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.

Comments (30)

  1. well said indeed…

  2. It really makes me wonder what their promotional budget and staff expenditures are.

    In game promotional budget:
    Budweiser trivia. (Probably free from Bud for sponsorship)
    A $500 vacation coupon from Expedia for a home run in a specified inning. (Probably free promotion Expedia)
    Move from the 500s to a better seat. (Essentially free?)
    T-shirt cannons. ($100?)

    Free wings to one tweeter on Tuesday nights. Wow!

    Can’t they drop like $2K a game and do some awesome things? Will that kill them? And if it will, can’t they secure any more sponsorships?

    All of it is probably moot though, you may gain 2k or so more fans with promotions. But until they try this “Win a lot of games and be in first place” promotion, will it matter?

  3. Good read,thanks.

  4. If you are looking for honesty and lack of spin from public relations, you are really looking in the wrong place.

    The reason the stadium used to sell out was because everyone used to go and it was the place to be. It’s the same reason the home opener sells out. It’s an event.

    The VP knows this. So, no matter what the actual numbers say, it’s obvious the VP of communications is going to try to massage information to counteract the idea that the Rogers Centre is a place no one goes. It’s about perception.

  5. I like the idea of the “Win a lot of games and be in first place” promotion. Unfortunately, that won’t happen for a little while. And hell, even when they do, they still don’t draw that well in the first couple weeks in April.

    I’d love to blame it on Rogers, but only because I honestly can’t stand them in general. Also, it was the Skydome back in the glory days; maybe people would perceive it better than something called the “Rogers Centre”.

    That said, there’s really no excuse for not trying to sell tickets by promoting the best player on the team. Isn’t that sound marketing?

  6. Not to be the turd in the old punchbowl, but the Jays actually do market the heck out of Jose Bautista. I tend to agree with James that the only marketing strategy that’ll work is a “make the playoffs” promotion.

    If I didn’t really like your points towards the end there it would’ve been hilarious that you wrote a stupid pointless article in response to a stupid pointless letter written about a stupid pointless newspaper column. Unfortunately you had to make a fair point about Jays management and spoil it for everyone…

  7. Nicely done, Parkes. I will give the Jays credit for coming up with SOMETHING to try and bring out the fans in the past couple of years. It’s a whole lot better than nothing, and it’s worked. A little bit.

    What I find the most dumbfounding is the fact that the club was obviously willing to pay the dude, put their asses on the line for the guy. They should have gone all in with the marketing too. It would have paid off wonderfully.

    While the “Vote Bautista” thing was fun, there’s 2 problems. 1) The All-Star game is done, so now what? and 2) That doesn’t really put him entire a higher echelon that he deserves right now. He’s arguably the greatest hitter playing right now, he’s not just simply an All-Star.

    Let’s hope they do a better job next year, at least.

  8. Touché Parkes.

  9. Wait, do you still hold a grudge against Stenhouse for the incident you called ‘Jerseygate’ a couple of years ago?

  10. All moot, and unnecessary with a winning team. GodSpeed AA.

  11. I agree about the Vote Jose promo – it wasn’t designed to put bums in our seats, but rather eyes to the tube (and Rogers advertising revenues).

    Bugs my ass they only had 10k Canada Day tee’s for a game where they knew 33k+ would attend. How cool would it have been to see the Dome FULL of those red shirts?

    Why can’t the Jr Jays face-painters offer a JBau liquid beard? Imagine hoards of lil’ Bautistas in the stands! And instead of an 80′s nite, how about a Zombie Night? Simple make-up you can apply at the park (instead of schlepping a whole change of wardrobe to work)

    Also: just say YES to RallyPanties

  12. I think you’re being a bit hard on the guy. The promotions aren’t the issue with the attendance, the lack of winning is. No Jose Bautista-driven advertisement is going to do much as long as the city’s general perception of this franchise is that it has no chance.

    The only real way to get people to come to the ballpark regularly over a full season is for the owners to spend money on the major league payroll, build some level of hype each season, and create a consistent winning team.

    With 10 below average payrolls in 11 years, Rogers hasn’t done that. But once again, there’s no better time to do that than now….with the best player in baseball on the roster.

  13. I won a pie at a church bazaar once. It was in bingo. And then in the following game, I won another pie. Two pies!

    Chicken wings for tweeters and church bazaars. Yup. A wonderful short essay.

  14. This Line killed me:

    “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.”

    Well said!

    It’s a miracle they are getting decent numbers despite very poor marketing and leveraging the best player in baseball.

  15. Excellent piece. Well said.

  16. Great article.

    Its very strange as generally Rogers is a forward thinking organization from a marketing perspective but there seems to be a real disconnect with their baseball portfolio.

  17. Whoa the Jays should put their marketing behind a player that Parkes didn’t even want signed past this season? Well I never…

  18. Great read Parkes. You’re dangerously close to sounding like a professional these days!

  19. I’ve been mulling this all night. Just what, exactly, should the Jays be doing in regard to Bautista that they’re not already doing? Honestly, I can’t think of anything. Should it be promoting him and no one else? That goes against AA’s philosophy that we need to build a team of stars. Every ad features him, so what else do you guys want? Please, enlighten me.

  20. “That goes against AA’s philosophy that we need to build a team of stars. ”

    This isn’t about the team, this is about *marketing* the team and drawing fans to the park.

    Remember how things were when Vince Carter was on top of the world? He was EVERYWHERE in Toronto. And, as noted, he wasn’t even the best player in his sport.

    Now, basketball is more attractive than baseball to sponsors, admittedly. But aside from the Jays’ own billboard outside the stadium, I can walk from U of T to Harbourfront and not see Bautista’s image once. That’s just a glaring lack of marketing of a star player; it’s as though the Jays are worried that whatever magic kicked in at the end of 2009 will evaporate and they’ll be left holding the bag with another Vernon-like albatross.

  21. @MK

    It’s not about advertising him on TV, it’s about making people come to the stands to see him. Minnesota did a Joe Mauer sideburn giveaway – why don’t the Jays do a Bautista beard giveaway? Or paint beards on Jr. Jays as mentioned above? I’d like to think professionals could come up with more ideas.

    The team needs people in the stands, but there’s no reason for anyone to watch him from the stadium rather than just watching at home.

  22. Two things. One. The venue sucks. I just don’t like sitting in there anymore. Very plastic, right down to the grass. Demo the dome. Build something cool and basebally and attendence will increase immediately – at least for the first couple of years. Two. Bautista’s no Joe Carter. Shy. Seemingly sullen and angry. Not exactly a marketer’s dream. They need to bring out some personality in the guy before they can start flogging him. A little humour would help. Enough with the serious 2.0 crap. Maybe they can hire the agency that markets the Bruins.

  23. A different angle on the recent 80′s night at Rogers Centre: why weren’t the players wearing 80′s Blue Jays uniforms?!?? The video scoreboard graphics used the original Blue Jays logos, the SportsNet telecast used the original Blue Jays logo, the fans were wearing it – everyone was in on the party except the actual players on the field.

    As a theme night, it made no visual sense.

    Also, they should just switch back to the original logo permanently, to acknowledge and respect this team’s awesome history. No top-tier franchise would ever change their logo in the first place (eg. Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Montreal Canadiens, etc). The primary visual cue of a second-tier franchise? Constant switching of logos (eg. Astros, *Devil* Rays, Diamondbacks, Mighty Ducks, etc).

  24. Good article mostly, and comments on here except for this Linz crackpot above. Keep dreaming there guy. While you’re at it you should also suggest that Rogers create a factory that builds baseball-playing robots with perfect batting and pitching.
    Realistic, practical solutions are what this was about.

  25. Hey, Buckhead! Of course! Practical solutions! How could I have missed that? Let’s get back to beard night and more than one chicken wing giveaway! Sorry for being such a crackpot. BTW do you have any ideas of your own or did you just feel the need to bash me? Please elaborate.

  26. As a native of New York City I missed hearing a theme song at end of Jays games. Yankees have, of course, “New York, New York.” The Red Sox have “sweet, Caroline.” What do the Jays have? Nada. I suggested to the Jays PR department that they use Andy Kim’s “Rock Me Gently” as a theme song. They couldn’t be interested. I guess the problem with a theme song is there is no way to make money from it. Face it, the problem with seeing a Jays game is, the whole scene is just not very fun.

  27. The thing that most obviously points out the teams marketing failure is the lack of free wireless in ROGERS CENTER -you’re a massive internet/communication company and the best you can do is Tweetin’ Tuesdays?

    Even the luxury boxes which are sold to big business are devoid of wi-fi and that is what looks worst on Rogers. They can’t even be bother to give away something they could provide for free.

    If I can’t live blog a game live at the RC why should I pay $79.95 to be denied what I do during ever Jays game I watch.

  28. The Jays can market all they want (and should).. but what will really put bums in seats is winning when the Red Sox and Yankees are in town. Putting up 17 runs on 80s night was more effective than anything else retro that happened that Thursday.

  29. can we shoot parkes out of cannon?

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