This year's Blue Jays attendance numbers were yet again below the major league average. It's been four years since the Jays have drawn a season total of 2, 000, 000 to Rogers Centre and I'm beginning to think the "Heart and Hustle" slogan has lost its touch, if it ever had one. I have no doubt that, soon, fans will once again flock out to the Rogers Centre in crowds of 40, 000+ to see the Blue Jays play, but only once the roster begins to fully develop. Until then, I think an effort needs to be made to get the less educated and less passionate baseball fans out to the dome.
2011 total attendance came in at 1,818,103, which is roughly 22, 446 a game (MLB average is 30, 229). I'd say that's respectable for a team that finished at .500 and hasn't made the post-season since 1993. Yet, in contrast, the only teams the Jays topped in 2011 attendance were Kansas City, Oakland, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Florida. Both Pittsburgh and Houston drew more fans than the Blue Jays this year.
Without a doubt, Toronto can support a major league franchise, and any talk of moving the team because of these numbers would be foolish. However, I believe there should be a stronger effort made by ownership in connecting with the fan base and potential fan base, instead of just sitting back and waiting for Anthopoulos to take the Jays to the post-season. Realistically, attendance isn't going to reach 3 or 4 million until the Jays are perennial contenders, so for now, I think up and over 2, 000, 000 annually is a reasonable goal.
To boost attendance, I think more could be done in the summer and on weekends to get families out to games. Prices are high, and buying tickets, parking, food, drink, merchandise and whatever else for a group of four or five is never easy on the wallet. I think many mothers and fathers are turned away by spending upwards of $100 to see the Jays. New discount options could be implemented and advertised, preferably for all, but for families and groups in particular. Some new promotions rather than the same bobble heads and t-shirts I receive when I go to Toronto could be thought up. Maybe some after/before game shows, all you can eat nights, whatever it is, just something new. A cross-promotion with the TTC could also bring more fans to the Rogers Centre. When I go, I often take the 401 right from London and park at Yorktown Mall north of the city and take the train in to avoid traffic and the hassle of finding a nearby, reasonably priced parking space. Having tickets serve a dual purpose, allowing both admission to the Blue Jays game and full-day TTC ridership may work well. If I take the subway after driving in from London, I can only imagine the number of Torontonians who would use it before and after the game.
If ownership wanted to be really radical, they could have the Jays play a home series outside Toronto. Montreal and Vancouver are obvious choices, but I think Buffalo, Calgary, Edmonton, or Ottawa could also be considered. However, because of their population size and venue, Vancouver and Montreal seem like obvious first choices. They also seem to lack a strong dedicated Blue Jays fan base and Rogers would likely want to establish that.
Take this year's three game home series versus Pittsburgh for example; on June 28th, 29th, and 30th. It was a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday series, the first week that kids were out of school. Despite this, the Jays drew 17, 085 (Tuesday), 15, 632 (Wednesday), and 14, 939 (Thursday). Now, if this series was played in Montreal and advertised properly, attendance could have easily been double that, if not at the Olympic Stadium capacity of 43, 739 each night. Having Pittsburgh in Montreal would not draw more fans, but they're a familiar team and of a familiar league to Montrealers who enjoyed national league baseball for 36 years. I think a three game set against the Reds, Braves, Mets, or Dodgers could also work and I'd normally say the Phillies, but there's no way Roy Halladay plays against the Blue Jays in any other city than Toronto or Philadelphia.
If the Blue Jays were to play in Vancouver, the opponent would likely be the Seattle Mariners. It seems to me there is a decent M's fan base here in Southwestern Ontario, London specifically for some reason, but it doesn't translate well to attendance numbers when they're in Toronto. The Mariners were at Rogers Centre July 19th (Tuesday), 20th (Wednesday), and 21st (Thursday) this season, and attendance was below average at 15, 957 (Game 1), 18, 093 (Game 2), and 23, 146 (Game 3). Game three was an outlier, but only because it was Camp Day and the majority of the 500 level was filled with kids. Again, if that series were played in Vancouver, attendance likely would have doubled, if not sold out B.C. Place each night. Capacity was 59, 841 (for CFL) at B.C. Place before the renovations, not sure if it would be more or less now, but it would likely be the venue if Major League Baseball was ever played in Vancouver.
I see Vancouver as a lower risk destination than Montreal for a three game series, as they have a measurable fan base with the Single-A Canadians and nearby Mariners, where as Montreal's baseball interest has been untested since the Expos relocated to Washington. Regardless, I still believe both markets should be explored. Maybe not in the same season, but I think series' in Montreal and Vancouver would be beneficial not only to attendance but to the Blue Jays brand in general.
I don't see Blue Jays attendance a glaring issue, it's not like we're in the same boat as the Rays... but I do believe that it could easily be improved and these are some of my proposals. Feel free to share yours.