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Empty seats at Rogers Centre during game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the division leading Baltimore Orioles May 30, 2012. (The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail)
Empty seats at Rogers Centre during game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the division leading Baltimore Orioles May 30, 2012. (The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail)

Jays' attendance woes

Will the new media bring fans back to the old ballpark? Add to ...

The results are paying off, at least in terms of Twitter volume – SportsBusiness Journal did a league-wide survey that showed the number of Jays-related tweets has jumped 46 per cent since Opening Day (although another survey by Mashable noted that Jays fans were the worst in the league when it comes to sharing photos on Instagram).

The outreach seems to be spilling over on television as well. Sportsnet data show its game-day audiences in the 18-to-34 demographic increased by 42 per cent over last year. The number of women in that age range watching has doubled from two years ago.

“You have these players interacting with fans and that is totally new,” Rogers said. “It has a big effect on bringing people out to the park – fans who weren’t interested before see the new players and notice how funny and gorgeous they are and start to develop an interest.”

Social media may be the most urgent focal points for the team’s executives – they have hired a “tweeting consultant” for the first time in their history – the team has another advantage that clubs in American cities can only dream of in a condo boom that has driven thousands of well-paid, young professionals to the stadium’s doorstep.

Statistics Canada data shows there are about 15,000 people living within easy walking distance of the Rogers Centre, and the demographics skew largely toward the young, single and wealthy. But they have more choices than ever when considering a night out, something real estate sales representative Brian Persaud knows about.

“Did you know you can just go and watch the game from the hotel in the Rogers Centre?” asked Persaud, who considers himself a baseball fan but only makes it to a few games each season. “The beer is cheaper and you don’t need a ticket.”

Persaud lives within steps of the stadium, and sells condos to investors and home-hunters who want to be in the downtown core. The Blue Jays have never come up as a reason for moving next to the stadium, he says, though he’s noticed more buzz around the team than in the past as he walks through his neighbourhood.

Brooks knows there is still plenty of work to do to recapture the attendance numbers of the past. That won’t include lowering ticket prices or the price of beer, such as ownership did in Houston this season at Astros games. But there is a wider variety of food and beverages now being offered that caters to a more hipster taste, including sushi and craft beer. Brooks said there has been talk of establishing a signature food that would help fans identify more with Rogers Centre and the baseball team.

“In Philadelphia you’ve got the cheese steak and Montreal is known for its smoked meat,” he said. “For Toronto, we’ve talked about peameal bacon sandwiches. It’s something we’re still working on.”

Culinary experimentation aside, the club is focusing on improvements to the stadium’s infrastructure to try to regenerate the fan base, having spent an estimated $4-million this year to spruce up the building – the lights shine brighter, the number of televisions along the concourse have doubled to 300.

Of course, the focus is ultimately on the baseball. But with fans coming to the stadium with smartphones and tablets, it’s easier to serve them up the data and minutia that helps turn a casual fan into a fantasy-baseball-obsessed megafan – exactly the type of person who can ignore their surroundings and get lost in the game.

“I can check on favourite plays pitch-by-pitch,” Rogers said. “And while I would like to think I’m a giant nerd, the Internet has taught me that people know way more about stats than I ever could. But, I would say having that sort of access to information is helpful for connecting marginal fans to the game.”

Fan Friendly: What the Jays are doing to enhance enjoyment of a game

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