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How the Blue Jays' Success Could Influence next Year's Expenditures

Jays president Mark Shapiro wants to upgrade the Rogers Centre and indicated a bigger payroll could be on the horizon. But reaching the playoffs again will be key to secure more ticket sales and generate extra revenue.
Photo by Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays continue to reap the benefits of last year's glorious rush to a division championship. If the 2016 team ever starts to hit again, perhaps that prosperity will carry over to next year, too.

Mark Shapiro, the club's first-year president, inherited a cash cow. He is currently contemplating an assortment of ways to spend the windfall. As was evident in a media session Tuesday, he is disinclined to divulge details, but he intimated they would include a bigger payroll and some significant stadium upgrades.


You may recall that Shapiro came from Cleveland shortly after overseeing significant improvements to Progressive Field. At the moment, Cleveland is a better team than the Blue Jays. Average attendance in Cleveland: 19,397. Average attendance at the Rogers Centre: 41,460. Talk about culture shock.

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And on Tuesday night, the Jays passed the three-million mark in attendance for the first time since 1993.

"I thought we crossed the threshold of how incredible the support and the fan base is earlier in the season, in contrast to what I've experienced (in Cleveland)," Shapiro said. "When you pull back and take a moment to reflect, the numbers are staggering. The support is overwhelming. Again, I would just reinforce that to me, it just fuels the desire and the need to continue to fulfill our end of the covenant."

Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro talks with fans ahead of a summer game in San Diego. Photo by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

At the moment, however, the Blue Jays batters are not fulfilling their end of the covenant. Facing a mediocre corps of Tampa Bay pitchers on Tuesday night, they did all their scoring via the home run, as usual, and lost 6-2, wasting an opportunity to gain ground on the front-running Red Sox.

If the hitters continue to go wobbly and one-dimensional, the Jays will be life-and-death even to make the playoffs, let alone improve on last year's postseason performance. In the ninth inning of Tuesday's loss, a scattering of frustrated fans booed lustily as four relievers conspired to hand the Rays two extra runs.


The Jays have already announced higher ticket prices for 2017. Last autumn created box-office momentum. A September swoon this year (the Jays are now 3-8 this month) could turn into a test of that incredible support Shapiro talks about.

Which is not to foreshadow a wholesale mutiny in the fan base. The Jays have had two good years in a row and have gathered a new generation of fans. They have produced 35 sellouts this season. But Shapiro will need their loyalty and their hard-earned cash to fulfill his end of the covenant: construction of a sustainable winner.

After last year, that's what the fans expect. It might not be rational, but it is reality.


Since it's a hot-button issue for some fans, let's get this one out of the way. It won't take long.

The Jays have received several reports from University of Guelph scientists on the feasibility of growing turf grass under the dome.

"It's an ongoing study and continues to be on the table," Shapiro said.

I asked Shapiro what the Guelph reports say.

"Just that we need to study it more to understand the precise implications of cost and building design," he said.

In short: don't hold your breath.

Another, more pressing issue did not come up for discussion in his media session, so later, I asked him via email for an update on the status of the team's negotiations with Dunedin for improved spring-training facilities. He said nothing has been settled.


"Not an easy deal to complete with all of the moving pieces but we still feel optimistic that we can move it forward," he replied.

Toronto's lease with Dunedin expires after the 2017 season. Before the season started, Shapiro said if he hoped to have a deal done by mid-summer. Otherwise, he might start looking elsewhere.

Meanwhile, he and his aides are studying options for improving the fans' in-game experience (beyond fielding a winner, of course.) As previously mentioned, he was short on details; he talked a lot about studies and hiring design experts to "re-envision" the Rogers Centre.

But he did point to one existing amenity that might be duplicated elsewhere in the stadium.

"Maybe the most obvious one here is looking at the WestJet flight deck, just how occupied that is night in and night out, the energy that spills out of it," he said. "But that's to me just one example of a space that can be particularly designed to one group of our fans that can be repeated for different segments of our fan base throughout the stadium."

The WestJet Flight Deck is a popular fan venue at the Rogers Centre. It fills up early. Photo by John Lott

The three-tiered Flight Deck is a sprawling, standing-room section above centre field and under the video board. There's a bar at each end. It's an unticketed area; fans with seats elsewhere in the stadium can enter the Flight Deck on a first-come basis. It tends to fill up well before game time.

The Rogers Centre opened in 1989. Shapiro says the goal is to keep it going for another 30 years. A lot of the required infrastructure work will be unglamorous, but other upgrades will aim to make attending a Blue Jays game more fun.


"To me, the most important piece is looking at it comprehensively," he said. "What kind of views of the field do people have when they're on the concourses? How wide are the concourses? Where are the opportunities to create spaces? There are a lot of spaces in the ballpark. How can we orient the stands to best take advantage of a baseball experience? Those are all questions that we have to ask and experts have to guide us through."


Entering Wednesday's matinee with the Rays, the Blue Jays had drawn 3,026,605 paying customers to their first 73 games. Shapiro admitted that it has become easy to take sellouts for granted.

"It's a reflection of the intensity of the fan base," he said. "For me, being here every night, it's almost hard to appreciate it. You get a night like (Monday), where we're under 40,000 and you almost note that more.

"But there's also a constant reminder of just how important it is to maintain that covenant, that it's a two-way relationship, it's not just the fans' undying support, it's for a team that plays the game a certain way, competes and contends at a certain level as well."

The crowds at Rogers Centre have been lively, with the Blue Jays averaging an AL-best 41,463 fans a game. Photo nightly. by Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY

One big challenge will be to create that kind of team next year, given that Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders and other free agents may fly the coop. Another is to jolt the 2016 Blue Jays back to life. There's still time.

But if that doesn't happen soon, and September leaves a sour taste, disappointed season-ticket holders might start to stanch the cash flow.

And in addition to the staff firings already on record, especially in player development, more heads could roll, including a few currently wearing uniforms and calling shots.