The Toronto Blue Jays may be tied at the bottom of the AL East standings, but that’s not the only reason some fans are upset.
After an April email was sent out to season ticket holders on the next phase of the $300-million renovation of Rogers Centre, some longtime Jays fans were dismayed to realize their coveted seats in the lower bowl will no longer exist, and that they face a steep price increases if they want to continue to be season ticket holders and select new seats.
Some fans relayed to media outlets that they were told new seats would cost 10 times as much as their current spots. One family told The Toronto Star that they’d paid about $15,000 for two tickets, but would likely now have to spend more than $137,000 to remain in the third row. (Jays officials later clarified that the new layout saw a third row added to the ultra-premium “in the action” section. So equivalent seats for that family, the first row in the next section up, would actually cost $38,000, over twice as much).
The changes to the ballpark include three new “premium clubs” that will open in the 2024 season, according to a news release. The clubs promise an “extraordinary and elevated sports experience.”
The Home Plate Club, for instance, not only offers seats directly behind home plate, but membership “includes dedicated staff to attend to your every need, optimum ease of arrival and departure from a designated Home Plate Club location, first access to a private dining space , a private bar with members-only service and the intimate champagne room.”
Just the 2024 premium club membership deposit (for “priority access”) costs $1,000. The clubs will be located beneath “a completely reimagined lower bowl,” where some devotees in the 100-level sections have been watching games in the same seats for years.
“The Jays are catching up to what other teams have been doing; a segregated live sporting experience with ‘VIP’ access-only amenities for the wealthiest fans. They won’t have to go anywhere near commoners anymore,” one person wrote on Twitter in April.
The Jays are catching up to what other teams have been doing; a segregated live sporting experience with ‘VIP’ access-only amenities for the wealthiest fans.
They won’t have to go anywhere near commoners anymore.
But Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro says the changes give fans what they want: “premium experiences.”
“The types of entertainment experiences fans are looking to have evolved dramatically since the Rogers Center opened in 1989, and our ballpark currently has among the fewest premium experience options compared to MLB and other entertainment venues in Toronto,” Shapiro said in an email statement to CBC News.
“The next phase of renovations will introduce more of the amenities we know Blue Jays fans want — compelling premium experiences that uniquely cater to the Greater Toronto Area.”
All the changes are “driven and designed” by fans, said executive vice-president Anuk Karunaratne in an email statement.
“In the lower bowl, that will include everything from wider seats each with a cupholder, improved accessibility, and baseball-specific sightlines, in addition to premium hospitality.”
‘I’d probably have to give them up’
Matt MacLellan has had season tickets since the 2016 season, but not in the lower bowl. His seats are up in the highest level — the 500s — where he still pays $3,400 for two seats, and prices have increased “more than inflation” in the last few years.
“I get it. They’ve redone the ‘dome. And I don’t really mind. I understand the economics of it,” he told CBC News.
He wants to support the team and likes being part of the experience, noting he’s been a fan since he was a kid. When he lived downtown, he’d go to 40 or so games a year. Now that he’s moved outside Toronto, he still makes it to 10 or 15 games, and shares or sells his seats for the rest.
MacLellan says he understands the anger some fans in the lower bowl are feeling over the price increases.
“If I was in the 100s … I’d be pretty pissed if they went up that much,” MacLellan said, referring to media reports of some steep increases for ticket prices.
“If I was in that situation and I had to choose, I’d probably have to give them up.”
As a season ticket-holder, MacLellan received an email informing him of the “premium experiences” coming to the Rogers Centre.
“It’s a bit of a boomer because they don’t really seem fan-friendly, but more corporation-friendly,” he said.
‘Fans have changed’
At the end of the day, sport is a business, said Cheri Bradish, an associate professor in sports marketing at Toronto Metropolitan University, and the director of the Future of Sports Lab. So financial considerations often drive decision-making.
But plans need to be balanced with “much respect and regard for who our core consumer and fan base was,” she told CBC News.
“It seems like they’re trying to speak to the next-generation fan and create opportunities where other fans can come in and consume the sport in a different way.”
After a post-pandemic sales slump, attendance at Major League Baseball games is finally starting to rise, up five per cent in April compared to last year, according to Forbes. But professional sports revenue streams are still “stagnant” in some areas, Bradish said, so corporations are looking to new streams — such as retrofitting the Rogers Center so it becomes an experience.
“That’s very much become at the forefront of sports marketing across North America,” he said. “Fans and fandoms have changed.”
MacLellan, the 500-level season-ticket holder, says all the new clubs sound like a good experience, even if he’ll likely never be able to afford it.
“And I don’t know if I want to.”