Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press
Soaring Blue Jays reach new heights in fan buzz
Locals, many of them too young to remember successful teams of the 1990s, are eager to cheer on a potential winner
There is a bandwagon going through Canadian sports and, with every Toronto Blue Jays baseball victory, the seats are filling up fast.
Merchandise and ticket sales are up, with home-game tickets being re-listed online for more than $11,000. More Canadians are tuning in to Blue Jays games on TV and radio ever since the team bolstered its roster with blockbuster summer trades and won 11 of the last 12 games, including a three-game sweep of their division rivals, the New York Yankees.
There is exuberant talk of the Blue Jays making it to the playoffs – an elusive feat since 1993, when the team capped its historic run of back-to-back World Series championships. The bandwagon effect this year is real, as new-found and returning Blue Jays fans sense a winner in the making, sometimes to the dismay of diehard fans who have stuck with the teams through its many downs.
"This city has been starved for something to cheer about when it comes to a sports team and right now this really does feel like the real deal," said Jenn Smith, a blogger for the Blue Jays Plus website and long-time fan who attended a Blue Jays World Series game as a teenager in the 1990s.
Sports writer and blogger Andrew Stoeten also senses a unique moment for Blue Jays fans.
"Some of the people saw in the 90s and late 80s what this city could do with baseball and how great the experience could be. They've just been waiting for a reason to go back," he said.
Part of the thread of Blue Jays success is former catcher Ernie Whitt, who was part of the 1985 team that won the division title – a first for the franchise – and worked as a Blue Jays coach after retiring from baseball. He recently led Canada's baseball team to Pan Am gold.
"I think it's great for the fans of Toronto. They've waited a long time to get in to the pennant race," said Ernie Whitt, who now works for the Philadelphia Phillies. "What the front office has done by adding those pieces – I think they've given themselves a really good chance at winning it this year."
As the team enjoys a burst of success on the diamond, Canadians are increasingly paying attention. According to Google Trends, the number of Google searches for the term "Blue Jays" has spiked dramatically in several provinces since the trades for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and ace pitcher David Price.
Ticket sales have changed overnight and quadrupled since the arrival of new talent, according to Jason Diplock, vice-president of ticket sales and service at Toronto Blue Jays.
"It's been significant and it hasn't slowed down," he said, adding that he had not seen this rate of ticket sales since joining the team in 1999.
The upcoming weekend series against the Yankees sold out last week and the next home series, against the Detroit Tigers at the end of the month, is close to being sold out, said Mr. Diplock.
On social media, people have been joining the Blue Jays bandwagon – often unabashedly and sometimes to the dismay of diehard fans who stuck with the team through years of disappointment.
So the Jays just swept the Yankees... And are on an 8 game winning streak... I'm officially on the bandwagon. Chirp me.— Stefano Napolitano (@Napolitano32) August 9, 2015
I'm about to jump on the Jays bandwagon and act like I've watched every game this year...#WorstTypeOfPerson— Doctor Robert (@DoctorRobert) August 8, 2015
People complained when there were no Blue Jays fans, and now are complaining that there are too many bandwagon fans. Such wonderful irony.— Chris (@CausticChris) August 11, 2015
Mr. Stoeten has some advice for the diehard fans who bristle at the newcomers. "Bring them along, don't reject them … this is just a better thing for everybody if everybody is on board and having a party," he said, adding that more seat sales would likely mean more top talent acquisitions by the Blue Jays front office.
The etiquette when it comes to climbing aboard the Blue Jays bandwagon is pretty straightforward, explained blogger Ms. Smith.
"The only correct way to climb aboard is to get excited, go to the games, cheer loudly, have fun. That's it, that's what any team wants from its fans regardless of whether or not they are so-called bandwagon fans," she said.
Former Blue Jays catcher Mr. Whitt said a packed crowd at a ball game was motivating.
"The biggest thing I know as a former player is that the players would always love to see a crowd at the ball game. It's really exciting to go and see 45,000 people at every game you go out and play. It helps get you inspired to play the game a little bit more probably than it does going out and having 15,000 people there," he said.
Millennials are partly behind the growing fan base – as the Blue Jays draw younger and more diverse crowds that may not remember the team's glory years.
"They're getting excited about it – because they haven't seen a winner in their lifetime in this city. And they're itching to experience that – in whatever sport," said Mr. Stoeten.
The team sold 1,400 Troy Tulowitzki and David Price jerseys and t-shirts in the first four days following the arrival of the two top players. After the high-profile trades, the team's online store saw more than twice the normal volume of visitors and shoppers.
The recent series against the Yankees saw the highest average television audience for any Blue Jays series with 1.29 million viewers, according to Sportsnet, which broadcasts the team's 162 games.
With a report from Mason Wright