Low dollar won't keep Toronto Blue Jays fans away from MLB spring training

Blue Jays fans have flocked to Dunedin, Fla., to experience spring training despite the low Canadian dollar and the high cost of travelling in the U.S. Many are cutting back on dinners and beer in order to enjoy the baseball experience.

Fans in Dunedin, Fla., willing to take an extra hit to the wallet to enjoy spring baseball

Canadians usually flock to catch their boys of summer at spring training, but this year they've been thrown a curveball 2:02

Sitting just a few metres from American League MVP Josh Donaldson as he takes batting practice, Gary Wilkins knows this experience is priceless. But thanks to the low Canadian dollar, everything else about his spring training trip to Dunedin, Fla., is pricey.

"You have to think twice. You walk into a bank and they say you want $1,000 American and what's it going to cost. And it's $1,420, that's pretty steep," said the Oshawa, Ont., resident, here for his 10th consecutive season.

Like many Blue Jays fans, he chose to bite the bullet and make the annual migration anyway to enjoy spring training. Mike and Cyndee Goodridge — retirees from Ontario who spend their winters in Florida — decided to cut back while they're here.

"We decided we go out one less night for dinner, maybe take in one less ball game, but it wasn't going to keep us home," Mike said.

Cyndee said the couple is doing significantly less shopping and had hoped to have friends and family join them. But the low loonie is keeping many north of the border.

"We've invited friends and family down that have said no. They say it's just too much money to come this year," Cyndee said.

Gary Wilkins, of Oshawa, Ont., says he had to think twice before coming to MLB spring training because of the low Canadian dollar. But he decided the experience is worth the extra cost. (Steven D'Souza/CBC)

More than 335,000 Canadians came to Dunedin and the surrounding county in 2015. That's a 5.5-per-cent decrease from the year before. That number was boosted slightly by an increase in the number of Canadian travellers who came south in December.

Marcia Stewart, from Burlington, Ont., bought a mobile home in 2013 that is a 10-minute bike ride to the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, where the Blue Jays play. Having an investment, she says, means you want to enjoy it, but it also means being careful about what you spend.

"We used to go see live theatre; we're just not going to do that this year. There are a lot of things to do in Tampa, we're doing more of the free things now," Stewart said.

She said if the low dollar persists, they may cut back on the amount of time they spend in Florida.

Gabriella Mullins is a Canadian who moved to Dunedin in 1996 and opened the Holiday Inn Express in 2001. She says it's too early to tell how much of an impact the weak Canadian dollar is having this year.

"We're in-season now; we'll study it after season — see the effects and accommodate everything for next year."

Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson hits during batting practice at spring training in Dunedin, Fla., on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

She said bookings were slightly down at her hotel, but mostly from non-baseball fans. She says Blue Jays fans more than made up for any decline.

"They had such a phenomenal year last year that we've got probably double the number of people who want to come down here. It's funny but it really depends on the performance of the Jays," Mullins said.

David Downing, with Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, said the issue with the low Canadian dollar is compounded by price increases due to a strong U.S. economy. He says the key for merchants here is to wait it out.

"We know this is cyclical, this has happened before. But you know what, it all comes out in the wash," Downing said.

He said they're counting on the historical bond between Canadian tourists and Florida to help them ride out the waves in currency.

"This is a relationship that goes beyond what the value of the currency is," Downing said.

Blue Jays centre fielder Kevin Pillar signs autographs for fans after an intra-squad game at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Fla. (Steven D'Souza/CBC)

About the Author

Steven D'Souza

CBC News New York

Steven D'Souza is a Gemini-nominated journalist based in New York City. He has reported internationally from the papal conclave in Rome and the World Cup in Brazil, and he spent eight years in Toronto covering stories like the G20 protests and the Rob Ford crack video scandal.


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