Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Toonies or Tweeting, it doesn't matter

I went to my first Jays game in three years today. I can't be sure, but I feel like my last game was a post-apocalyptic Toonie Tuesday where drunken shirtless hooligans began fighting with each other and with SkyDome security, doing their part to disabuse the city and outside observers of the notion that this is Toronto the Good. Somewhere between now and then, they did away with the idea of two-dollar tickets for the third deck.

I can't be in favour of a raise in ticket prices for a team that, no matter how you spin it, hasn't made the playoffs since Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister and lately has been in the process of ridding itself of its best players. However, if you had been to some of these games, it was clear that a two-dollar ticket made it absurdly affordable (a round trip subway fare was triple the price of the ticket!) for large numbers of drunken men to congregate in one place and be fueled by the just-not-good-enough mediocrity of the Blue Jays. I will gladly pay an extra nine dollars for third-deck tickets behind home plate if it keeps some of the douchebags away.

When I got to the stadium tonight, I saw that the new paradigm for Tuesdays was Twitter. Tuesdays are now Tweeting Tuesdays, the obvious step for a decidedly lame team is to tie itself to Twitter, following CNN into irrelevance. The reasons are different: CNN is delegating much of its journalism to random people on Twitter, acting as an excellent example of why the ancient Greeks feared democracy. The term had the connotation of mob rule, and similarly, this 24-hour news channel can't find enough journalists to come up with stories or opinions, so they turn to mob rule.

Case in point is this clip from the Daily Show, starting at 3:20. An anchor actually says, "tell me what you're doing this weekend, I wanna know." Stewart concludes that "CNN has given up, they've put the power of the news in your hands."

The Jays, meanwhile, are seemingly trying to be hip, but their minor league lameness comes out with events like 90's Night. Tweeting Thursday just takes the old system of encouraging fans to waste fifty cents texting some nonsense for a small chance at winning a prize, but it allows for more of it. Perhaps the worst way to use Twitter at a live sporting event (is there a good way? Let me know at @a_ahmad) where you're already there was when the Jays were down 4-1 in the middle of the ninth inning. They took someone's Twitter comment that read along the lines of "rally time" and put that up on the big screen.

Now, odds are that I use Twitter far, far, far more than you do. So, why do I use Twitter if I think that Twitter is a slide into irrelevance? The problem is not with Twitter, it's with the use of Twitter for marketing purposes by a baseball team that has finished third or worse in fifteen of the last sixteen seasons, save for one second-place finish. This season's Jays are on track for their fourth-straight fourth-place finish. It's a tough division, sure, but every other team in the division has managed to do more since the Jays last made it to the playoffs in 1993.

The only thing that can make it fun to go to a baseball game are the fans. Team-directed fun is about as fun as, well, the microwaved $6 hot dogs they sell (I fully stand to be corrected if the hot dogs are $4 instead of $6). Developing and maintaining a larger fan base is difficult in a hockey-crazed town with a so-so team. The Jays were twelfth last year and I'm sure that one of the EQA-equipped baseball illuminati has a complete answer to how to develop a fan base, but better, cheaper food would be a start.

In the absence of winning, a smaller ballpark with less cement and a far smaller capacity would do wonders for this team. The popularity of Jays hats from the '80s and '90s is in part indicative of the popularity of nostalgia itself but also nostalgia for what was a great team playing with powdered-blue uniforms. The current team, called the Blue Jays but wearing black and white uniforms, playing in a half-empty concrete cavern with fans busy Tweeting, is the antithesis to the team in powder blue playing in a anachronistic stadium subject to wind and snow from the lake and with awful sightlines.

Baseball can be a uniform sport in that there are 162 games a year which can blend into one, but what fans love is what's unusual about the game. Marketing the Jays isn't easy, as about a dozen failed marketing approaches over the "maybe a wild card" years have shown, but going heavy on corporatization isn't the answer. Of course, with a topic such as this one, discussing what more people are going to like, maybe corporate standardization is the answer, though someone who knows why attendance surged to as high as 29,000 per game (besides cheap tickets) from 2006-2008 could answer that.

No comments: