Blue Jays: April record will be huge for attendance

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 29: A general view of the Rogers Centre during the Toronto Blue Jays MLB game against the New York Yankees on Opening Day at Rogers Centre on March 29, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 29: A general view of the Rogers Centre during the Toronto Blue Jays MLB game against the New York Yankees on Opening Day at Rogers Centre on March 29, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays lead the American League in attendance last year, but may not have the same support this season unless they’re consistently winning.

If you win, they will come, or at least that’s been the general rule of thumb for Blue Jays fans in recent years. After the team shifted into a playoff contender in 2015, the Rogers Centre was regularly packed with baseball fans who were thrilled to be watching meaningful baseball in Toronto again.

Those good feelings carried on throughout 2016 and even into last season, despite the fact that the Blue Jays spent all but one day in last place in the AL East, which was the last day of the season when they surpassed the Baltimore Orioles. While last season was a bit of a disaster for the Blue Jays, they weren’t completely out of the playoff picture until very late in the year due to the second Wild Card spot, and the lacklustre play from most of the middling teams in the American League. Despite the disappointment, the Jays lead the American League in home attendance for the second consecutive season.

For the 2018 version of this team, it’s probably fair to assume that the shine of those playoff years has worn off, and they’ll need to do more than just “stay in the race” in order to bring fans to the ball park. Things have changed a bit in Toronto since 2015 as well, as the Leafs are now legitimate playoff contenders in the NHL, and the Raptors are currently leading the Eastern Division standings in the NBA. There is a lot to excited about in the sports world in Ontario, so the competition is real at this early stage in the season.

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Of course, the hockey and basketball seasons will end long before the ball season is complete, so that market share will change at some point. However, the performance by the Blue Jays will be a key to attendance long before their fellow Toronto sports teams are done for their respective seasons.

It’s difficult to gauge at this earlier point in the calendar, but last night’s game was an indication of the tempered expectations for this year’s team. In fact, it was the first time the Blue Jays had played to a home crowd of under 20,000 fans since July 8, 2015, and it was the lowest total through the gate since May 27th of that year. It was a Monday against the White Sox, but the fact is there were only 16,629 fans at the Rogers Centre last night.

There’s no reason to panic over one game this early in the season, but it should be a sign for management that the fans want to see a winner, especially after an offseason that saw the Blue Jays raise their ticket prices. There’s no debating whether the Toronto sports fans will support a truly competitive team, but in 2018 it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to ride the good will of previous seasons as they did last year.

The good news is they’re already off to a better start than they were last year, as they are sitting at 3-2 after their first five games. It’s a small sample size to be sure, but it’s significant in that they’re over .500 for the first time since 2016, and that they didn’t win their third game until April 19th of last year, which brought their record to 3-11 at the time.

Their April schedule will be a good test of where they’re at, as they’ll get two more games with the White Sox before a nine game road trip that’ll include the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, and then moving on to Cleveland. They do have to go back to New York to play four games against the Yankees, follow that with three at home against Boston, and they’ll finish the month with three games with Texas at home before starting a series in Minnesota with the Twins on the 30th.

Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro said this offseason that the supportive fan base was the biggest reason they stayed the course of trying to put a contender on the field in 2018, rather than a rebuild focused on the next generation waiting in the minor league wings. The fan base won’t give them an automatic pass this time, so they’ll have to hope that the moves they made this offseason, coupled with a healthier year from their key players like Josh Donaldson, Aaron Sanchez, Devon Travis and more, will keep the wins coming and the fans through the gates.

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The first month of the season will be a big contributing factor to that faith from the fan base, and so far things have started off on a positive note. Here’s hoping it will stay that way, or it could be a quiet summer at the Rogers Centre in Toronto.