Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Fewer, but better Jays fans; or, you're missing some pretty good games

It's glib to say only in Toronto could the baseball team have the best record in the American League and still see sliding attendance.

The Toronto Star's gamer noted the Jays' crowd (15,295) on Monday vs. Cleveland was 5,000 off their average attendance. Another report suggested last season's average of 29,627 was inflated by "ticket giveaways to businesses." One point is that raw attendance totals really reflect when people who don't care decide to temporarily take interest. When it comes to baseball, that's just not happening on the fifth of May.

For what it's worth, attendance is down almost 14 per cent if you control for one big variable, visits by the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Today's game vs. the Clevelands, where lithe lefty Brett Cecil threw six solid innings in his major league debut, was the Jays' 15th home date. How does the attendance so far this season compare with the first 15 home games last season against non-Evil Empire teams:
2008: 347,583 (23,172 avg.)
2009: 300,217 (20,014 avg.)
There are probably as many explanations as there are empty seats. Most of you probably don't need it pointed out that it is off-base to base everything on raw attendance figures, just as TV ratings are an outdated tracking method.

It doesn't tell the whole story when it comes to reflecting a team's fanbase. The Jays have good fans and, although this is preaching to the choir, a very knowledgeable following. (This obviously does not include the douche who, after catching the ball that Cleveland phenom Matt LaPorta hit for his first major-league homer on Monday, thought he'd be all cool and throw the ball on to the field. He could have shaken down LaPorta for all sorts of schwag with good resale value.)

Point being, 30,000 people at Rogers Centre these days are often more animated than 50,000-plus were during the era of "Winfield Wants Noise!", the Jays' 1989-93 salad days. Kinger did an interview with The FAN 590's Mike Wilner two weeks ago. Asked if the packed house for the U.S.-Canada game at the World Baseball Classic in March reminded him of the old days, Wilner said it didn't, because the crowd was actually noisy and into the game.
"It used to be packed every day, but until you got to the playoffs or to the games when you'd clinch the division, they would sit on their hands. That's what Toronto crowds do. They're kind of averse to cheering and yelling. They need to be led by the scoreboard or at least back then they did. This was way more ... everyone who watched, everyone listened, is going to remember, we can do it. We just need some games that really, really matter."
That pretty much nails it. Obviously, it would be more reassuring the announced attendance was 32,005 today instead of 22,005 for today's 10-6 win over Cleveland. Honestly, it's reductive to just go by how many people are at the park, especially if they have to watch baseball indoors.

Major League Baseball, as a business, seems to get it pretty well when it comes to understanding how the economic model has shifted for its product. It's a mainstream sport, but it serves niches very well (fantasy baseball, statheads, et al.). In a fragmented market and 81 home dates, you just can't expect sold-out stadiums, unless you have a new park or play in a market like Boston, Chicago or New York. Anyone who frames it otherwise is whistling past the graveyard, or is nostalgic for an era that only gets better in their imagination as time goes by.


Anonymous said...

If this this keeps up the jays will be moving maybe even sooner then later.

sager said...

They're not moving anywhere. MLB has no desirable sites for relocation.

Anonymous said...

I would not be to sure about that.

sager said...

All right, I put it to you: Where would MLB move the team?

The Biz of Baseball was on this a year and a half ago: "to the fans and students looking for answers on possible relocation or expansion, the answer is: don’t look for it anytime soon. Relocation seems more remote than expansion, but either way, nothing now seems to point to any cities clamoring for an MLB franchise to land one. The need isn't currently there (read, owners are making a healthy profit, which minimizes talk of expansion), and the political and legal difficulties make relocation even less appealing."

The sport's relocated one team in 30 years, fact.

Anonymous said...

And Toronto FC continues to outdraw the Jays and do anything but sit on their hands.

sager said...

TFC plays 1/4 as many games.

kinger said...

And TFC draws that fraction of the television ratings despite getting more exposure on a national network.

Toronto's not moving unless Rogers sells the team, and they seem to enjoy their huge marketing tool which is losing far less money than it used to, so that's doubtful. Obviously Rogers wouldn't themselves move the team.

Nothing more fun that idiot soccerheads thinking they've got anything comparable to a 30+ year history of pro baseball in TO.

Tao of Stieb said...

Nice one, Sags. We were brewing up a post on attendance, but we're not sure we had anything in us better than this.

Paul said...

I'm going to hazard a guess that on a much reduced payroll this year, a slight drop (since as you say, the East is yet to lumber into town at all this year so things will stabilize) will narrow the balance sheet. And what better way to finally get off the handout tit, than by admitting the real sales figures under the cover of a recession.

Beeston is a sly old fox. Running up the debt this year by spending big (Promos, players, or other periphery) and facing an angry board at the end of the season would not put us in good stead for a healthy increase next year, when the effects of a decent campaign, and a better economic outlook will bring fans and Rogers/TSN back.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention the two "dry" games we had? Or was it just one?

Tim in London said...

@anon 5:17

I don't know if it was one or two, but I'm sure either way, it seemed like a lot more to most involved.