Friday, December 9, 2011

If You Come, They Will Build It


By
Image courtesy of Canada.com
"Payroll parameters"; it was a phrase that was dropped by Paul Beeston earlier this week at the Winter Meetings, and it's a phrase I have a feeling we'll be hearing quite often these next few years.

What exactly does payroll parameters even mean? I'm still not quite sure, but the gist of it seems to be that even though the Blue Jays could spend up to $120 million in payroll, they aren't going to.

Alex Anthopoulos is usually pretty tight-lipped about things like this, but Paul Beeston's comments in Dallas were a little disconcerting:
"We’re still capable of going to the US$120 million payroll once we start drawing the people."
Some might have taken Paul Beeston's words out of context, but what I got from it was "if you come, they will build it".

AA typically shies away from mentioning anything about payroll, and maybe that's just his nature or perhaps it's more of Paul's area as the team president. After all, Beeston has reiterated a few times that the money was there if the Blue Jays needed to boost payroll.

As exciting as it is to hear the president of the Blue Jays feed us this news, the key thing that Beeston said was "once we start drawing the people". Which means that it's in the hands of the fans to help bring up the payroll?

Whether it's in print, on the radio, TV, or any corner of the blogosphere, there's nothing that irritates me more as a fan when people call my (our) fandom into question. Citing "real fans would come down to the ballpark and support this team" just makes by blood boil.

Trust me, the people that truly support the Toronto Blue Jays are going to the Rogers Centre. They're the season ticket holders, they're flex pack holders, they're Toronto Star pass holders, they're 20 ticket pack holders, and they're even the single game ticket buyers.

These folks are there game-in and game-out, and have been for a very long time. In the media, we don't hear about all the fans that were at the Rogers Centre watching the Blue Jays, it's about the fans that weren't.

If Paul Beeston insinuated the Blue Jays would be more aggressive in the pursuit of free agents if more fans came down to the ballpark, that's backwards thinking. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way; fans won't flock to the Rogers Centre in hopes that payroll will increase.

If the Blue Jays want to boost attendance, it's very simple; they have to win. And I'm not just talking one season of making the playoffs, I'm talking the Blue Jays need to be perennial contenders. 

Look at the heyday of the Blue Jays in the late 80's and early 90's; they were favourites year-in and year-out, and the attendance numbers reflected that. The Blue Jays were the hottest ticket in town because they were a successful team.

I always chuckle when people say "player X would bring more fans to the ballpark". I'm sorry, but one solitary baseball player doesn't drive attendance numbers through the roof. Sure, it's a bonus to see your favourite player in action, but ultimately fans go to see the team.

The latest example of this can be seen at JaysFansWantFielder.com, whose proprietor suggests that fans would to go X amount of more games if the Blue Jays signed Prince Fielder. It also suggests fans should cancel their Rogers services if the team doesn't pony up the money for Prince.

While the site has accumulated over 1200 "signatures", let me ask those people this; if the Blue Jays signed Prince Fielder but then the team tanked, would you still attend all those extra games to promised to go to? I highly doubt it.

What it all boils down to is a winning team on the field puts fans in the stands. The segment of the extremely loyal fan base will always be there, but the market the Blue Jays are trying to capture are those casual fans. And right now, they might not see the value in going to the Rogers Centre unless the Blue Jays are in contention.

Maybe the Blue Jays hands are tied when it comes to payroll, and maybe they have an endless supply of cash at their disposal. Only the top executives know the truth, but it's not right to dangle a figure in front of the fans and then take it away.

Most folks can see past the arbitrary $120 million dollar payroll amount Paul Beeston lobbed out there and realize what really matters is building a solid foundation and then filling in the pieces later. But the casual fan might see it as "if they can spend up to $120 million, why don't they?"

Those are the exact same fans that the Blue Jays are trying to get down to the ballpark, yet it's also the exact same fans they're alienating by saying they have cash, but aren't spending it.

One can argue the big caveat of the J.P. Ricciardi era was all the big money contracts he shelled out during his tenure as the Blue Jays General Manager. I'll agree they may not have been the best contracts in the world, but there's no questioning J.P. wasn't going full tilt to build a winner.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not questioning whether Alex Anthopoulos is going about things the right way, because I believe he is. What I am questioning is the organization's willingness to spend money ... or at least their public stance on increasing payroll.

I'm willing to chalk it up to a slip of the tongue by Paul Beeston. Perhaps all those questions at the Winter Meetings about Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish finally got to him and his comment was a way to deflect any more questions about spending.

If the money is there and it makes sense to spend it, then do it. But don't dangle a number in front of fans like a carrot and promise them if they buy more tickets, the Blue Jays might just buy that shiny new free agent.

If you build it, they will come ... not the other way around.

15 comments:

  1. Slow Clap. Well done Sir.

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  2. I think this "waiting until the fans show up" deal is a fallacy. How much do they actually earn from ticket holders vs. television revenue? Haven't the fans already shown that they've (at least, begun) to return to the Jays by the increased television ratings? Doesn't that show that people are on the verge of returning to the park? That the tipping point is closer than it's made out to be?

    Don't get me wrong -- I'm not complaining about their process. I think they are building a winning team (and building it the right way). I just don't like this talk of putting the cart before the horse. Paul didn't need to say that. It's a bit of a slap to the fan base (especially those ticket holders) -- it's as though he said "prove to me that you deserve a good team."

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  3. I think the other problem is that the Blue Jays may have a wide group of fans to draw from for attendance (city of Toronto, and surrounding areas) they are truly Canada's team from the West Coast to the East Coast. For someone living in Vancouver or Halifax, it's tough to make it to some of the Jays home games, but I bet they watch 162 games at home. How are those fans supposed to help boost payroll? Its such a huge cheap shot to those fans, for Beeston to say that payrolls will rise as attendance does, and hardcore fans like those are left feeling unable to help and unappreciated for the the dedication they do show.

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  4. This payroll parameters thing really means "Rogers needs 2 billion to spend on the Leafs so the Jays don't have any money".

    I actually don't really believe that, but it is a bit frustrating to see them dish out that kind of money then worry about a couple of extra years on Fielder.

    I also think that they will spend the money eventually, but what they have done has become a PR nightmare for the team and they may have to do something soon just to make it go away.

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  5. Chill, thank you!

    Anon, if I remember correctly, viewership was up 17% on Sportsnet this year compared to last year, and attendance was also up (1.818 total in 2011 vs. 1.625 in 2010). So the fans are coming back, but maybe not as quickly as the Blue Jays would like. The last thing the organization needs to do is "challenge" fans to come back, because in essense that will just drive them away.

    Bam_86, I was thinking that as well. Even though some fans can't actually make it down to the Rogers Centre, you can bet they're watching the game, listening on the radio, and have a ton of Blue Jays merchandise at home. The Blue Jays might not be reaping ticket revenue from them, but they're getting ratings and merchandise revenue. To me, that's just as good ... if not better.

    I mean ... how are die hard Blue Jays supposed to become MORE die hard fans?

    Peter, the MLSE development has now thrown a bit of a wrench into things, and actually the "payroll parameters" comment now makes bit more sense. I think this purchase now knocks the Blue Jays down the totem pole a little bit, so convincing ownership to spend money might be even more difficult now.

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  6. the headline is a bit misleading, IMO, but I get the reference.

    "build it" = winning 90+ games

    Alex has every intention of doing that with or without $120 mil

    The dollar figure represents the cost of keeping such a winning team at the top, not the price of getting there (in their minds)

    And yes, of course, that's driven by attendance and other revenue streams.

    one can certainly argue that you have to invest first, to produce winning, which in turn produces the revenues which re-coup the investment. That's a valid supposition.

    But it's not what was promised so we haven't been misled.

    In my personal opinion, there's almost a psychosis among Jays fans to assume the worst. We have all kinds of things to be optimistic about and most of us are enduring a hard, cold, bitter winter of anxiety because the team is not doing a thing they never remotely implied they had any interest in doing.

    I just don't get it.

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  7. I am a diehard Jays fan and part- owner of a 20-pack so what AA and PBS said about payroll will not stop me from attending games in 2012. However, it does disappoint me. Like any product a company tries to sell, money must be spent to make the product worth the purchase. You don't see Coca-Cola trying to sell a crappy product in the hopes that people will buy it and then they'll invest the R&D dollars to make it taste good.

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  8. I live in Saskatchewan. I watch every game I can. I was in minny watching them last year and saw two games in Toronto the year before. I have a two year old and one due in may. I am a few years away from seeing them live again because I will have family ties but I will still watch every game I can. If I lived in Ontario I would go to games. I guess the point is they have been talking about being Canadas team. They have thousands and thousands of fans like me. I am as die hard as anybody but I can't get to the dome to boost attendance.

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  9. Tammy, I'm cool with boosting payroll (if that's what it takes) to sustain the team at a certain level. If they make it to the playoffs and then need to secure a few free agents or lock up certain players, that's cool with me. But I think some people might misinterpret that $120 million as a number they COULD spent but AREN'T right now (for whatever reason).

    Anon 1, I'm same as you - 20-ticket holder, and will continue to be regardless of what management says. If they put the money in, ultimately they will get the money out in one form or another. Just don't challenge the fans (like you and I) who are already doing everything they can and watching every game they can possibly go to.

    Anon 2, I'm willing to bet that the folks like you out in the prairies, west coast, and east coast might actually be BIGGER fans because the team isn't in your own backyard. Folks in Toronto have the luxury of heading down to the ballpark every home game, and they're very accessible. But for everyone else, they have to make the trek to see them on the road in Minnesota, Seattle, or even Boston.

    You guys are doing everything in your power to support the team from afar, and for Paul Beeston to say what he did was a little insulting. If the Blue Jays truly are "Canada's team", then they need to keep all the fans in mind when they make comments like that.

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  10. "Like any product a company tries to sell, money must be spent to make the product worth the purchase. You don't see Coca-Cola trying to sell a crappy product in the hopes that people will buy it and then they'll invest the R&D dollars to make it taste good."

    Not even a close analogy. coke was invented in a drug-store for pennies - for the most part it's largely the same as it was.

    And when they did invest a big sum in doing it "better" people hated it.

    I would say almost any product - once you lay aside infrastructure costs - gt popular before a lot of money was poured into them.

    the big money was spent after they revenue came in to refine process.

    For a baseball analogy, the Angels were a reasonably good team BEFORE they signed Pujols and Wilson - they didn't spend that money to GET good but to step up from good to great.

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  11. "But I think some people might misinterpret that $120 million as a number they COULD spent but AREN'T right now (for whatever reason)."

    Exactly.

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  12. My take, and what he should have said is: "Our goal is to improve the team every year, and as the team improves, more fans will fill the seats. As this happens, we will have no problem boosting the payroll to $120 million or more.
    This is what, in fact, has been happening over the past couple of years. At no time has Rogers implied that there is a stash of money in a sock somewhere that they can haul out and spend like drunken sailors.
    Yes this team, like any responsibly run business has "parameters". This should come as no surprise to anybody. They have to justify their expenditures to the parent corporation, who has to justify it to their shareholders, so yes, they have to create a balance sheet that makes sense, just like McLean's Magazine or any other branch of Rogers Communications.

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  13. Does anybody know why King Albert signed with the Angels, and turned down more money offered by the Marlins? If you think it was because of a no-trade clause, I have a bridge to sell you.
    The real reason is that AP has a shot at Cooperstown, and needs to build a legacy. Even with AP, Miami will probably finish behind Philly and Atlanta, plus, he would be facing two of the best rotations in baseball. In LA, he gets to play Seattle, Oakland, and Houston, and the Angels stand a good chance to go deep into the playoffs.
    Prince Fielder as well, has a legit shot at the HOF. To do that, he will have to hit 500 homers, and a ring or 2 would certainly help his chances. Would he get either, playing in Toronto, facing AL East pitching, and playing against the Yankees and Sox? I doubt it, so forget it.
    Right now, The Blue Jays can only attract overpriced free agents that are no better than or equal to what they have now. In order to attract the top tier, they will have to get to the playoffs first, and establish themselves as a contender. That's what they are doing now.

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  14. George, I believe Beeston could have avoided this whole mess by just not uttering that arbitrary $120 million amount.

    I just think that once you plant that seed in people's heads with a specific dollar amount, they'll always want it.

    Good question about Pujols - looks like he has some sort of personal services contract that extends 10 years beyond his contract. Maybe that was a deal-breaker that Miami didn't put on the table, because they certainly appeared to offer more money that LA.

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  15. Wow Jays win bid for Yu Harry Darvish, 70 million later.

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