Matthew Shuber – Toronto Blue Jays and Rogers Centre
For a professional baseball team like the Toronto Blue Jays, success requires more than star players performing to the best of their abilities.
“Winning on the field may be the ultimate goal of any sports organization, requiring high-performing players and a driven and collaborative baseball operations department. However, a true culture of excellence is driven by all facets of an organization and not by a few specific departments or individuals, says Matthew Shuber, longtime senior vice president of legal & government affairs and general counsel for the Blue Jays and Rogers Centre, the team’s stadium. “There is no denying that the Toronto Blue Jays legal department plays a meaningful role in fostering and exemplifying several important traits and values that contribute positively to our organization’s culture.”
Over his two decades with the organization, Shuber has had the privilege of supporting, contributing to, and collaborating on many initiatives and projects, some very visible and well-known, others less obvious but no less meaningful. In 2012, Shuber was part of the small group of individuals who led and executed the Blue Jays rebranding process.
After that, Shuber and a cross-functional team worked diligently over many years to ensure that the Blue Jays could maintain and grow its longstanding relationship with Dunedin, Florida, and continue to conduct its Spring Training and Florida operations in Dunedin long into the future. More recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Shuber and the other members of the legal department helped the organization, the only Canadian-based Major League Baseball team, navigate a truly unique set of challenges
To meet the ever-changing requirements of his role, Shuber has traditionally relied on his legal training and experience, critical thinking skills and business knowledge, each of which he has continued to hone and develop over time. He views that dedication to continuous learning and skills development as essential.
Shuber credits his team members, Michael Alvaro, Amir Torabi, Suey Lau and Suzanne Joncas, for bringing diverse talents and perspectives that have contributed to his own development and that of the wider organization. Shuber also recognizes the importance of the collaborative environment and “Get Better Every Day” mindset that team President and CEO Mark Shapiro fosters.
“Obviously, Blue Jays legal and business operations aren’t the ones making trades or player decisions, but what we do has a direct impact on the success of the team on the field,” Shuber says.
A grand slam of improvements
The Blue Jays played their first Spring Training game in Dunedin, Florida, outside of Tampa on the Gulf Coast, on March 11, 1977, and the team’s relationship with the City of Dunedin and Pinellas County has been a fruitful one for all.
Shuber, together with several organizational leaders, worked diligently with Dunedin city leaders and Pinellas County officials to continue that relationship, resulting in agreements to significantly update and improve the team’s Spring Training ballpark and player development facilities, and to keep the team in Dunedin for another 25 years.
“Many people in the organization worked together to progressively identify and address myriad unique challenges, but we did so as a collective and with a great deal of support from city and county leaders, Dunedin residents and businesses and people at the state level,” he recalls. “The relationship between the Blue Jays and Dunedin is special.”
Collaboration was key throughout the process, and the deal included funding for improvements to the team’s Spring Training stadium, TD Ballpark, and its player development complex. Having current facilities, meticulously designed around player needs, is something that has innumerable benefits for the organization, Shuber says.
Additionally, in Toronto, Phase II of the multi-year Rogers Centre improvements project is in full swing—and is scheduled to be completed for the 2024 season. Phase I created a variety of unique fan viewing experiences in the ballpark’s outfield district, and Phase II includes a complete reconstruction of lower bowl seating and the addition of a variety of premium restaurants and bars to transform the fan experience.
Playing the legal game
In 2010 and 2011, the Blue Jays undertook a rebranding project designed to reconnect to the organization’s most iconic and beloved visible imagery while also subtly modernizing to be able to stand the test of time. The central theme of the internal discussion was on the importance of connecting past and future in an authentic and meaningful way.
By 2010, the Blue Jays had a substantial and meaningful history as a Major League Baseball team and had created countless memories and connections with generations of fans. Yet, despite that history and connection, the organization had moved away from most of the visual elements that reinforced it.
For example, the organization was no longer using its iconic “split type” font, and blue jerseys weren’t part of the uniform.
“It became clear to everyone involved that it was critical for the team’s uniforms, logos, fonts and branding to be a bridge between the wonderful history and memories and a very bright future,” Shuber says.
The rebranding launched in 2012 and was very well-received by the public and the press, Shuber says. Not only is Blue Jays merchandise very popular, but the organization’s sponsorship business has continued to grow. One important example is the relationship with TD Bank, a longtime corporate partner of the organization. Shuber was one of several members of the organization who helped establish TD as the first-ever Toronto Blue Jays jersey patch sponsor during the 2023 season.
Getting through a slump
More recently, Shuber helped the team navigate the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The start of the 2020 MLB season was delayed until July, and Shuber and the organization had to work through restrictions posed by the Canadian and the U.S. governments. Ultimately, as the only MLB team in Canada, the Blue Jays could not play home games in their home city and instead made arrangements to play its home games in Buffalo, New York.
“Overall, by the time all was said and done, the Blue Jays went 670 days between games in our home stadium in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. When I reflect on that now, what comes to mind is the unparalleled resilience and commitment of the entire organization to find solutions to unique and unprecedented problems and to support one another,” Shuber says.
At the start of the pandemic, Shuber established daily meetings with members of the Blue Jays legal team; a practice that continues to this day. According to Shuber, the trust and confidence built between legal team members during those challenging times have improved efficiency and allowed for teaching and learning to occur simultaneously.
Baseball has been very, very good
Shuber earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto but says that his path was never a straight line and that, in fact, he had never planned on going to law school.
“Initially, I studied computer science and mathematics, but I soon realized those were largely solitary endeavors,” he remembers.
So, he changed course and attended Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, earning a J.D. and numerous academic awards.
Following graduation, Shuber spent three years in private practice as a criminal defense lawyer at the firm of Cooper, Sandler and West, and while not the longest of law firm stints, he says it was invaluable.
From Austin Cooper and Mark Sandler, Shuber learned the foundational importance of integrity, shared values and a commitment to excellence and how teamwork and a supportive work environment can lead individuals to maximize their potential. Those learnings gave Shuber a framework within which he sought to create the Blue Jays’ in-house legal department. Shuber says department operates as a cohesive unit, combining their individual skills and sharing a common goal of consistently delivering the best results for the organization with integrity.
The world of professional sports is small, and maintaining good relationships around the league is a crucial part of his success.
“There are only 30 general counsel jobs in Major League Baseball,” Shuber acknowledges. “I would say I’ve been successful because of some mix of determination, adaptability, work ethic, passion, commitment to continuous learning and, probably most importantly, a firm desire to put the organization’s success ahead of my own.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Winter II 2024 Edition here.
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