Toronto is not a baseball city. It’s actually pretty obvious. Here’s why.
Toronto is enjoying one of the best stretches of sports in recent history. The Raptors won their first NBA Championship this year, the Maple Leafs are finally a Stanley Cup contender, and just a few years ago, the Blue Jays played some of their most inspiring baseball since the 92/93 seasons.
However, the recent trends of the three major sports teams in Toronto have gone in opposite directions. While the Raptors and Leafs are in their prime years of contention, the Blue Jays are in the midst of a difficult rebuild. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a precipitous decline of fan interest has followed suit.
It leads to the point of the article. If fan interest is so volatile, can Toronto be called a baseball city? What even defines a baseball city? Well, a good place to start is attendance. Whether a team is pursuing a World Series title or is in the middle of a rebuild, attendance numbers should still be strong. While it’s expected that contending years should average more attendance than noncontending years, the overall trend in attendance should still reflect a genuine love of baseball.
Consider the Chicago Cubs. From 2010-2014, the Cubs had a record of 346-464 and were in the midst of a long rebuild – the one that got them Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber. However, despite their losing record, the Cubs did not fall below 12th in average MLB attendance and averaged 10th during those five years.
Along with the Houston Astros, the Cubs were one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball. However, the fans continued to show passion and loyalty during those difficult years and it’s one of the reasons why Chicago is respected as a baseball city. Some other teams that have always had consistently strong fan support include the St. Louis Cardinals, the New York Yankees, the LA Dodgers, and the Boston Red Sox.
So, how does Toronto compare to these cities? In 2015 and 2016, their recent peak years, the Blue Jays were 8th and 3rd, respectively, in average MLB attendance. Similar to the Raptors this year, it seemed like the city of Toronto – no, the country of Canada – was coming together to support the Toronto Blue Jays.
However, unlike Chicago, as the winning disappeared and a rebuild was more or less accepted, much of the Blue Jays fanbase abandoned the team. From 2017 to 2019, Toronto’s standing in average attendance went from 5th to 13th to 22nd this year.
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It shows the stark contrast between the Cubs’ and Blue Jays’ fanbases. The former is largely based on genuine love and appreciation for the game of baseball, while the latter is based on the euphoria that comes with winning.
It makes sense though. Teams like the Cubs, Yankees, and Dodgers have a rich history that shows in a loyal fanbase. The Blue Jays, on the other hand, don’t share that luxury and must win to attract fans. To put it more bluntly, they rely more on the so-called “bandwagons”. However, this isn’t a criticism of casual fans – every fan is important to a major sports organization. Rather, think of it as a realization of the landscape of the Blue Jays fanbase.
Myth: Players Affect Attendance
I’ve seen a lot of counterarguments on social media where fans attribute the recent decline in attendance and interest to the departures of star players like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson and superheroes like Kevin Pillar. They blame the front office. Though this is theoretically plausible, there is overwhelming evidence that refutes their claims.
For example, when Roy Halladay, the best pitcher in franchise history, pitched for the Blue Jays, the attendance was still embarrassingly low for a pitcher of that caliber. When Jose Bautista had his 54 homerun season, the Blue Jays attendance was 26th in the league. And more recently, even Vladimir Guerrero Jr. couldn’t fill the seats on Canada Day. Too many fans are turning to the front office to place the blame of lackluster fan support when in truth, some of the problem lies in the fanbase itself.
The evidence is clear. Toronto doesn’t want marketable superstars. Toronto craves the winning that comes with having marketable superstars. I guarantee you, even if the Blue Jays had Mike Trout or Christian Yelich right now, fans still wouldn’t come to games unless the team was winning.
So, enough with the “don’t trade Stroman”, “don’t trade Giles”, and “call up Bo Bichette because it will increase attendance” nonsense. No. The front office makes moves that put the Blue Jays in the best position to win a World Series, not moves that will bump attendance numbers in the interim. Because let’s be real, that’s what the majority of the fanbase really wants – not Marcus Stroman, not Superman, and obviously not even the best prospect in all of baseball.
The fans want to win and have shown time and time again that only winning will generate excitement and interest. We have to face reality. Toronto is not a baseball city. Toronto is a winning city.