The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest increase in attendance in all of Major League Baseball this season. In a season where attendance was hit by poor weather, poor teams in major markets, and continuing erosion of the value of the in-person experience, Toronto’s attendance performance was a nice note on a continuing trend toward reduced attendance.
Many diehard Blue Jay fans knew that if ownership put a winning team on the field, the fans would come back. The promise heading into this season was at an all-time high. Ticket sales represented that. Fans want to see a winner. They want to be at the story they’ll tell their kids about, such as “I was at the game where Joe Carter hit the walk off home run.” If you’re selling that idea, it’s an easy sell. This success shows us that.
But what now? Once again the fan base is left without meaningful baseball games in September. Once again the Blue Jays have traded on the hope and desire of a fan base, and gave nothing back in return. This let-down seems greater than in years past. How does the sales and marketing department of this franchise come back from this type of disappointment?
In the case of the Blue Jays, there are a few positives:
1) Even at the worst of times, they are not competing against many formidable opponents for sponsorship dollars. MLS has not hit critical mass like baseball has yet in this country, and for all the talk about the Blue Jays being poor, Toronto FC is far worse. Montreal and Vancouver are still somewhat afterthoughts, or large pieces to a soccer puzzle. For corporate sponsors, the Blue Jays are still somewhat the only summer sports game in this country. Sure they lost a lot of games, and thus didn’t provide many great sponsorship memories such as “it was 7-6 for the Rays, we were at the Budweiser party deck, and Bautista hit the bomb right at us.” That rarely happened. However, for better or for worse, eyeballs were delivered, and can be delivered again. Sponsorship sales should do well.
2) Many fans have experienced Blue Jays baseball. Let’s assume many of the 2.5 million fans who visited Rogers Center this year did it for the first time. Maybe win or lose, they had fun and will be willing to give the team a chance next year. Maybe, if the team is actually competitive they will interact with the team through social media, or watch on TV. Thus, the potential for these fans to come back if the team is better is high.
3) It shows Rogers that if they build a great team, Canadians will rally around it, thus giving them a better business case to pump more money into this team. Before, as I mention above, the diehards would say “if the team was good, there’d be more fans.” Now we know it.
4) We are another year into the travelling roadshow era of Blue Jays camps visiting small towns and building future fans. This grassroots effort has started to pay dividends and should pay more going forward.
Overall, this season was a massive disappointment. The team did not produce on the field. However, it appears as though off of the field it was a great season. Attendance was down overall, however the Jays were up 437,000. Now the front office can build on this success and hope to crack 3 million next year. While it appears as though the actual baseball was a disaster, and the team has questions on the field, the front office is still in a great position to increase revenue for Rogers.