No, this isn’t about the damn statue.
Talk about burying the lede. A fascinating Canadian Press piece from Neil Davidson appeared in the Montreal Gazette, among other places, on Monday, under names like Mediocre Blue Jays winning at the turnstiles.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the piece was merely about attendance, but it’s actually a wide-ranging, Rogers-faced assessment of how the Jays have attracted fans this year though various mediums and in key demographics, complete with Rogers Media president of broadcasting Scott Moore crowing about the fabulousness of it all. Despite, y’know, this:
As of July 10, Sportsnet was averaging 544,000 viewers (aged two and over) for Jays’ broadcasts. That’s nine per cent down from the 2012 average of 595,000 at this point of the season but up 10 per cent from 2011′s average of 496,000 at the same time.
Don’t get me wrong, those are still terrifically strong numbers. And even in the last appointment-viewing stronghold of live sports, TV viewers are continually being siphoned off by other mediums and other options. There are lots of cable cutters and lots of game-in-an-hour folks out there, which might contribute to the dip.
But… uh… those alternatives existed a year ago, too, and ratings were up by nearly 100,000 per game. (In fact, this season Rogers pushed a number of digital-only viewers away from their in-house services, restricting access to Jays games on Rogers Anyplace TV to only those with cable subscriptions to the channels airing the games, having previously allowed anybody with any sort of Rogers account to watch. At least… from my limited understanding that’s what’s happened– please correct me if wrong.)
More importantly, despite all the glowing words about the fans coming through the turnstiles (who, y’know, probably bought their tickets back in February), the raised profile among the young and female demographics, the merchandise sales (all of the profit for which goes into MLB’s central revenue pool and gets split among all clubs, FYI), and the social media engagement with players (uh… at least until they all delete their Twitter accounts), are we really expected to believe that ownership is over the moon after adding $35-million to a payroll that was already above $80-million, only to find that– thanks to a thoroughly underwhelming on-field product– their main revenue-driver has taken a 9% step back?
That’s not good. At least, I think it’s not good– shit, maybe the TV industry is shrinking faster than I realize… but I don’t think so.
It’s also maybe not surprising, given the way that the team has performed, and the sobering fact that on July 10th a year ago, the Jays were 43-43 and just 2.5 games behind the Orioles, who held the second Wild Card spot, despite running out a rotation of Romero, Cecil, Laffey, Alvarez and Villanueva. (A year later the vaunted Jays were two games below .500 and seven back of the second Wild Card [note: Ugggggggggh].)
But it’s still pretty surprising! And while I’m certain that the way that the club has built the brand will help lure fans back in after they remake– er… let’s say remodel– the team once again next winter, it certainly would seem to lend credence to the old saw that splashy outlays of cash, in and of themselves, aren’t enough to kickstart rampant interest in the club. Winning baseball has to come with it.
You can see that with some slightly more granular data:
Breaking it down by month, the 2013 Jays averaged 639,000 in April, 403,000 in May (when the team went 13-15) and 575,000 in June (when the team won 11 straight).
April, of course, was buoyed 1.4-million viewers on Opening Day, and a lot of hype in the early going that quickly fizzled. And I think it’s telling that for all the excitement June’s winning streak brought, it didn’t translate into even better numbers.
Again, we’re still talking about crazily strong viewership, and I may entirely be out of my depth when it comes to missing some underlying factors to explain what we’re seeing, but man… if I’d asked you at the start of this post to guess what percentage up or down the Jays’ TV ratings had been over the same period last year, would anyone have guessed down by nine???
I certainly wouldn’t have. And back in March, who would have possibly guessed it?
The other day I responded to a commenter imploring me to suggest what feeble excuse Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos might give when called on the carpet to explain why Rogers’ $120-million investment had failed so spectacularly. My two-fold response began with the fact that, as much as fans hate to hear the “excuse,” injuries and ailments suffered by guys like Jose Reyes, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, and J.A. Happ, have truly hurt the club on the field. The second part, however, was that, given how well the club had performed in terms of attendance and– I presumed– TV, the bean counters probably weren’t terribly worried about anything else.
Seeing these numbers, then, one has to wonder if maybe the front office is in more trouble than some of us thought. Still not enough trouble to not get the chance to try again next year, but beyond that they’re hardly bulletproof. Scott Moore may do his best to put a smiling face on it, but strong as they are in the overall, the trend in these numbers can’t be good for ownership’s confidence in where this very expensive ship is sailing.
Image via Twitter.