A losing year and an eroding fan base have not precluded the Toronto Blue Jays from pitching more bad news to their ticket subscribers.
The annual trip for season ticket holders to Dunedin, Fla., for a meet-and-greet barbeque with members of the Blue Jays during spring training, is being discontinued by the American League club beginning in 2010.
So has the practice of providing season-ticket buyers the use of a Rogers Centre luxury suite for a regular-season game.
The moves were confirmed yesterday by Paul Beeston, the Blue Jays president and chief operating officer, and Jason Diplock, the team's vice-president of ticket sales and service.
"The Blue Jays have found another way to, potentially, lose even more subscribers," Dianne Sherman wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
Sherman and her husband, Bill, have been season ticket holders for about 12 years. This year the Caledon, Ont., couple are being asked to pay more than $15,000 to renew their seats. Dianne Sherman said she and her husband did not take advantage of the Florida trip or use the luxury box in past years. Tickets 6
Instead, they donated the offers to a local hospital, which used them for fundraising.
"I'm ticked off," Sherman said last night, during a telephone interview.
The Blue Jays have not said what they plan to do with ticket prices next season. Toronto stumbled to a record of 75-87 in 2009, and attendance plunged to an average of 23,162 from 29,627 the previous year.
The timing of these latest marketing cutbacks is not viewed as ideal by the club's executive.
"That was one of the concerns when Paul and I talked about it and debated it," Diplock said. "We reached out to a few of our season-ticket holders since the season ended and said, 'Look, we're thinking about this. What would your thoughts be?' And it seemed to go over well.
"It's a concern coming off an extremely difficult season. What we don't want this to come across as is how the Jays are taking the cheap road here and saving their money and kind of sticking it to the season-ticket holders."
Diplock insists the Blue Jays are acting on the concerns expressed to them by the full-season subscribers.
He said the club was told that while the seat-holders enjoyed the perks of the Florida trip and the access to the luxury suite - perks that have been ongoing for about seven years - it still represented a large out-of-pocket expense to the fans.
"While we would fly them down to Florida and give them a ticket to a [spring training]game and fed them at the barbecue, they still had to get their accommodations, rent a car, exchange their money over," Diplock said. "And it was becoming a challenge, certainly with the economy issues that have crept up. So we took that into consideration."
In March, the Blue Jays flew about 750 season-ticket holders to their spring training facility, which Diplock said cost the organization "well into six figures."
In the luxury-suite offer, the use of the box was free but the season-ticket holder had to pay for food and drink for as many as 10 or 12 guests, which could easily run to more than $1,000.
Diplock said the club plans to hold a subscriber barbecue this season, only it will be in Toronto in April, on the carpeted floor of the Rogers Centre.
In a letter Beeston sent out to season-ticket holders a couple weeks ago, urging them to renew, he talked about the club's commitment to providing the best experience possible for the fans.
"Our aim in 2010 is to get you as close to the action as possible, as often as possible," Beeston wrote. "We want you to have a connection with the players and the building; a deeper connection with your team."
Part of that connection, apparently, is with the NFL. Subscribers who ante up quickly for 2010 will get a free pair of tickets for the Dec. 3 game at Rogers Centre between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
The tickets, with a sticker price of $275 each, are for seats in the lower bowl.
"Who needs them," Dianne Sherman said. "We're trying to sell them."
The picture gets no prettier over at BMO Field, either.
Toronto FC, Canada's only Major League Soccer team, is still awaiting the franchise's first playoff appearance after failing to make the cut for the third consecutive year.
However, it did nothing to affect the return at the box office, with a 95-per-cent renewal rate among the team's 16,000 season-seat holders - despite an 11-per-cent increase in ticket prices, with those rates now ranging from $323 to $1,634 to renew for 18 home dates in 2010.
The Toronto Argonauts of the CFL have also angered some of their season-ticket holders by reminding some fans that renewals on season seats for the 2010 season are due by Dec. 1. This after the Argos concluded a truly awful 3-15 season less than a month ago.
Argos president Bob Nicholson said the Dec. 1 deadline pertained to the club's Boatmen Builder promotion that subscribers entered into, which included automatic season-ticket renewal before the end of the calendar year.
However, the Argos are boasting their ticket prices are decreasing next season, although the CFL team is only playing nine home dates instead of 10 (one will be played in Moncton).
With a report from Paul Attfield