The Toronto Blue Jays: A Lesson In Sports Marketing

If you live in Toronto, the GTA, or anywhere in Canada you’ve probably noticed that the Toronto Blue Jays have become the talk of the town in the wake of their trade deadline deals. So why all of a sudden is Toronto going nuts over an 11 game winning streak in August, but didn’t seem to notice quite as much when the same thing happened from June 2 – 14? Where were all of the ticket buying, beer drinking fans then? Is it possible that 40,000 new fans per game have been exclusively waiting to see David Price, Troy Tulowitski, and Ben Revere? American League MVP candidate Josh Donaldson has been part of the team all year long, and fan favourites like Jose Bautista have been playing with purpose for years. The fever seemed almost instantaneous. The Skydome, sorry the Rogers Centre, is constantly packed with screaming fans new and old. Some still learning the players and the game, and some wishing for 20 years that they had more leg room in the 500 level. Either way there is very little to complain about with a winning team and a packed house, even on a Monday night. The big question is how did this bandwagon get moving?

The Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect is a type of cultural phenomenon that happens quite often in sports, consumer products, fashion, and a litany of other parts of society. It happens in micro-universes like when everyone at your office starts going to the same place for lunch, where the more people that continually go gradually create a snowball effect. Essentially, the bandwagon forms and grows as the result and combination of two main reasons:

  • Social Pressure: People generally prefer to conform.
  • Credible Information: People receive and derive and respect information from others.

The term social pressure carries a lot of negative connotations, but conforming to pay more attention to the Blue Jays and go to more games than you did last year is hardly a negative life choice. When the perceived popularity of something elicits a “wanting” reaction that prompts action then you have the beginnings of a bandwagon. When an individual want, regardless of how strong it is, is combined with credible information from a respected or reliable source then the bandwagon rolls faster. Now people with wants have become advocates and are now themselves the source of credible information. And so on…

The Viral Bandwagon

The bandwagon is actually a form of viral marketing. As any marketer will tell you it’s hard to know how and when a campaign, product, or something else will go viral. In sports, success isn’t always a precursor for selling tickets and becoming a viral sensation. As a Toronto sports fan this is easy to understand by watching the Maple Leafs continuously miss the playoffs and disappoint fans year after year. However, just across the border in New Jersey, the Devils maintained winning teams throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, and are continuously listed near the bottom of Forbes list of NHL team valuations. Even worse during their last Stanley Cup winning year in the 2002-2003 season their attendance ranked a pitiful 23rd in the league. Some may argue that New Jersey isn’t really a Hockey town, but is Toronto a baseball city, or Canada a baseball nation compared to other cities and teams in the league? If success isn’t the be-all-end-all for selling tickets there must be other reasons for the Blue Jays selling out almost every game in August.

Toronto Blue Jays Give Aways

It’s well noted and documented, people love getting free stuff and until this season it could almost be predicted which Blue Jays games would be sellouts: Opening day, Canada Day, and any day where a bobble head was being given away. The ever persuasive oversized bobbling head has such power over the masses and the Blue Jays marketing team knows it. They’ve likely run the numbers and know that Rogers will easily recoup the cost of 20,000 bearded Jose Bautista bobble heads through concession and beer sales in order to fill the seats, and create a legacy of hand-me-down souvenirs that might even be fought over in estate distributions and during will readings.

History & Brand Strength

When it comes to spots it’s easy to observe how history can drive the popularity of a team. Teams like the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadians, Manchester United, and of course Toronto Maple Leafs all have rich and storied histories. Their storied pasts help maintain interest, brand strength, and become identifiable parts of a city and its fans. As a result, it’s easy to see why they remain popular despite going through up and down seasons, controversial players, and poor management decisions among other mishaps. Generally, brand strength can be assessed in 3 ways:

  1. Current Performance: The primary measurement when it comes to brand performance is financial, although it’s important to note that the economic environment and elements like price and distribution can affect financial performance. Measurements like past performance and size should also be considered.
  2. Customer Impressions: Understanding the strength of a brand through the customers eyes is a great gauge of performance and strength. Finding out if people are aware of the brand, what they associate the brand with, and what feelings and attitudes they have when they interact with the brand all contribute to overall customer impression metrics.
  3. Future Performance: An old adage dictates not to use past performance as an indicator of future performance. This rings true to some degree, but generally the perception customers and advocates have of a brand directly translates into customer behaviour. Essentially, their current brand views somewhat dictate how they will interact with it in the future.

There are of course a plethora of elements surrounding how team history and brand strength can affect the marketing choices of a team’s marketing department, but very generally it comes down to how fans perceive and interact with their brand over a certain timeline. In terms of the Toronto Blue Jays band wagon, brand history and strength definitely come into play. As the only Canadian baseball team there are a variety of alluring elements to keep fans interested such as the Canada vs. USA rivalry or the sheer number of fans across the nation that can relate to the brand. While a fairly new team considering the long history of baseball, the Toronto Blue Jays have a fairly storied history with memorable games, players, and coaches spattered throughout. Memories of Joe Carter’s World Series winning walk-off home run isn’t going to single-handedly sell season tickets, but in combination with lots of other memories it certainly keeps casual fans on the edge of the bandwagon, and engaged in the conversation until the next Joe Carter-like moment.

So why did the band wagon form when it did? It could be discussed for hours on end, so I’m going to blame the mainstream media for paying the Blue Jays an extra amount of attention at the end of July as the catalyst and leave it at that. The band wagon itself will always pop up from time to time for different reasons, and if you’re one of those people who can’t stand band wagon fans, don’t worry lots of them will likely fall of when the new season starts next spring. Overall, enjoy the ride into the playoffs and buy your tickets well in advance.

Go Jays Go!