Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How to Improve the Rogers Centre Fan Experience


By
Image courtesy of BlueJays.com
If you've ever been to Walt Disney World, you can fully appreciate why it's been dubbed the "happiest place on earth". Once inside, you truly feel like you're inside the Disney bubble and it's easy to forget it's part of the real world.

From start to finish, the entire Disney experience is pain-free. And since it's such a pain-free environment, people subsequently have no trouble at all opening their wallets since everything is so incredibly convenient.

As I was enjoying the grandiouseness of Walt Disney World, I couldn't help but think that the Rogers Centre could take some notes on how to improve the fan experience at Toronto Blue Jays games.

Personally, I lead a pretty sheltered big league ballpark experience, as Comerica Park is the only other stadium I've been to outside of the confines of the concrete convertible. But even with only 2 of 30 ballparks under my belt, I'd venture to say Toronto isn't one of the most sought after stadiums in baseball.

As great as it would be to just start from scratch and build a new stadium from the ground up, I think we can all agree that won't be happening any time soon. So in the meantime, here are a few ways the Blue Jays can improve upon their fan experience at the Rogers Centre.

Better Food, Better Prices

At Magic Kingdom, there was a baseball themed restaurant that served gourmet hot dogs called "Casey's Corner". There was one hot dog in particular which caught my eye on the menu board which was the Barbeque Slaw Dog.

Casey's features several hot dog concoctions, but none perhaps more enticing than the aforementioned two-meat treat. It's a hot dog topped with pulled pork, coleslaw, and covered in barbeque sauce. It's even more delicious than it looks below.
Image courtesy of ChipandCo
As I'm sure most of you know, pulled pork is my weakness so I could never not eat anything pulled pork on a menu, but it was fantastic. And I just kept thinking, the Blue Jays desperately need a signature food item like this.

I think the BBQ Chicken Nachos at Muddy York have unofficially become the signature item at the Rogers Centre, but if you've ever ordered them you'll agree the portions are quite underwhelming for $10 dollars.

And that's one of the major problems I have with the food at the Rogers Centre; the value simply is not there. A boiled (not even grilled) hot dog with no specialty toppings on its own is a whopping $5 dollars. No sides, no nothing - just hot dog and bun for $5 dollars.

At $8.59 US, the Barbecue Slaw Dog at Disney World is by no means a bargain, but at least you're getting good value for your money. The hot dog is huge, and you also have your choice of a side of french fries or apple slices.

The hot dog was so big, I actually had to eat some of the coleslaw and pulled pork off the top of the hot dog with a fork first before I could really dig in to the hot dog itself. And they provide you with a myriad of toppings, from onions to shredded cheddar.

Personally, I don't have an issue with paying $5 dollars for a hot dog or $10 dollars for nachos so long as I feel like I'm getting my money's worth. And that's not the case at the Rogers Centre; most grown adults would need to order two or three of those items to have a sufficient meal.

The only really reasonably priced fare at the Rogers Centre is the Tim Hortons coffee, which is surprisingly only $1.50 for a small coffee. Compare  that to $5 dollars for a bottle of water, and one can understand why fans constantly bellyache about food price.

I wish there was something like AT & T Park's Garlic Fries or Turner Field's "The Hammer" that would entice people to seek out this signature food item, and then crave it every other subsequent visit to the ballpark.

There needs to be something unique you can eat at the Rogers Centre that you can't eat anywhere else, and that's one area where I think the Blue Jays are severely lacking right now. Maybe now would be a good time to roll out those "Meats Don't Clash Nachos"?

Aramark is the main food distributor at the Rogers Centre, and sometimes I feel like priority number one for them is to pump out as much food as possible,not the quality of food and drink or providing value for your money.

It seems as though it's about the bottom dollar, and merely giving fans just enough to keep them quiet, but not truly satisfied.

Better Beer Selection

Image courtesy of SteamWhistle.ca
I touched on this in a post from a few years ago, but with the bevy of microbreweries near the Rogers Centre, it only makes sense to serve it at the Rogers Centre.

My suspicion is that the Blue Jays still have some agreement with Inbev (formerly Interbrew), who were former owners of the Toronto Blue Jays, to serve exclusive Interbrew products (Labatt, Budweiser, Keith's, etc).

Recently, I've noticed that the beer selection has branched out in the form of Guinness as well as Vex coolers (ugh), but I can't see why they can't just wheel some kegs of Steam Whistle or Mill Street down to 1 Blue Jays Way.

At other ballparks around the Major Leagues, they showcase these microbrews and craft beers proudly. Because if I'm visiting the Rogers Centre for the very first time, don't I want to sample some local fare rather than the mass-produced beer that's available nearly everywhere?

What exactly is so unique about Budweiser or Bud Light the Rogers Centre when local brews like Steam Whistle or Mill Street do a fantastic job of showcasing local craft beer?

I realize the prices of beer at the Rogers Centre are quite deep, but there's not much that can be done about that. If they're going to charge us nearly $10 dollars for a tall can, the least they can do is give us a choice of great beers.

Crowd Control

Image courtesy of Canada.com
The other thing I noticed at Disney is their staff is extremely visible. It seemed like no matter where you looked, you would find a cast member who was always more than willing to answer questions or point you in the right direction.

As silly as it sounds, they even had people whose sole purpose it was to direct foot traffic. And often times during a Blue Jays game I've needed to pass through the sea of people and wondered how I'd make it through.

The Rogers Centre could really benefit by simply having ushers on the concourse ensuring the flow of foot traffic is moving along. There are times I've encountered lines that wrap around every which way through the middle and obviously bog down the traffic through the middle.

And not to be a party pooper, but I think that over-serving customers is an issue at the Rogers Centre (much like it is at any establishment that serves alcohol). On numerous occasions, I've been sitting next to people who obviously were inebriated beyond the point of no return, and yet went completely unnoticed.

Yet there are other fans who have supposedly been tossed from games for simply heckling the opposing team. I think so long as they aren't using foul language and not disturbing the folks around them, then they should be allowed to yell all they want.

I realize the security staff only have so many bodies to cover so many sections and their doing the best job they can, but the fan to security ratio is simply way to high. They need more people on the floor to ensure the people who want to enjoy the game are there, and the ones who are simply there to cause trouble are weeded out.

Where is the History?

Image courtesy of TorontoTourismsvt.com
If you were to walk around the perimeter of the Rogers Centre for the very first time and not look at what the fans outside the dome were wearing, you might not even know you were at a Blue Jays game.

Sure, there's signage and lots of logos strewn around the Rogers Centre, but there's very little if any historical pieces surrounding the ballpark. The same goes for the concourse. Aside from some player photos on the 300 Level, there's not very many historical pieces on the walls of the Rogers Centre.

The Blue Jays may be a young franchise compared to others around the league, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be some pieces of historical significance at the Rogers Centre.

I often joke with folks on Twitter that there should be a bronze statue of Roberto Alomar's iconic pose with his fingers in the air from Game 4 of the 1992 outside the dome. But in retrospect, that actually might not be a bad idea. The same goes for some sort of Joe Carter monument.

For a team that has won two World Series and five AL East division titles, it's a shame that the Blue Jays don't display their history more prominently around the Rogers Centre.

There's plenty of real estate behind the 100 level outfield seats, so why not install some sort of "Blue Jays wall of fame" back there?

Free Wi-Fi

Considering that Rogers is one of the largest communications providers on the country, it's quite surprising that the Rogers Centre doesn't provide free Wi-Fi for its customers (or at least the option to use Wi-Fi).

As I'm sure you've experienced, the reception inside the dome can be quite spotty sometimes, especially when the roof is closed. Which again is surprising considering Rogers Communications owns the building.

Not that cell reception or Wi-Fi is paramount to watching a baseball game, but with the addition of the Tweeting Tuesdays, the Blue Jays Blackberry Insider and other various social media at your fingertips, it's tough to go the entire game without checking your phone.

Personally, I'm not really one to add something that draws fans eyes away from the the field. And not that cell reception is paramount to watching a baseball game, but folks are going to check their phones regardless during a Blue Jays game.

If that's the case, why not allow the fans free Wi-Fi which in turn will help publicize the Blue Jays across several social media sites?

Only a select few teams in the Major Leagues currently offer free Wi-Fi to their fans, but since Rogers is plastered across the outside of the building, you would think Wi-Fi would be readily available.

Other Things 

Many of you tweeted some great suggestions on how to improve the fan experience at the Rogers Centre, and I have to say there were lots of things I hadn't even considered. Some were as simple as bringing back a baseball organ to putting in more water fountains.

It seems like a no-brainer to turn the former Windows restaurant into some sort of "party patio" since for the most part, that part of the park goes unused anyway. If anything, it would at least provide a different vantage point for fans wanting a unique seat.

These are just a few of the many areas in which the Rogers Centre could improve upon. And even if they worked to change just one of these things, it would at least be a step in the right direction.

I'm going the ballpark regardless whether anything changes or not, but some of these issues might be a dealbreaker for some other fans. And if it gets them back to the Rogers Centre, then it will have all been worth it.

Like I said off the top, building a brand new stadium for the Blue Jays simply isn't in the cards right now. The Rogers Centre is the only house the Blue Jays have, so we may as well work with what they've got.

32 comments:

  1. I know it would be an expensive project, having to dig up the floor and install drainage, but grass would be great. Also, having a "The roof is open unless it's raining" policy would be great.

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    1. A grass field would be another improvement, but I think it would do more for the players on the field than anybody else.

      It could also help attract prospective free agents, as AA alluded to in the offseason.

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    2. Its status as a multi-use facility precludes that, though, I would imagine.

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  2. Like I said on Twitter, the issue of room in the seating area is always an issue for some of us larger human beings. It would be nice if they had an area where larger folks could sit, even at a higher rate, which I would gladly pay for some leg room.

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    1. Either I'm getting bigger or the seats there are getting smaller. I swear, it's nearly impossible to seat two grown men side by side without feeling crammed. Or maybe it's just the section I sit in?

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  3. kick the argos out and make it a grass field. Can't stress how important this is.

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  4. Grass, Wifi, changes to "windows" are all good ideas. The food used to be terrible with the chains serving but I find it's pretty good now. Try the wings! Prices are high but they're high at all other parks. I'm for the statues as well!

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    1. I have heard good things about the Quaker Steak wings, but the price seems a little steep to me. Also, nothing like trying to catch a foul ball with wing sauce all over your fingers!

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  5. I'm a season ticket holder with a row 1 seat in LF. Two months ago, they moved the placement of the on-field policeman to sit directly in front of me. I have a front row obstructed view that they've said they can do nothing about, and will not move my seat. The policeman's hat completely obscures my view of the pitcher and the batter. Oh yay, there's the shortstop.

    And what about the 4-weekday day games that I can't attend or get a refund for? Previous years, you could bank the value of the unused tickets and apply toward tix for upgraded seats (or donate to Jays Care). New this year, unused tix are straight up swap only. I go to games alone, and I can only swap my daytime ticket for another ticket to a game that I already have a ticket for.

    Fan experience starts with your season ticket holders, no?
    (sorry for the rant Ian!)

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    1. Latte, that doesn't sound like much fun. Especially since they said there's nothing they could do about it - as a season ticket holder, you should be their number one priority in making happy!

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  6. The hockey rink in Buffalo — BUFFALO! — is way more fan friendly than the Dome. And you can get a delicious chilli cheese dog for $5 there.

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  7. I have 18 MLB stadiums under my belt and all I can say is that Rogers Center is the worst stadium that I've been to. It's the closest to my home and I barely ever go there. Everything that makes a ballpark charming is lacking in Toronto:

    Everything is overpriced, the food is bad and they serve nothing special, ushers are bugging people constantly to check tickets, astroturf, concrete everywhere, no history and no baseball feel around the stadium.

    The only thing that makes the ballpark special is the CN tower.

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    1. I hate to say it, but I think you're right. The main thing that the Rogers Centre is lacking is "personality". I know that's tough for a stadium that opened in 1989, but there are definitely ways they could spruce up the concrete convertible a bit.

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    2. Since Camden Yards opened in 1992, Rogers Centre became irrelevant ... Camden reminded people of the old days of baseball and the importance of being part of an experience, intimate and close to the action. I don't want to watch baseball in a stadium that presented Monster Trucks, a lawyers convention and a football game the day before ... Whenever a ballpark share its home with other sports, baseball is always losing...

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  8. I think there should be a permanent section for families and your ticket price would include all you can eat snacks, like hot dogs, popcorn and pop. Have the Jays any idea how much it costs for two adults, 3 kids (in my case 12, 10 and 2) to come in from out of town (Waterloo), gas, parking, or TTC, tickets and food for everyone? And maybe a free souvenir for the kids? Like a cheap logo baseball? I am going to a 1 game this year and only with my 10yr old son. Mom and the girls have to stay home. BTW, send a copy of this post to Paul Beeston and the clowns at Rogers.

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    1. Tony, with the addition of Jr. Jays Saturdays, it looks like the Jays are looking to improve the experience for families. Like you said, if you're bringing in your family from out of town, it needs to be worth your while to drive all that way and spend all that money. At least if the kids can go home with something, it will be a worthwhile experience for them.

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  9. The Blue Jays unfortunately has to share RC with other teams (not to mention hold concerts and events) which means it will never be a true ballpark. It is an ugly building, plain and simple.

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  10. And I agree with the statues and the Jays "Hall of Fame". It wouldn't have to be just Alomar and Carter...there could be statues of Dave Stieb, Fernandez....

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    1. A statue of Stieb grabbing his crotch and spitting would be funny.

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  11. Please find out about the "kidzone" on level 200....completely gone!!!was supposed to be updated for the start of the 2011 season?

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  12. As a signature food, shouldn't we be looking at poutine? It's already a food identifiable as Canadian. The ballpark just needs a really good version of it. Affordability is important although I'm pleasantly surprised by the prices of mixed drinks. I too would love some statues outside. I love The Audience but some players and Tom Cheek would be awesome. And bring back the organ! It was my favourite thing during Flashback Fridays - really makes it feel like a ballpark.

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    1. Bring in Smoke's Poutine!

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    2. Ding ding ding ... we have a winner! Poutine is a brilliant idea, MK.

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    3. A guy in my section had poutine from somewhere in the RC yesterday. It didn't look good, but they do have it somewhere on the 100 level.

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  13. I went to see the jays play in Milwaukee back in June with my wife and young daughter. What an amazing experience! Tailgating in the parking lot, complete with concrete receptacles to dump your used coals; friendly staff upon entering the stadium; a list of around 25 different Wisconsin craft/micro brews - we bought TWO beers for $11 total!; and the level of interactivity for the kids was incredible - a giant baseball glove for them to sit in, a dugout with a statue of Ryan Braun to get photos taken with, as well as giant statues of the Sausage Race characters!

    Miller Park is the only other ballpark I've been to besides the Dome, but man it was amazing!

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    1. Eric, that's the one big difference between us and our friends south of the border. I've always been jealous of the tailgating aspect of games, and it sounds like it really instills a sense of camaraderie between fans alike.

      That's why I've always wondered why they've pined so hard to bring Buffalo Bills games to the Rogers Centre, because I'm sure the "true" Bills experience in Buffalo is much superior than what happens in Toronto.

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  14. It's hard to argue that the prices aren't too high, but most venues, whether it's sports or entertainment venues usually have high prices for food & drinks. At least the Rogers Centre lets you bring in outside food & drink. I don't know of too many places that allow that. I wish they would reduce the price of bottled water though. it feels like an ass raping when it's 40 degrees and they're charging $4.75 for a bottle of water.

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    1. Very true, Danny - I will give them points for that. If you come prepared, it's possible to come to a Blue Jays game and not spend a single dime if you bring drinks, food and snacks. But damn if those ice cream bars don't sound tempting by the 5th or 6th inning of the game.

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  15. Great post. I agree with you about the portion size of the Muddy York nachos. Is it just me, or has the size of the nachos markedly decreased since they were first introduced? I remember them as being quite larger than they are today. That's what she said.

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    1. I think you're right, Callum. I've seen pictures of said nachos from a few years ago, and the portion sizes are remarkably different. We went to check them out last season, and it was just one small scoop of chips. Not worth $10 dollars at all.

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  16. They need to turn those black-tarped-over seats in centrefield under Windows into a fountain or something representive of Canada, you know? Some pine trees, rocks, a lake, I don't know! However it is not representive of our great nation.
    Also they should put a signature poutine. I am from Quebec City so I know good poutine, and my friends who live in Britain come to get poutine whenever they visit Canada, baseball fans are from 29 American cities, so they need some signature Canadian expereinces. Maybe an inukshuk in centre field?
    Cheers,
    Jean-Guy

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  17. I've been to many games in many ballparks. Of course, it's difficult to recreate the experience of Fenway or Wrigley at the dome.

    The dome actually does have plenty of character, if you go to enough games. The food has improved massively over the years, with plenty of different experiences available on the 100 level and an increased selection up in the nose-bleeds.

    Rogers does go out of its way to make beer lines long up top due to the rowdiness of the young fans up there who shell out $11 to drink.

    I think the best investment for Rogers is natural grass. Yep, it's a "multi-purpose" facility, but that is by Rogers' choice.

    Duh with Wi-Fi, sponsored by Rogers of course, and the same is true for the history.

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