With cheap tickets and wonderful weather it comes as a surprise that this summer many Torontonians aren’t taking advantage of what only one Canadian city has to offer: attending a Major League Baseball (MLB) game.
Aside from a sold-out home-opener, fan attendance at the Rogers Centre has dropped to a dismal level this season for our Toronto Blue Jays.
The Rogers Centre seats approximately 50,000 fans for a baseball game, but this season the Jays are averaging only 19,490 fans per home-game, comprising only 39% of the available seating space. This is a big change from the Jays’ glory days in the early 90’s when they sold-out nearly every game.
The Jays are currently ranked 26th overall in the league of 30 teams for average home-game attendance. This represents a drop from the last few seasons (they ranked 22nd last year and 18th from 2006 to 2008.)
This past season the Leafs ranked second overall in the NHL for average home-game attendance, filling 102.5% of the Air Canada Centre. The only team that ranked higher was this year’s Stanley Cup winners, the Chicago Blackhawks.
In Basketball, the Raptors rank 14th in the league and manage to fill 90% of the Air Canada Centre on an average night.
Fans dish out hundreds of dollars for mediocre seats to watch the Maple Leafs, who finished this past season at a heartbreaking second last in the league. The Raptors missed the playoffs this season but people are still willing to pay $250 a ticket for lower-level seating.
Ticket prices can’t be a factor for low attendance at the Jays’ games. Tickets can be purchased for as low as $14.00 for 500 level seats, and the 200 and 100 level seats are still affordable at $30.00 and $36.00 respectively.
The Jays are nearly even with wins and losses this season, but unfortunately their current record isn’t good enough to end their playoff drought.
The Leafs had a horrible season and weren’t even close to the possibility of growing playoff beards, but hockey is more engrained in Canadian sporting culture than baseball. It is much easier to get fans to come out to see the game regardless of the team’s performance.
The Raptors did much better than the Leafs this season, but unfortunately just fell short of the playoffs as they landed in the 9th spot at the end of the regular season. Basketball, although invented by a Canadian, is not as popular as hockey in Canadian sporting culture. Having an All-Star such as Chris Bosh on the team, however, was definitely a viable way to draw fans in.
On July 1st Bosh became a free-agent and it is widely speculated that he will not return to Toronto next season. The question now remains whether or not the potentially Bosh-less Raptors will be able to pull in the same crowds.
Undoubtedly, a superstar in any sport can draw in crowds for a mediocre, or even bad team. The stands in Pittsburgh started filling up pretty quickly after hockey hero Sidney Crosby was drafted by the Penguins first overall in the 2005 NHL entry-draft (jokingly deemed the “Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes.”)
After trading All-Star pitcher Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies last season, the Jays need another all-star player to excite and draw in the crowds.
And although ticket prices may not be a factor for the sub-par fan attendance, food and drink prices definitely are. The prices at the concessions have become outrageous and although it might cost you under $20 to enter the park, you’ll be leaving with an empty wallet if you get thirsty or hungry. Baseball and sobriety are long-standing enemies. It has always been part of the game-day experience to enjoy a hot-dog and a few cold ones throughout the innings, but unrealistic prices have made this unaffordable, making for a mediocre game-day.
The Jays are still recovering from a long regime under Senior Vice-President, Baseball Operations and General Manager J.P. Ricciardi who served the team from November 14th, 2001 until he was fired on October 3rd, 2009.
Under Ricciardi the Jays were never a playoff team. Many fans felt as though they had been deceived by him.
In 2007, he lied to the fan-base regarding a season-ending injury that pitcher B.J. Ryan endured. When questioned about his lack of honesty he responded: “They’re not lies if we know the truth.”
In 2008, he sparked controversy when he was asked by a caller on The Fan 590 radio show if he would consider a trade for Cincinnati Reds left-fielder Adam Dunn. He replied: “Do you know that the guy really doesn’t like baseball all that much? Do you know the guy doesn’t have a passion to play the game that much?”
Ricciardi alleged that he had later apologized to Dunn on the phone, which was denied by Dunn himself.
New General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos, must lead the team in the right direction and regain the trust of the fans before they start pouring back into the stands.
Attending a summer ball game while classes are on hiatus is a great activity for U of T students to enjoy on a sunny Sunday or on a low-key Tuesday night in the city.
But fourth-year Arts and Science student, baseball enthusiast and avid Jays’ fan, Choden Shrestha, claims it’s not that simple.
Although Shrestha has been to two Jay’s games this season, she claims that there are several factors for students’ lack of enthusiasm for the games.
“I think there needs to be more promotion about baseball and the Jays on the U of T campus. Students aren’t aware that the 500 level tickets aren’t expensive. They might think that the higher level seats are less fun, but I think that it is more interactive in the 500 levels. That’s where you’ll find the most passionate and animated fans.”
Shrestha also believes that the price of food and drink is a huge factor for students.
“The food and drink prices are very high. When the prices are lowered they will attract more students, and people in general. When you go to the game the prices at the concession are unreasonable and make people want to stay home to watch the game. I much prefer going as it’s very different than just staying at home. The atmosphere is key, but it’s not always possible when food prices are that high.”
Shrestha merely sees the fan attendance slump as a bump in the road rather than a long-term problem.
“I think the Jay’s are doing well and that they’re playing better than last year. They’re exceeding people’s expectations so if they keep playing well they will obviously start attracting more people to their stands. The beginning of the season was empty – now that they’re doing well the seats are slowly starting to fill up.”
The lack of fan support may only be a short-term obstacle but serious changes must be made before the fans return in greater size.