Friday, April 16, 2010

Where are the fans in Toronto?


By
Things couldn't be much better for the Toronto Blue Jays right now. The city is buzzing about the team once again, their franchise player Vernon Wells is back in fine form, and overall the team is performing very well and exceeding expectations.

There's just one problem ... there aren't any fans at the ballpark.

Much has been said in the media this week about how the Toronto Blue Jays are having trouble putting butts in the seats. Now that the Maple Leafs and Raptors are done for the year, the sporting focus in the city now shifts to the Blue Jays.

While the attendance this week at the Rogers Centre has been a huge point of contention, I wondered if the attendance issue was really as bad as some are making it out to be.

So I decided to take a look at the home attendance at the Rogers Centre from the past five seasons. Click on the image to see how the attendance has spiked and dropped off from 2005 to 2009.

Click image in enlarge

Aside from that dip in attendance back in September of 2009, it appears that numbers for the past five seasons are on track more or less. Last year's total attendance was 1.87 million, but the Blue Jays easily cleared 2 million in total each of the four previous seasons.

It's hard to ignore the thousands and thousands of empty seats at the Rogers Centre this week, but it's definitely not time to panic. If you're looking for an explanation for why there have been all the empty seats, there are a few things at work here:

For one, we are still coming out of a recession ... which means disposable income for things like sporting events suddenly takes a back seat to everything else. Yes, the Blue Jays are the cheapest ticket in town - but for many, a trip to the Rogers Centre includes parking, food, gas, and it can all add up very quickly.

Secondly, the 2010 season is still in its infancy what with it just being the second week of play. Even Paul Beeston admitted that the bulk of fans come out between Memorial Day and Labour Day. The city takes a while to warm up to baseball once again, and this year is no different.

I chuckle when people use the argument that the Blue Jays are in first place and therefore there should be fans flocking to the Rogers Centre to see the team. Once again, it's only the second week of the season ... but even if it were July and the Blue Jays were in first place, I don't think you'd see attendance drastically higher than previous years.

Finally, the fans in Toronto understand that this team is rebuilding and it's going to take a few years to bring it back into contention. For the past eight seasons of the J.P. Ricciardi era, he sold hope from the onset of Opening Day.

Each of those seasons, this organization felt like it had a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. Now, for the first time in a long time, the Blue Jays are not expected to do that. I'm sure Alex Anthopolous isn't going to be thrilled about a fourth or fifth place finish this year, but it's something that's necessary if the Blue Jays are going to become better as a bal lclub.

In my opinion, this string of 10,000 something fans at home this past week is nothing to worry about. It doesn't warrant building a new stadium, it doesn't mean the Blue Jays turning into the Montreal Expos, and it doesn't mean baseball is dead in Toronto ... it's just hibernating.

Just like any beast which spends five months huddled up in the winter, it takes a little while for things to get back to normal.

So don't stress the lack the of attendance, and if anything make sure you get down to the ballpark to help out your hometown team.

6 comments:

  1. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the franchise. As compared with Raptor or Toronto FC games, where the atmosphere is completely electric, Jays games are often a moribund affair. I've been to Cubs and Yankee games where fans are on their feet for a third-inning rally and fixated on every pitch...

    What can be done about that stupid Rogers Centre though? Unless a venue is more intimate, this will continue to be a losing battle.

    They're lousy at marketing to younger people as well, who are often more attracted to 'quick hit' sports like UFC, versus say, the more methodical chess-like boxing...

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  2. Chris, I've never been to a Raptors or TFC game, but I'm sure the atmosphere is much more exciting. I wish I knew a way to fix this, but I think the best solution is also the most difficult to achieve: build a winner.

    Honestly, I think even if the Jays did build a new stadium, it would be back to usual after the initial novelty wears off.

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  3. A new stadium would probably have a positive effect on the attendance numbers, but the lack of fans isn't exactly pushing ownership in that direction. I think another aspect that is being widely ignored in all the attendance red-flag waving is that the Jays raised 500s prices by $2... the audacity! This makes a big difference to the broke, hung-over, university crowd at Sunday day games... speaking from experience.

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  4. Ted, you make a good point. Also, the Blue Jays parent company fully owns the stadium, so why would they be inclined to ditch the Rogers Centre when it continues to bring in money?

    The organization also didn't win over fans by upping ticket prices, but I think most people understand that prices would go up due to inflation. Even at $11 dollars a ticket, the Blue Jays are still the cheapest game in town.

    All that means is you have to pre-drink a couple more beers to make up for it!

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  5. I think Baseball Prospectus has looked at attendance data a couple times, and determined that the only solid link to it is winning. You get a bump if your team made the playoffs the year before (assuming you didn't "Marlins" your franchise). Otherwise though, fans are "smart" at sniffing out early season runs as flukes.

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  6. Yepp, it's as simple as that - if you build a winner, the fans will come. There aren't any honorable mentions for coming in second, unfortunately.

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