Monday, March 28, 2011

Baseball is Still Alive and Well in Toronto


By
Image from Opening Day 2008 courtesy of Chris Creamer's Sports Logos
If someone came up to me and said that Toronto isn't a baseball town, I'd tell them to open their eyes and see that baseball is still alive and well. In fact, I think there's about 50,000 people who would say the very same thing.

This of course is coming off the heels of the announcement that the Blue Jays Home Opener this Friday is officially sold out. Home Openers have sold out before, but they haven't sold out this quickly in recent memory.

I think this is significant news considering the Blue Jays haven't sold out a Home Opener in quite a while, and according to Senior VP of Business Operations Steve Brooks they haven't sold out this early since the early to late nineties.

You definitely could tell there was going to be a big crowd when there were only single tickets remaining for Opening Day at the beginning of the month. Frankly, I was a little surprised to see tickets sell that fast.

So what can we attribute this sudden surge in ticket sales to? I believe it truly signals a renewed sense of optimism for the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite the worry last season about the drop in attendance at the Rogers Centre, things seem to be on the upswing.

Even though they're coming off a surprising 85 win season, last year's win total is irrelevant. It's all about the bigger picture that Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays are working towards and that's building a winning team.

Another possibility for the renewed interest in the team may even stem from the excitement generated by one particular player; the one most recently locked up to a 5-year/$65 million dollar contract.

I don't want to say Jose Bautista is single-handedly going to people to the ballpark, but I think it helps when you have last year's home run champion on the team, and he'll be sticking around for the next five years.

After all, the Blue Jays are having a Jose Bautista Bobblehead Day just a few days after Opening Day,  so that has to stand for something. And I wouldn't be surprised to see the attendance for that game north of 30,000 people as well.

The news of the Blue Jays Home Opener sell out has to be encouraging for the organization, even if there's a huge decline in attendance the following afternoon.

The past two years, the drop-off from the Home Opener to the next game has been 55 percent in 2010 and 65 percent in 2009. The last time the Blue Jays had a Home Opener on a Friday night, attendance only dipped 30 percent to the next game.

I don't think the attendance drop-off will be quite as significant as previous years though because the rest of the series takes place over the weekend, which usually draws fairly well.

In the grand scheme of things, the Blue Jays Home Opener is just one game out of 82 played this season at home. It doesn't dictate how the attendance for the rest of the season will play out, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

No matter what the organization does, ultimately it's a winning product that will keep the fans coming back. While there's a core of fans that are extremely loyal to the Toronto Blue Jays, there's no substitute to bring the masses to the dome than a team that's a contender year in and year out.

If things keep progressing the way they are, I don't think it'll be very long before the Blue Jays start selling out games other than the Home Opener.

12 comments:

  1. I do think the Jays have an opportunity to bring fans back, especially with the other Toronto sports teams being a complete disaster.

    However you almost have to throw out the attendance at the home opener, as even Montreal drew huge crowds for the home openers right up until the end. Also the fact that this years opener sold out so quickly may have more to do with the fact that the game is on a Friday night.

    Until the Blue Jays prove to the average fan that they can compete with the Yankees and Red Sox for the division, I don't expect to see regular big crowds other than for special occasions (say a Roy Halladay return)

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  2. Peter, out of the big three pro sports teams in TO, I'd definitely say the Blue Jays have the brightest future ahead of them.

    I'm not shocked the Home Opener sold out, it's that it sold out this quickly. In 2008 the Opener was on a Friday and if it did sell out, it wasn't until close to the game.

    The games against the Yankees and Red Sox will always draw big numbers, but if we start seeing a boost in attendance in series against the O's, Rays or AL Central or West teams, that's when we'll be able to tell that things are on the rise.

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  3. I was surprised as well that the opener was sold out so far in advance. It's really encouraging to see. Another thing I'm having trouble grasping is that there is baseball being played in Toronto on Friday. Like this Friday. It's going to be a great year regardless of the wins and losses. I seriously haven't been this excited about the future of the Jays in a long time.

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  4. Rajai Davis, man...he's going to be a fan favourite. I can see it already.

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  5. Mattt, I think it's also weird because there's still snow on the ground and the temperatures are below zero. If things were spring-like outside, then I think we might be more in baseball mode. I share your enthusiasm Mattt, hopefully this weekend will be great!

    sadp, power PLUS speed? What's not to love about Rajai Davis right now?

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  6. I have to agree with Peter that the Jays really have an opportunity to bring back fans given the state of the other Toronto sports franchises.

    However I think the Home Opener selling out so fast this year is just a sign of things to come.

    No I'm not saying that they are going to start selling out regular season games in May this year, but I do think there is a renewed optimism about this team. The Blue Jays TV numbers have been good for a few years, and are getting better.

    I truly believe there is a fan base here, but the team wasn't enough of a draw to bring them from the comfort of their couch to the hard blue chair with little leg room. This is the first time in a long time that we (the fans) have had something to be excited about. Our GM took our farm system from being ranked in the bottom ten farm systems in baseball, to being ranked in the top ten (correct me if I'm wrong, but is it #4 Ian?) in a calendar year.

    I'm not known as an Optimist, and don't often sport the rose coloured glasses.... But I think I may have picked up a pair for this season.

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  7. Ball Fan, I'm with you on that one. I do think it signals a change in the dichotomy of baseball in Toronto (and even Canada in general).

    Year in year out there is the core group of fans that will keep coming back to the ballpark regardless of what the team looks like.

    But if they start winning, I think that will help convert a lot of the casual baseball fans into something bigger, and hopefully it will become a snowball effect.

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  8. I think it also has a lot to do with the marketing over the off-season. The Winter Tour really helped give the impression that the ownership gives a crap, which is probably one of the biggest things people give them guff over.

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  9. Anon, I definitely think that had a part of it. They did a great job of keeping the presence up during of the offseason, and now it's paying off. Hopefully they keep that Winter Tour going!

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  10. I used to live in harbourfront, wife and I would walk to Skydome and buy last minute 100 level tickets from scalpers. That's back when there were only 15,000 harbourfront area residents. Now there's 200,000+, why isn't the place packed, could be that this crowd is so in debt with over priced condos, they are are 'house' poor. I now live northwest of Toronto, in Georgetown and would love to bring the kids to a game a month....but what a PITA (pain in the arse) it is getting into Toronto.

    Almost everyone I know dreads going into Toronto. Some are offered "FREE" Leafs, Raptors, Jays, FC tickets from friends/businesses, but still turn them down due to traffic woes etc.

    .....location, location, location.

    Anywhere near downtown Toronto core is real bad.

    Toronto area is the worst in North America traffic wise. Professional sports will suffer in this town.

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  11. ...add

    Lived in Harbourfront in early 90's, height of Jays attendance.

    Attendance is more about demographics than team performance in this case. It explains why Rogers bought the Dome for $25 million while it cost over $500 million to build just over a decade earlier ($260 million+ taxpayer money).

    If it were sold now, it would only fetch $15 million, Rogers was hosed at $25 million. Demographics, location, location etc.

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  12. Anon, with the population explosion and growth downtown, it seems like it's more difficult than ever for folks to get down to the ballpark. I come in from out of town, and it's a bit of a headache, but I usually just bypass that by taking the subway in from Yorkdale.

    But I agree, for someone like you who lives on the outskirts of the city, it has to be worth your while to bring the whole family down to the Rogers Centre.

    Rogers got the Blue Jays and the Skydome for a steal, and I don't think they're going to be selling anytime soon. I think the value is only going to go up from here on out, especially if AA brings the Blue Jays back to the glory days.

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