SBD/Issue 155/Franchises

Blue Jays Fighting Fan Apathy, Early Season Attendance Woes

Blue Jays Posting Second-Smallest Average
Attendance Through 10 Home Games

The Blue Jays through 10 home games at Rogers Centre have posted the "second-smallest average attendance" in MLB, and Blue Jays President & CEO Paul Beeston said team Owner Rogers Communications "saw this coming," according to Jeff Blair of the GLOBE & MAIL. Beeston: "They realize what's happening and accept it. Our thinking is this: We'd rather under promise and overdeliver than overdeliver and under promise." Beeston added, "Rogers is prepared to give us payrolls of [$130-140M], which we'll need to contend. But we need to generate the revenue to sustain that payroll. We're trying to put some integrity back into our ticket pricing." The Blue Jays "have adopted what appears to be a benign marketing strategy." Brock Univ. sports marketing professor Chris Hyatt "agrees with Beeston's aversion to discounting, but he worries about the relative lack of giveaways -- such as bobbleheads." Hyatt: "If you pooh-pooh marketing, you have no choice but to put a winning team on the field." Blair notes the Blue Jays compared to other MLB teams "have more seats in low-priced areas of a large stadium, which drives the average ticket price lower, but the message is clear: If ownership is to approve a big-market payroll, fans should be prepared to pay big-market prices." Meanwhile, a "small season-ticket base (rumoured to be less than 6,000) and a sense they have lost their footprint has in some circles raised the spectre of another Montreal Expos-style move," but there are "huge differences." While the Expos "were cash-strapped, one Rogers executive referred to the Blue Jays' impact on the company bottom line as 'a rounding loss'" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/26).

IS BASEBALL DEAD IN TORONTO? In Toronto, Sandro Contenta noted "significantly fewer tickets were sold for the first 10 home games this year than last year" -- 162,510 compared with 203,966 -- and attendance at the last two home games against the Royals last week "wasn't announced to fans in the stadium, perhaps out of sheer embarrassment." Univ. of Toronto's Rotman School of Management Associate Dean Richard Powers said that Rogers "will eventually cave to pressure from shareholders if business doesn't improve." Powers: "If attendance does not pick up, if they can't find other revenue streams that can offset the decline in attendance, they're really going to have to look at either selling or bringing in new money somehow." Beeston acknowledged that Rogers "has lost money on the Jays for at least the last two years." But he added, "Why I downplay that, why I don't want to talk about it, is that Rogers never complained about this money." But even Beeston "confesses to unease." Beeston: "Is baseball dead in Toronto? I don't know if baseball's dead in Toronto" (TORONTO STAR, 4/24).

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