SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2006/Families In Sports Fathers And Sons

Taking different paths, they’ve met at the top of the Blue Jays

Rob Godfrey remembers that it was cold on the day that the Toronto Blue Jays played their first game. And that, because it was cold, he wore a jacket over his Jays uniform.

Paul Godfrey (right) became CEO in Toronto
as Rob came into the AFL.
A Cookie Monster jacket.

Godfrey was 4 years old and the son of Paul Godfrey, who then held a political office that was the Toronto equivalent of mayor. Paul Godfrey led the chase for a baseball team for Toronto, taking it up as a pet issue starting in 1969, when he awoke to find that Montreal had hit the big leagues and wondered, “What are we, chopped liver?”

It took eight years, but Toronto got its team. Godfrey was to throw out the first pitch until some questioned why that honor would go to him, rather than the premier of Ontario or the prime minister of Canada. To avoid the controversy, Jays management decided it wouldn’t be any of them. It would be a child.

Godfrey’s child, Rob.

“They said, ‘You worked the hardest at this, your kid is going to do it,’” Paul Godfrey said. “So we dressed him up in a Blue Jay uniform and put him out there.”

Twenty-nine years later, that tiny Jays uniform hangs in Rob Godfrey’s office at Rogers Centre, the ballpark formerly known as SkyDome. Godfrey is the Jays senior vice president of communications and external communications, responsible for most of the franchise’s business departments. His father is the team’s president and CEO. That neither ever planned to work in the organization is a testament to the unpredictably winding path that careers can take.

Paul Godfrey was a rabid Jays fan, first as mayor and then as publisher of the Toronto Sun. He took his son to Jays games and to spring training, where Rob was a bat boy. But he never contemplated a career in baseball until one was offered. Godfrey was planning his retirement in 2000 when billionaire Ted Rogers bought the team and asked him to run it.

Godfrey jumped at the chance, officially taking over as CEO when the sale closed on Sept. 1.

At the same time as he landed in sports, his son was working his way into the business, unsuspectingly, along a different route.

Having graduated from Pepperdine with a joint MBA and law degree, Rob Godfrey had abandoned his initial plan to become “the next Jerry Maguire” and joined the investment banking fray. One Sunday afternoon in June 2000, he took a client who had only distant connections to the sports business to a Blue Jays game. The client surprised him when he asked what Godfrey thought of the Arena Football League, and whether he might be interested in working to bring a franchise to Toronto.

Rob Godfrey flashed back to the stories his father told him about his lengthy quest to attract baseball to Toronto. He thought he might enjoy chasing an AFL team, although only as a gig “on the side” for the few years that it might take. He told the client he’d like to hear more.

In his office on the following Monday afternoon, his assistant brought the news that she had — she paused to read from her notes to make sure to get the name right — David Baker, the commissioner of the Arena Football League, on the phone.

Did he want to take the call?

Baker was shopping for a buyer for the New England franchise that Madison Square Garden wanted to sell. A few weeks later, Rob Godfrey was in his back yard with two new business partners and a lawyer, delivering some news to his father.

“Dad, I don’t know how to tell you this,” Godfrey said, “but I think we bought a football team yesterday.”

“Great,” his father said. “Where are you going to get the money?”

The son didn’t have a clue. But he did know it couldn’t be a part-time endeavor. He went to his boss and requested a six-week leave to line up the money to make the deal.

Looking for investors, he approached some of Toronto’s leading companies, including Rogers Communications, which was about to buy the Blue Jays and hire his father. “My meeting with them lasted about 30 seconds,” Paul Godfrey said. “Not interested.”

That’s the way things went for about two weeks, until a chance encounter with his father’s new boss turned his fate. Ted Rogers had heard that Rob was lining up investors for an AFL team. He asked Paul if there was any reason he wouldn’t want to own a majority piece of it.

“Ted is a very spontaneous guy,” Paul Godfrey said. “He made up his mind right there.”

Rob Godfrey landed his team, and a new career operating it in a sports enterprise run by his father.

“In the middle of June 2000, I had not a single thought in my head about running a sports team, except for wondering who I was going to take in my fantasy football draft,” Rob Godfrey said. “I never thought about working in sports, or working with my father. And in six weeks, everything changed.

“It’s been a long, strange, unplanned ride.”

Fifteen months after launching the arena team, Rob Godfrey was promoted to a role with the Blue Jays. Paul Godfrey has given him expanded responsibilities each year. Now, he oversees all business functions except for human resources and finance.

“In a family-owned business, it’s almost expected that junior is going to be anointed at some point,” Paul Godfrey said. “As a family working in the same business, but not as owners, you are judged by a different standard. There is always the question of how did (Rob) get this job. However, I think that Rob has proven himself. You can point to his education and his success in (investment banking). You can point to the work he’s done here and say, ‘This is how.’”

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