Blue Jays: Let’s Stop Ignoring Their One Complete Marketing Failure
It has been just a little over two years since the Blue Jays agreed to a four-year contract with Hyun-Jin Ryu, one of the best starters in the 2019-2020 free agent class.
For the Blue Jays, the Ryu signing was monumental for two reasons. Firstly, because it signaled that the front office was committed to spending money to build a championship-caliber team. And secondly, because it showed that premium free agents believed in the project that the Blue Jays were selling.
In addition to the obvious benefits on the field, the Ryu signing also presented the Blue Jays with a unique business opportunity: expanding into the Korean baseball market.
To say that Korea loves baseball would be an understatement. Having a strong domestic league and a history of producing quality MLB talent, Korea has grown to love “America’s Pastime.”
Up until Ryu’s move to Toronto, the most popular MLB franchises in Korea were unsurprisingly teams like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers (Ryu’s former team).
As a Korean Canadian journalist and a fan of the Blue Jays, I hoped that Ryu’s arrival to Canada would allow Toronto to become the next team to reap the many benefits of expanding into the Korean market. However, two years have passed since Ryu joined the team and the Blue Jays have done the absolute bare minimum in terms of marketing. Their efforts start and end with awkwardly translated social media posts on days that Ryu starts.
Despite having one of the biggest marketing assets in terms of Korean baseball, the Blue Jays have barely made a dent in capturing the hearts of Korean baseball fans.
At this point, you may be wondering, “What’s all the fuss about? How can marketing one foreign player provide any major benefits to a baseball team in Canada?” Well, let me give you an example.
In 2015, Son Heung-Min, a Korean football player, moved to Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League. At the time, the majority of Korean fans supported Manchester United, a traditional powerhouse of world football. However, through Son’s success and some brilliant marketing ideas, Tottenham soon surpassed Manchester United as Korea’s favourite Premier League team and have been reaping the benefits since.
Every year, tens of thousands of Korean fans fly to London, England just to see their star player perform on the world stage. Moreover, Tottenham enjoy numerous other benefits including sponsorship deals with Korea’s largest companies, revenue from apparel sales, and general appeal to the young football talent in Korea.
Obviously, it is difficult to directly compare football and baseball, but it is also impossible to deny that with proper marketing, Hyun-Jin Ryu can provide the Blue Jays with so many incredible opportunities and benefits.
For example, in the long term, what if the next Shohei Ohtani emerges from the KBO? Wouldn’t it be a significant advantage if the Blue Jays established themselves as Korea’s MLB team?
How can the Blue Jays reach out to the Korean market?
Perhaps what’s more frustrating than the lack of effort from the Blue Jays is the fact that reaching out to Korean MLB fans requires surprisingly minimal effort and expenses.
For example, when Tottenham made a social media post about the National Liberation Day of Korea, the post was shared throughout the country and many people (not just football fans) were touched by the thoughtful gesture. It would probably take less than an hour to research the important Korean holiday and create a post that would go viral in Korea.
Other simple yet extremely effective ideas include a Ryu jersey giveaway day with “Ryu” spelt in Korean and the production of short video clips with Ryu introducing his teammates to various aspects of Korean culture.
A video of Ryu enjoying Korean barbeque with Alek Manoah, or a video of Ryu teaching George Springer how to say “hello” in Korean, or a clip of Ryu and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. playing one of the Squid Game games would be an instant hit in Korea while introducing the country to the Toronto Blue Jays.
Sure, these ideas might require a bit of time and effort, but the investment is well worth the potential returns.
It is hard to blame the Blue Jays for their lack of marketing efforts because expanding into the Korean market was probably the last thing the front office was worried about over the past two years of playing baseball during a pandemic.
Thus, this post is not meant to criticize, but rather encourage the team to seize the opportunity when it exists. I know the benefits are there, both immediate and long-term. I have seen it time and time again when European football teams sign Korean players.
It’s time to bring those benefits to baseball and Canada. It’s time to make the Blue Jays Korea’s MLB team.