Last night, over beers and burgers with friends, I heard an interesting story from someone who had recently been hired by a multinational Fortune 500 corporation. This woman had applied for two separate jobs within the company, one of which she really wanted, and the other she was somewhat indifferent to.
She interviewed first for the position that she didn’t care much about, and during the process she was informed by one of the three people conducting the interview that she had three strikes against her: 1) She was young; 2) She was white; and 3) She was a woman.
Instead of immediately filing a complaint, she said nothing, and went to her second interview as though nothing had happened. She aced it, and was quickly hired for the position that she wanted all along. After working for her new employer for a few weeks, she shared her experience from the first interview with an HR representative. Shortly after that, the person who informed her of her “three strikes” was no longer working with the company, and she was being fast tracked for promotion.
The ability to properly pick one’s battles is a good one to have. Sadly, the Toronto Blue Jays organization seems to be lacking in this quality, as evidenced by today’s letter to the editor of the Toronto Star by Blue Jays Vice President of Communications, Jay Stenhouse.
Following Thursday night’s series opener against the New York Yankees, which was promoted as a special ’80′s theme night (one month after a special ’70′s theme night), the Star’s Cathal Kelly filed a story critical of the Blue Jays marketing department for embracing the idea of decade themed promotions over pushing the best baseball player in baseball on the people of Toronto.
Why not frame the bulk of your budget around your prime sales asset — [Jose] Bautista. He is a first in this town — he is the very best at what he does. Frank Mahovlich was great, but never the greatest. Ditto Vince Carter and George Bell. Only Bautista has ever stood astride an entire sport in a Toronto uniform. So wouldn’t it make sense from a marketing perspective to build a personality cult around the man?
Bautista is doing shows six days a week. But there is no Bautista Bleachers or Bautista Bomb-Zone or whatever other cheeseball alliteration you prefer. A nightly beard contest seems like a natural (though in the absence of werewolf contestants, Bautista wins that every time). You start rebuilding live baseball in Toronto on Bautista’s shoulders, because he’s the only factor mitigating in your favour right now.
Kelly’s criticism obviously hit a sore spot, because Stenhouse replied to the article via a letter to the editor which was published in today’s Star. Unfortunately, for the VP, it’s as misguided as it is inaccurate, and is simply not a battle he should be fighting.
The article makes reference to Blue Jays’ attendance being second worst in the Major League as a percentage of capacity. With Rogers Centre having one of the largest capacities in all of baseball, this is hardly a measure from which to draw conclusions.
The Rogers Centre has the fifth largest capacity in all of baseball, behind Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field and Turner Field, all of whom are at least 57.5% full compared to Toronto’s 47.3% this season. If that’s hardly a measure from which to draw conclusions, perhaps this is: the Toronto Blue Jays, with the fourth largest market in all of baseball from which to draw, currently rank 24th in attendance, and that’s after a four game series against the New York Yankees which would typically draw better crowds than other games.
The article failed to mention that Blue Jays’ year over year increase in attendance of 123,000 through 42 games ranks sixth in all of Major League Baseball — a measure far more indicative of the positive trend we are experiencing and the excitement around the direction of the club.
What Stenhouse fails to mention is that the first 42 home games last season included eight games versus the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, notoriously the top attendance draws. This year, the Blue Jays have faced the Yankees and Red Sox eleven times at home, plus there was a certain Canada Day Weekend bonus series against the Philadelphia Phillies that alone was attended by 116,000 people. That’s six additional marquee games boosting this year’s attendance over last season’s.
Overall, the Toronto Blue Jays finished 26th in average attendance last year, and as I previously mentioned, they currently sit 24th this season. Yes, it’s an improvement, but hardly the type to celebrate, let alone write into a newspaper to correct. It’s a bit like a murderer corresponding with a crime reporter: “Get it right. I bludgeoned him to death, then stole his wallet. Not the other way around.”
The article also mentions that we should use Jose Bautista to market the team — a curious comment considering that those who frequently attend Blue Jays’ games, watch Sportsnet or follow the team through social media would have been hard pressed to miss our “Vote Jose” campaign. Jose garnered over 7.4 million all-star votes, the most votes in the history of MLB all-star voting and a well-deserved acknowledgment of his accomplishments this year.
Kelly’s article was criticizing the team’s marketing efforts in terms of attendance, not in getting Jose Bautista voted to the All-Star Game. I’m sorry to inform Stenhouse, but with or without his marketing team’s efforts, Bautista, as the best player in all of baseball, would’ve been voted to the All-Star game. The question that Kelly asks is what are the Blue Jays doing to use Bautista to actually draw fans to the ballpark.
Getting the best player in baseball into the All-Star Game isn’t a challenge (although crediting yourself for getting it done with a straight face might be), getting people to come out to baseball games after their local team hasn’t played in the postseason in eighteen years is the issue. Kelly’s point is that this type of challenge isn’t going to be solved by monthly promotional gimmicks.
Our marketing this year has very much been focused on Bautista, Ricky Romero and our group of core young players. To suggest that a playful, light-hearted ’80s theme night (enjoyed by 37,000 people I might add) during a mid-week game represents an addiction to nostalgia would ignore months of advertising that would clearly suggest otherwise.
Let’s forget for the moment that it’s beyond disingenuous to pretend that ’80′s night drew 37,000 people when the Blue Jays were playing their first game after the All-Star break against the New York Yankees. And it doesn’t exactly make a strong case for the marketing department when you consider that ’70′s night on June 15th only drew 14,500.
I was there that night as a fan, and I actually enjoyed ’80′s theme night. The costumes around the stadium were fun, and the RBI Baseball style graphics on Jays Vision looked great. My sole complaint would be over the big giveaways on the promotional night consisting of DVDs. This is supposed to be a Major League Baseball franchise, but I’ve been to church bazaars with better door prizes.
And that’s somewhat representative of the Blue Jays marketing efforts on the whole. It’s just not enough. Fans and potential fans need something more than once a month promotions that Minor League franchises have been running for years.
Since Alex Anthopoulos took charge of the organization as General Manager, we as fans have heard a lot about the Toronto Blue Jays wanting to gain a reputation as a world class organization. It’s kind of hard to take that seriously when the team acts like a fumbling virgin when it comes to using Jose Bautista, the best player in baseball, to bring people out to watch its games.
Even more bothersome is that instead of learning how to better promote this team beyond attaching “2.0″ to connecting cliches, the organization engages in petty arguments in newspapers. That’s not very “2.0″ of them.
And isn’t a little bit beyond curious that this is the article that the organization takes issue with after all the baseless steroid speculation that has been published about Jose Bautista? Perhaps the team would do well to talk to my friend about picking their battles.
There may be a lot of hustle in the team’s approach to promotion, but it’s certainly lacking heart.