The Blue Jays Would Like Your Data Please


Ever since Mark Shapiro assumed control of the Toronto Blue Jays from Paul Beeston, fans have been told to expect decisions about fan experience to be data-driven. The Blue Jays want to know what you think about the club so that they can best cater to your needs as an organization!

This, it would seem to me, is a pretty good idea. It’s hard to know best what your customers actually want if you don’t actually ask them. Sure, occasionally a less engaged management team will hit upon a happy accident that works great for everyone — Paul Beeston eliminating the Jays’ MLBtv blackout because he (allegedly, or perhaps apocryphally) wanted to be able to watch games at his cottage jumps instantly to mind — and it can’t be that hard to go and find out what other teams are doing well and ape them. But it’s hard not to like seeing the club take a more proactive approach, especially with major renovations at the stadium upcoming, with which some fairly big questions about what we all want the Blue Jays to be go hand in hand. (Provided that’s all they’re actually doing.)

Shapiro is very much cognizant of that, as he demonstrated during an interview a couple weeks back with Jeff Blair that I wrote about:

There is no compelling feature within this stadium that would cause people to want to be here other than the environment and atmosphere when it’s special or the team’s winning, or just being a hardcore baseball fan. I think ultimately what you’d like to do is design the coolest bar in Toronto that happens to be in Rogers Centre. You have the greatest family entertainment centre, the best food and unique food products. You’d like set all those experiences within a ballpark, and then also have the pure baseball purist experience from base to base for the fans that still want to watch the game the same way they’ve always watched it and scored the game. But a diversity of experiences, targeted for the different parts of our fan base that provide people with a great, cutting edge fan experience. It always starts with winning, but in every other aspect of the experience as well.

How the execute all this will be crucial, but I’ll give them that they seem to at least have the process in order. In hilarious order!

OK, so the survey isn’t entirely hilarious. It’s fairly brief, and most of it is pretty basic: How often do you come to games? What’s your income? How much do you follow other Toronto sports teams? Who do you go to games with? Crab Rangoon, things of that nature. (You can see the whole survey here via @Danbot26R).

But then it gets into the good stuff. You see question 14 in this image, and questions 15 and 16 in this one, but let me go ahead and type them out for here for your amusement anyway:

14. Please read each statement fully before responding. Please tell us to what extend [sic] you agree or disagree with each of the following statements. (please select one response per row). [The “extends” are: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Neither Agree nor Disagree, Agree, Strongly Agree].

  • When I go to a baseball game, I am more focused on the people I’m with and the atmosphere than the game itself.
  • Good owners keep their hands off the team and let the baseball people run things.
  • Baseball games have a huge party atmosphere.
  • I pay close attention to the Blue Jays even during the offseason.
  • I view going to Blue Jays games as a special once or twice a year event.
  • I follow all of Major League Baseball, not just the Blue Jays.

15. Now we’d like to know how important the following traits or characteristics are when you think about attending a Toronto Blue Jays game at Rogers Centre. Please rate each item using the scale shown below. (please select one response per row) [Scale is: Not at All Important, Not Very Important, Somewhat Important, Very Important, Extremely Important].

  • Has reasonably priced food and non-alcoholic drinks at the concession stands.
  • Has reasonably priced beer/wine.
  • There is always music playing or a video on the videoboard to keep me entertained.
  • Is a modern ballpark.
  • Has premium/exclusive seats and special benefits.
  • Has value-based promotions, like dollar hot dog night or 1/2 priced ticket night.

16. Now we’d like to know how important the following traits or characteristics are when you think about being a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays. Please rate each item using the scale shown below. (please select one response per row) [Same scale as question 15].

  • Has management that’s loyal to their team players and will stick with them through the ups and downs of their careers
  • Has owners who reinvest in the team rather than taking profits for themselves

* * *

First of all, I used to work for a company that coordinated “mystery shopping” and third party evaluations for corporate clients (Hello anyone who’s ever worked at the ACC!), which meant creating whole lot of marketing surveys and instructions for them and holy fucking awful flashback.

Anywho! Let’s start with those last couple of items first, because… LOL. WUT???? Are the Jays not basically asking here, “Please tell us it’s OK cut bait on [Bautista/Tulowitzki/Morales/take your fuckin’ pick], and then also give us some ammunition to go to ownership with when they try to take our budget away”??? Because that’s hilarious and awesome.

Like, do the Americans in charge maybe not get that we’re quite a bit more keen on wealth-distributin’ up here?

Or, really, Canadian or not, who the hell would answer anything but “Go fuck yourselves, Rogers,” to that second question? Which almost makes me wonder, is it, like, a way to enshrine the “if you come we will build it” idea into our consciousness? By which I mean, if people are forced to answer that of course ownership should reinvest in the team rather than enriching themselves, have they now basically agreed that if fans aren’t coming out to the ballpark, it’s cool for ownership to go as cheap as they can rather than actually trying to maintain a winning product?

This is how paranoid close to two decades of Rogers ownership has made us! Or at least some of us. But, let’s be serious. I’m pretty sure a data-collecting survey that doesn’t know the difference between “extends” and “extents” probably isn’t quite so clever, so devious, or so meticulously prepared as to be worthy of a conspiracy theory. (OR MAYBE THAT’S JUST WHAT THEY WANT US TO THINK!).

Jokes and literalisms aside, though, I do think there is a bit of sleight of hand going on here. It’s a pretty open kind of sleight of hand, but still! With many of these questions the club is clearly trying to glean some pretty important things about the audience they’re trying to build a better ballpark experience for (something they were known for doing in Cleveland), but with others they’re doing something else, like trying to get some kind of a baseline for the nebulous Rogers hate that exists among their fans, or to gauge how offended people are by concession prices.

Maybe I’m wrong on that, but I’d think that the club knows damn well that people are willing to spend a whole lot of money on booze and food that is not reasonably priced, and I don’t think anybody should expect that if 100% of respondents said reasonably priced concessions are “extremely important” to them, we’re suddenly going to start seeing prices creep back down. This, then, is likely more an exercise in finding out how much and how far they can push in the other direction.

It’s the same with something like “Good owners keep their hands off the team and let the baseball people run things,” which is a patently absurd question even on the surface (Mike Ilitch was hands-on in a very different way than Peter Angelos is, for example), and sure as hell isn’t going to change how anybody in the front office operates. But it might change how they manage the perception.

None of this is to say that anybody who gets the survey shouldn’t answer it, or shouldn’t answer it honestly. Just be aware that their asking about sticking with players through ups and downs isn’t your chance to tell the people in the front office how they should do their jobs, it’s about informing the club on how to spin certain moves. And it’s all surely being looked at on more granular levels that the fan base as a whole — they likely want to see what the high income, high spending, multiple-games-per-year type of fan thinks, or, ultimately, how to cater best to the characteristic group that contributes the most to revenue, while not alienating those that go the other way.

If the data tells them people who are the biggest group and the best spending group and the group whose income they depend on most generally want a more baseball-oriented experience, it will probably tilt that way. If more of their most aggressively spending customers want a party atmosphere, it will tilt that way.

Everything in this survey is a data point to be analyzed and strategized with. And if in the process of getting data on how best to proceed with their ballpark renovations, they can get their hands on a whole bunch of data on how best to sell baseball transactions and concessions to their most important fans — i.e. the ones who come out and actually spend cash money on the team and at the ballpark (y’know, with apologies to those in other parts of the country who go awesomely invade other teams’ yards) — bully for them, I suppose.


  • GrumblePup

    I took the survey yesterday and all the points you touch on are true, and it made me feel kind of weird while I was filling the whole thing out.
    He thing that really sticks out about the survey is that there are no places for you to put comments or give your own feedback. So it really feels like he results of the survey don’t natter, that your opinions as a fan aren’t really what this is all about. It feels more like it’s all out the perception of themselves providing the survey promotes.
    And that’d not just a “fuck ownership/ fuck shapkins (never shapkins)” thing.
    I feel the same way about any survey that wants tour opinions without giving a chance to actually provide some of your opinions.

  • RickyRo24

    Before we go off the deep end here, I’ve got a bit of context that can shed some light on this survey.
    When Shapiro / Atkins came in, there was very little fan segmentation work that had been done – this means they walked into a team that was starting to lead the league in attendance, and essentially to them (and the Jays organization as a whole), the Rogers Centre was filled with 45,000 generic ‘fans’ on any given night, and they knew very little about the types of fans – or their interests – that were filling the seats. So, to get some market intel and figure out exactly who it was that was showing up to games and buying tickets, they hired an market intelligence firm to create the survey that you see here. The goal was to create fan ‘segments’ that would help them better understand the types of fans and their interests that were showing up to the games, so they could actually make baseball operations decisions (e.g., stadium design, memorabilia, ticket promotions, concessions, etc.; everything but actual team management decisions that Atkins handles) that would better cater to the fans that were filling the seats.
    So the questions presented in the survey aren’t meant in some cynical “can we actually field a shit team and take all the money” type way where Rogers, Atkins, and Shapiro conspire to kill the team, it’s more to understand the mindset of the fans coming into the stadium, so they can get an idea of the types of baseball operations decisions they should be making to market and operate the franchise, not trade, sign, and develop on-the-field players.
    When you answer this survey, you’re telling them what segment you fall into so they can better provide you services that might match your needs. And yes, you’re right, it would be awesome if you could just, you know, tell them what you’re interests are, but with literally millions of fans supporting the team nationwide, it’s more useful to categorize you by a segment of similar interests than look at your individual answers and provide 1-to-1 services.
    Hope this helps!