Now there’s a question that’s going to keep some people at 1 Blue Jays Way up at night. But seriously: is there anything they can do?
I know that there are plenty of people who happily keep their tickets through thick and thin, but I wonder about those of us who inflated the numbers over the last two seasons. I wonder just how entrenched they now are as year-in, year-out season ticket holders. And I especially ask, at this point, because a lot my own response to the rebuild-or-don’t-rebuild question has tried to grapple, at least a little bit (and at least as much as I can, as a total layman), with the business aspect of it, as well as the baseball side.
The Jays don’t have to be especially bad next year. They can take some reasonable-enough half measures, continue to build, and not completely alienate their fan base, I think. Plus, fans will be fans, to varying degrees, pretty much no matter what — even if they’re dormant for twenty goddamned useless years. And if they do that and team doesn’t completely fall apart out of the gate next April, they can salvage a whole lot of their TV audience, I think.
Can they avoid alienating their ticket base, though?
It’s funny that I’ve mostly avoided that question, because this year, for the first time, I’ve been a part of that base.
Last year, like a lot of fans, I elected to buy season tickets for 2017 in order to get priority on 2016 playoff tickets. I had been a Toronto Star Pass holder for years, until it was grandfathered all the way out. I briefly switched to Flex Packs, and they were turfed for decidedly less flexible “Game Packs” last fall, at which point, I finally took the plunge.
I sure as hell won’t be doing it again in 2018. For reasons as obvious as the team’s games have become soul-crushing affairs.
That’s not the whole of it, though. I wasn’t under too many illusions when I wrote about some of these issues last fall, as the new “Game Packs” were being announced. A lot of fans feared Rogers taking their money and then going cheap on the 2017 roster — fears I thought were almost certainly unfounded. And say what you will about how they chose to build their roster for this season, they did try to put a competitive team on the field.
I’m not bitter about that part. Like everybody else in the goddamned universe, when camp broke at the end of March, I didn’t expect we’d be sitting here four months later with the Jays having got a combined 1.2 WAR out of Donaldson (+1.2), Tulowitzki (+0.3), Bautista (+0.1), Morales (-0.4), and Sanchez (0.0) — plus less than three wins combined from Devon Travis (+0.7), J.A. Happ (+0.6), and Marco Estrada (+1.6).
In fact, I’m completely willing to watch them try again to be competitive next season — to hope on better health from Donaldson and Sanchez, and better players to fill in the gaps around what’s still a pretty good core. I’ll buy in on whatever hope the front office is going to try to sell me! It just won’t be with that kind of money again. (This is a decision made easier by the fact that I haven’t been in Toronto much to use my tickets this year, but I assure you, my thoughts on it would be no different if I had).
How many people are with me? Because here’s the part of that tweet-heavy piece I wrote last fall that, unfortunately, really gets to the nut:
Smart business to harness the wealth of the market and an in-demand product. But could be devastating if on-field product took a step back.
— Andrew Stoeten (@AndrewStoeten) September 13, 2016
What should be especially worrying to the Jays is that, at this point, I don’t think there’s anything they can do between now and next spring to change my thinking on this. And the things they could do — go out and spend like mad, blow up the farm system again for big league talent, somehow go ape-goof and make the damn playoffs again this year — make very little sense. (Oh, they should spend more — always they should spend more — I’m just not sure about throwing good money after bad and dealing with the aftermath of whatever massive hypothetical contracts they’d be handing out. They should also make the playoffs this year! But even acknowledging that they still theoretically have a chance feels, at this point, a bit Pollyanna-ish.)
I know that my decision on this has already been made. And I suspect I’m not alone.
So… yeah. Despite all the chatter we’re hearing about trades and rebuilds and the roster and where they go from here, just what the scope of this problem is might be the biggest question of them all. And if the answer is that scope of it is real big — too big to justify continuing to keep payroll as high as it was this season — the question that comes next is maybe inevitable: why the hell not just go and do the fucking rebuild already then?
Part of the argument for retooling, I’ve maintained, is saving as much of the brand, the TV audience, and season ticket base as possible. But if that’s going to erode in a big way anyway…