SBJ/April 27 - May 3, 1998/No Topic Name

Blue Jays wax poetic, profitably

The radio ad opens with Roger Clemens’ trademark Texas gunslinger draw, only the words don’t seem to match the voice.

Clemens is reading poetry.

Gentle poetry.

This is part of the Toronto Blue Jays’ response to a sag in attendance that has plagued them – as it has much of baseball – since the game’s last, bloody work stoppage.

The Blue-Jays are tailoring their ads for a market segment that clearly needs nurturing women, children and seniors.

Along those lines, the Jays recently launched a radio campaign that features new manager Tim Johnson and seven players – Clemens, Jose Cruz Jr., Darren Fletcher, Shannon Stewart, Shawn Green, Pat Hentgen and Carlos Delgado – each reading poetry appropriate to either their personality or position.

Clemens’ ad reads like a fireside Western ballad. Fletcher, the catcher, sends a rhyming warning to prospective base stealers. Cruz, a second-generation big leaguer, recites a sonnet that describes what it was like to grow up around the game.

"On Immortality"
A sonnet by Jose Cruz JR
My Dad played this game and so do I
Trotting over dirt and grass and carpet,
Beneath domed ceilings or starry clear night sky
To play the best I can and not forget
That this my shining youth one day will fade,
And so, too, the memory of fans’ applause,
Each season brings a new and proud parade
Of eager stars with a noble cause
To make the crowd stand and offer praise,
Forgetting men who made them do the same
In seasons past which smack of bygone days,
The only thing enduring is the game,
So when I’m at the plate and filled with doubt,
I do my best to knock the mother out,
Thank You.

"It’s not normal for a baseball player to read poetry; it’s just not," said Peter Cosentino, the Blue Jays’ marketing director. "Hopefully, you’re driving home and you hear one of the spots and it puts a smile on your face – makes you want to buy a ticket. It’s not the hard sell by any means. It’s more sophisticated. It’s meant for the fans we haven’t been speaking to up until now."

The drive to lure more female fans to the SkyDome became an issue when an ESPN/Chilton poll revealed that 46 percent of fans at major league ballparks are women. The Blue Jays’ breakdown was skewed 60-40 toward men.

With attendance down 36 percent since 1993, the last time the Blue Jays won an AL pennant, the club saw a need to broaden its fan appeal.

"For us, 50,000 a game was almost a given for a while," Cosentino said. "But since the strike, the numbers have dropped. I’m not sure if 50,000 a game is realistic any more, but we can be at 40,000 a game.

"These fans we’re getting now are the avid baseball fans. Our base there is good. But to get our numbers higher, we have to do a better job of speaking to a broader base. We’ve got to get the youth, the women and, to extent, the seniors back into it."

Along with the ad campaign, the Jays made other significant adjustments meant to make their product more palatable to women and families. The most striking of them: a shift in game time from 7:35 to 7:05p.m. The Jays were one of the last AL franchises to make such a move. All but the Orioles and Yankees typically start home games at 7:05.

"You can’t ask people with families to come and stay until 10:30 or 11," Cosentino said. " So to do better with that segment, we had to make a change."

Toronto also has altered its approach to civic involvement. Surveys showed that residents believed the Jays should do more with community issues. This season, the Blue Jays will run a series of public service announcements that address issues like homelessness and childcare.

"They’re meant to be soft, warm spots that pull at your heart, " Cosentino said. "We talk about youth and education and kids on the street. There’s no phone number for tickets there. No hard sell. It’s just all image, image, image.

"That’s where we needed to do our work."


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