks are simply another channel through which fans consume baseball and interact with the team.

Shuber sees his work as both a challenge and an opportunity, and he enjoys the chance to use his legal and business skills at the same time, helping to both manage risk and move the Blue Jays franchise forward. The key in baseball, he says, is operating in a “thoughtful” way in order to “consider everything without becoming paralyzed.”

“I sit in the middle and deal with each project, initiative, and issue from two perspectives. There is a mix of business and legal in everything that I do.” —Matthew Shuber, Legal Counsel & VP of Business Affairs (Photo by Todd Duncan.)
“I sit in the middle and deal with each project, initiative, and issue from two perspectives. There is a mix of business and legal in everything that I do.” —Matthew Shuber, Legal Counsel & VP of Business Affairs Photo by Todd Duncan

In 2010, the Blue Jays embarked on a critical rebranding push that Shuber prefers to think of as the team “returning to its brand.” When Paul Beeston—the club’s president and CEO from 1989 to 1997 and president and COO of Major League Baseball from 1997 to 2002—returned to Toronto to reprise his role as the Blue Jays’ president and CEO in 2008, he found that its brand had changed during his absence. For example, it wasn’t wearing blue—its uniforms were black instead—and its primary branding read, simply, “Jays.” Beeston, along with others in senior leadership, called for a total redesign.

The endeavour extended club-wide, starting with the uniforms worn by the team on the field and eventually reaching its letterhead, signage, websites, and myriad retail products. Shuber was instrumental in the development and implementation of the rebranding effort, and by working closely with Anthony Partipilo, his counterpart in marketing and merchandising, he was able to crystallize goals and set a clear vision. “We wanted to bring back our brand but also update it and refine it so that it would stand the test of time,” Shuber says. Throughout the process, he worked with the league office to ensure that all new elements fit MLB standards, rules, and requirements. He also stayed in touch with minor-league affiliates to maintain high levels of quality and consistency across all stakeholders in the brand.

WHY LAW?

“I slowly developed an interest in legal matters and grew more and more curious over time. My uncle was a lawyer who transitioned to owning and running a company with operations in Canada and the US, so I saw right away what a potent combination legal and business training and skill could be. When [my sister] went to law school, I got a better sense of what was being taught and developed. I believed then—and feel even more strongly now—that legal training develops a very useful and transferable skill set. In particular, it can help teach a person to take an unfamiliar situation or initiative, break it down in order to really understand it, and then think it through logically and critically in order to develop a practical solution.”

Shuber and his colleagues were aware from the beginning of the importance of the project, particularly because the team and its brand have meaning to so many people within and beyond Canada. After listening carefully to managers, players, and fans, though, they decided that tying the team’s brand more directly to key components of its origins would be something that most people would embrace. Ultimately, they were right.

The Blue Jays unveiled their new logo, uniforms, and brand in November 2011 to rave reviews across the sports world. Chris Creamer of SportsLogos.Net wrote, “Never in my 15 years of running SportsLogos.Net have I ever witnessed such an overwhelmingly positive response to a team unveiling their new branding.” Jose Bautista and other star players also praised the design.

The successful project is just one of many that illustrate Shuber’s value. “I’m thankful to have the opportunity to bring these skills to a job that’s so exciting, challenging, and interesting,” he says. “I’m lucky to get to do this in the MLB, in my home city and country. It’s a dream.”

Projects such as the rebranding require “tremendous amounts of input, work, and collaboration” from many people across all levels of the organization, Shuber adds. Together, they’ve helped reinvigorate a fan base, and now, when Shuber watches the team play, he sees players such as Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes take the field in uniforms that both hearken back to the team’s glory days and look to the future. With their renewed bird-head design, red maple leaf, split-font lettering, and prominent blue elements, the uniforms connect today’s team with today’s fans while honouring the 1985, 1992, and 1993 seasons and all the other the great moments in Toronto Blue Jays history.