Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tipping points

For those of us who enjoy numerical symmetry, 9/9/09 seemed like such an auspicious date. But yesterday, the fates of the Jays and their manager seem to have taken a significant turn for the worse.

The point that's going to be reported and discussed everywhere today is the fact that they Jays drew the smallest crowd in the history of the SkyDome/Rogers Centre last night. With lovely weather and Roy Halladay on the mound, the Jays eeked out 11,159 paying spectators last night.

Certainly, there will be people pointing to some of the mitigating factors for the number being so low. Under Paul Godfrey's regime, the attendance numbers were said to be somewhat disingenuous, so it is possible that there have been nights over the past few years where the team has had fewer warm bodies in the stands.

But even with that said, the year over year comparison is a little too stark to write off as merely bookkeeping chicanery. For the first Thursday in September last year, the Jays reported attendance of 25,128 for a game against the same Minnesota Twins. Even factoring in the new manner of eliminating discounts and giveaways, it's hard to conceive of that making up the entirety of the 14,000 tickets not sold.

The attendance for a single game like last night is going to end up being significant talking point from now clear through to next season, and that supposes that there won't be one or two or a dozen nights that end up worse. For those who wish to heap scorn or project the worst for the Blue Jays' fate in Toronto, the perception that will be created out of these record-breaking sparse crowds is going to be something that will stick. It's going to be the enduring image that is left of the Blue Jays in the off-season, and it's going to create the appearance that this is a loser franchise going nowhere.

Rogers has only itself to blame for this. If the notion was that they could mail in a season and look to next year to compete and everything would be rosy, they fundamentally misread the tenuous grasp that they have on the sports fan in Toronto. And while a little bit of effort of a relatively small cash infusion might have been enough to keep hopes on life support through the winter, the neglect shown by Rogers and the front office means that this franchise is going to have to work twice as hard for twice as long to even begin to bring the attendance figures and TV ratings back to where they were midway through this season.

If, as it has been noted elsewhere, Paul Beeston advised against putting money into the payroll this season, then we can only conclude that he has fallen out of touch just like manager Cito Gaston. The Jays are no longer a marquee franchise in the city, and tickets to Jays games are not coveted all around the GTA. The Jays are no longer the focus of a single all-sports network across Canada, and they are no longer the only Canadian franchise in an otherwise American sports league.

Our grandmother always use to say that "a stitch in time saves nine." After the 9/9/09 debacle, the Jays are going to be sewing furiously to keep things from falling apart for years to come.

Other tipping points
With last night's loss to the Twins, Cito Gaston's record in his return to the Jays' manager position slipped a game below .500, to 103-104. And it bears mentioning, a game worse than John Gibbons in his tenure with the Jays.

If there's anyone out there who still sees the ghost of a magician when they look at Cito, we're hoping that this moment sets them straight.


Anonymous said...

Great post, Tao.

Kieran Roy said...

Agree 100%.

Except confused by this sentence, "they are no longer the only Canadian franchise in an otherwise American sports league."

Aren't they the only Canadian MLB team? And in the past, were they never the only one? It seems this statement is reverse to the actual situation.

Keep up the great reporting.

Kieran Roy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Ack said...

This season of emotion has gone from Optimistic > Excited > Worried > Depressed > whatever the fuck I'm feeling over this latest debacle.

You totally, completely, nailed it here Tao. Rogers & Beeston's "wait 'til next year" song and fucking dance has officially shit the bed with the casual fan, and the record-low attendance proves it.

The "mailing in September" phase is what's doing it for the more hardcore fans. Absolutely no justifiable reason whatsoever to keep running out the retreads and dead-in-the-water veterans in place of Snider everyday, Lind in the field everyday, Ruiz DH'ing or at 1B, or anyone else in the system who hasn't had a look.


ps - Wilner also nailed things big-time with his blog post last night.

DaveC said...

Unless I'm mistaken, Tao might be referring to the Raptors- a Canadian team in an otherwise all-American sports league. The analogy's a little unclear, but that's probably why he didn't refer to MLB specifically.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

I still see the ghost of a magician when I look at Cito.

This team just fucking sucks.

Anonymous said...

The one thing that drives me crazy, listening to the talking heads, including Wilner, about the "terrible" attendance and the fact that with "6 million people within an hour of Skydome -- make that Rogers Centre" there should be "at least 25,000 people in the stadium" is this: the bloody team is owned by a media corporation that owns the TV and radio rights of the team. Who cares about bums in the seats, other than the NHL who doesn't have a TV deal? Rogers counts those TV and radio numbers and considers that it's market. If I, as a fan and season pass (yeah, you've already got money out of me), can't stomach going to a game but instead listen on the radio, I'm still consuming the product AND your marketing partners. You're still benefiting. And that is the way a company like Rogers looks at this thing. They aren't that small thinking that only bums in the seats = consumption.

Oh, and good luck getting from Oshawa to Skydome -- make that Rogers Centre, in an hour for a 7:07 start time. That 6 million number that Wilner throws out is not realistic in any way.

Tao of Stieb said...

Sorry Kieran, it got a little turgid there.

And yes, the reference was to the Raptors.

In the '90-'94 period, the Jays were Canada's in America. There was no NBA team, and hockey was still in so many Canadian markets that it wasn't a novelty.

Canadians like to watch themselves on the American stage...and that was part of the draw of the Jays.

Tao of Stieb said...

@ eyebleaf

And why does this team suck? Because Rogers let it suck.

They are piss poor stewards of this team. And they should be ashamed of the mess they've made.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

I'm with you, Tao. I've been blaming ownership, and not J.P., and not THECITO, from day one. They fucked us.

We need us a Balsillie. Someone who wants this shit bad. Someone who wants this team to succeed.


Tao of Stieb said...

Balsillie isn't interested. And Rogers is going to hold onto the Dome until they can offload it to a potential NFL owner...who won't be named "Rogers".

We're stuck with them.

It would just be nice if they gave a shit.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

Ricciardi should resign out of solidarity.

Teddy Rogers said $120 million before he left. Look at us now. Mother of fuck.

Bitey said...

The fact that the Jays record-low attendance is over 10,000 is pretty impressive, I think. Especially considering the team hasn't really sniffed the playoffs in 16 years.

Anonymous said...

According to Stephen Brunt in his fine book Diamond Dreams this would make it the second time Beeston advised his masters not to put money into the team. Beeston, again according to Brunt in his book, when asked by Inter Brew if the Jays needed more money, said no. As I understand his reasoning he thought the Jays had built up enough good will with their World Series wins and could afford to coast on that for a while.
I've always seen this breaking of faith with fans as the turning point in the Jays fortunes and not the often mentioned strike.

The Ack said...

@ eyeb....surely you can't defend some (many?) of the Cito's lineup & in-game decisions, can you? I mean, I understand you have to go with the hand you're dealt, or whatever cliche you want to roll out....but if you're gonna lose, lose with an eye to next year. Not by slotting Millar in the cleanup spot and at 1B with Ruiz on the bench, for example.

And who gets the finger point for the roster Millar still having a significant place on the team, or the dubious Sept 1 callups?

Everyone has a hand in this fucking shitmess. Rogers for not giving a flying fuck about anything and hacking payroll, Beeston for doing....what exactly has Beeston done since he took the "interim" Prez tag?.....Ricciardi for the roster makeup....Cito for the tankjob lineups that get rolled out.....the entire organization for the complete lack of communication & general "plan? what plan?" attitude....

It all adds up to FUCK.

Anonymous said...

I used to work for the team in ticketing. Attendance reporting now seems to be a little more accurate. During these JP/ Godfrey years there have been quite a few nights where there have been under 9000 people in the ballpark and in terms of actual tickets sold. Not good, no hope, some promising prospects, lame duck GM.

MK Piatkowski said...

I was tempted to go last night (could have got some great seats) but thought I'd be better off watching the game and getting housework done at the same time. Would there have been something tipping me to make the effort to go to the park? Especially since earlier this year I tried to make as many of Roy's starts as possible. I don't honestly know.

The last game I was at was so painful but I was saved by having seats above the Rays bullpen. Now that was entertaining. And that's really what's missing right now. A sense of fun. It's not fun being a fan right now. And that sense of fun disappeared for me when they started talking about possibly trading Roy.

How can it be fixed? I want some damn impressive free agents for next year. Throw a ton of money at Jason Bay. Find a Winfield/Carter/Molitor type who can provide leadership both on and off the field. And give Arnsberg complete control of in-game bullpen management. That would be a good start for me.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...


@ Ack: Great comment you left above. You're right, everyone's got the shit stains on their hands. No one is immune to it. Only Doc, perhaps. I think I'm going to have to respond to this comment in the form of a post of my own.

Fuck this team.

But God bless Adam Lind and Aaron Hill.

Bailey said...

Halladay was pitching, which makes the low attendance figure look even worse.

It's hard to argue that losing Halladay would be turning people away at the gate when he has apparently has trouble drawing them in the first place.

Tao of Stieb said...

This is another one of those Malcolm Gladwell things: Halladay pitching doesn't affect the gate, but not having him on the team at all would present fans (especially casual ones) with a very different buying proposition in general.

So: Halladay won't attract extra fans, but his absence will result in people staying away.

Darren Priest said...

I know how to fix the attendance problem -- waterfall in centre field.

And a "big reduction in the price of beer."

Bailey said...


I paused before I hit submit because of what you wrote, (although, not the Gladwell reference). I do agree that for casual fans there is an impact on their decision in going to the game or not and an interest in the team in general because now their marquee player is gone. But I don't think the backlash will be as big as some people think it will be. Delgado left and people still came to the ballpark.

Torgen said...

Why would we want to free Jason Bay? We have enough DHes as it is.

MK Piatkowski said...

Bailey, during the trade talk I said I'd leave if Doc did. I still stand by that. If we lose him at the end of his contract, that's a different thing. But if we trade him, to me that just says we're giving up and I'm not interested in supporting an organization that quits. Which is where we're heading unless something changes.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

@ MK: If Doc refuses to sign an extension this summer, trading him is the ONLY option the Jays have. It's about asset management. I'm ready to say goodbye this summer. It's been a helluva ride.

Darren Priest said...

If Doc signs an extension, he's a damn fool!

Anonymous said...


Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

After the season Beeston is going to unveil the "master plan." Doc's going to buy into that shit, the payroll will come in $110 million, and the race to the pennant will be back on.


Alex said...

Did I miss something and did the Rays or padres move to vancouver or something?