UPDATE: Please scroll to the bottom of the article for the entire quote from Keith Pelley.
This morning at the PrimeTime Sports and Entertainment Sports Management Conference at the Westin Harbour Castle here in Toronto, Keith Pelley, president of Rogers Media, apparently said this:
The most important sports fans are the ones who go to games because it is fashionable.
I was not at the event, but the paraphrased quote was tweeted out by Steve Ladurantaye (@sladurantaye) of The Globe and Mail. Not being at the event, I have no idea what the context of the quote was, but on its own it sounds horrible.
Toronto sports fans have been portrayed as disloyal, only attending games when it is "fashionable" to do so. It was fashionable, they say, to be seen at the technological marvel known as the Skydome in the early 1990s, so people went there. It is fashionable to say you went to a Maple Leafs game, so people pay outrageous amount of money to see them every night. It was fashionable to be seen wearing retro Blue Jays gear, so people bought those white panel caps. You can judge yourself whether that portrayal is correct or not (I think that it is a very simplistic way of looking at it).
At first, reading that quote from Pelley felt a bit like a punch in the stomach. As a dedicated Toronto Blue Jays fan (just like you readers), I felt unappreciated by the parent company of my favourite club. I go to 20-30 Blue Jays games a year because I love baseball, I want to watch my home team win, and I get to see a pretty entertaining product (on most nights) for a very good price. I don't do it because it is fashionable. I'm there to watch baseball on weekday evenings in April and September, not to get drunk, start fights, and litter the field at the Home Openers and Canada Day games. I stay for the full game, I don't stumble into the Rogers Centre in the third inning, talk throughout the game about everything other than baseball, spend the entire time trying to take pictures and posting it on Facebook, then leave right after the seventh inning stretch. I watch and analyze the game situations, I don't stand and wave my arms during the obligatory wave.
Then I thought about it for a minute.
Maybe the most important sports fans are the ones who go to games because it is fashionable. Business wise, at least.
They are the ones who the club need sell to. The dedicated ones in Toronto will go to a handful of games every year already, but there aren't enough of these dedicated fans to fill the stadium every night. We need these "fashionable fans" to make the difference between an attendance of 20,000 and an attendance of 50,000. We need these "fashionable fans" to buy merchandise, to wave the foam fingers, to buy food and beer. A team without "fashionable fans" going to games is pretty sad--we saw that in Montreal after 1994 and we are seeing that in Tampa Bay right now. After thinking about it a bit, I realize that only a very small percentage of these casual fans like the ones I described above--we just tend to remember the most obnoxious ones because they stand out. Even if they don't act like us, I like them more than blue chairs.
Perhaps a better way for Pelley to have phrased it is that the most important thing Rogers and the Blue Jays need to do is to make baseball in the city fashionable again. They've started by giving the team beautiful new uniforms, encouraging players to interact through Twitter, and by bringing in young, energetic players with big personalities.
But I hope that Pelley also recognizes that winning is fashionable. There's nothing more fashionable than supporting a club that is sustainability competitive and is pushing for a playoffs spot every single season. So get on that, Rogers. Give Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos all the resources they need to turn this club into a winner and I assure you that the Blue Jays will be fashionable again and fans will be flocking to see them.
And hey, winning might just make us cranky diehards happy too.
Here is the entire quote from Keith Pelley, courtesy of Steve Ladurantaye (thanks, Steve!). You can read Steve's piece in the Globe and Mail here.
There are only four types of fans, and the second group is the most important. One is the diehard who is going to come whether you win or lose you know you’ve got them at the Argos and the Leafs. Will come regardless. Corporate Canada will come, the bandwagon jumpers will come if you win. But the No. 2 group which I think is the most important one is the people who just come because it is fashionable. And to Chris’s point, to Tom, nothing was more fashionable the Toronto FC in the beginning. And social media can make something fashionable or not. As well as winning.
So his four types of fans are: diehards, corporates, bandwagoners, and fashionable. This quote was from a live event so it reads a little weird with him referring to fashionable fans as the "second group" twice even though they were mentioned last. By the way, "Chris" refers to Chris Rudge, Chairman and President of the Toronto Argonauts, and "Tom" refers to Tom Anselmi, President and COO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. The panel they were sitting on was called "Team Operations: Meeting Stakeholder Expectations and Conquering the Business Challenges."
I don't think you can categorize all fans into just those four categories. I mean, I have friends and I know of many families who aren't exactly diehards, but they still like going to the games and wearing Blue Jays gear every now and then even if they aren't winning or if it isn't fashionable. I'm that way for the Raptors, Argos, and Maple Leafs. But I'm sure Pelley was being very general when trying to make his point.