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.)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don't need it pointed out that it is off-base to base everything on raw attendance figures, just as TV ratings are an outdated tracking method.
2009: 300,217 (20,014 avg.)
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.