MLB

Blue Jays fans face higher costs in 2016

The magical feeling created by the Toronto Blue Jays' improbable 2015 season still resonates deeply in the city, and the team stands to cash in, writes Jamie Strashin.

New 'dynamic' ticket system among changes

Blue Jays fans celebrate a win in last year's American League Championship Series, which Toronto eventually lost to Kansas City. The Jays are looking to build on last year's success on the field and at the box office. ( Photo/Getty Images)

The posters in bus shelters across Toronto trumpet "History Is Now" — an enticement to Blue Jays fans about what the 2016 season could hold.

The magical feeling created by the Jays' improbable 2015 run still resonates deeply in the city. For a fleeting moment, Toronto sports fans had a chance to experience what cheering for a winning team feels like.

And they clearly loved it. Merchandise sales exploded. Television ratings hit historic highs. Attendance rose nearly 20 per cent and the team brought more fans into its stadium than it had since 1995, including selling out the last 12 games. Who wouldn't want to be part of that again?

But the "History Is Now" slogan is also an unwitting reminder of how fleeting success can be — in sports, in baseball, especially in the wealthy and competitive American League East. The Yankees and Red Sox won't be down for long. Rogers knows that, and the company that owns the Jays may be looking to cash in while the team is hot.

"Winning comes and goes. It's difficult for teams to sustain winning for a long period of time," says Vijay Setlur, who teaches sports marketing at York University's Schulich School of Business.

He says it's all about building off the momentum of last year's success and striking while the iron is hot — the so-called halo effect.

"The team is looking to capitalize on that in terms of generating more ticket sales, generating more revenue from the sale of licensed apparel and merchandise."

So Jays fans may have to pay more to be a part of history — both inside and outside the ballpark. Here's how:

Ticket hike

Ticket prices are up across the board, whether you're a 20-year season-ticket subscriber who has wandered with the team through the baseball wilderness, or a casual fan looking to go to a game with a few buddies.

Yes, compared to a night at a Raptors or Leafs game, the Blue Jays offer a good deal. Tickets are still available in the 500 level for under $20. But fans will see a 10 per cent increase in ticket prices on average. Regular games will see an increase between $3 and $6, while so-called "premium" games will spike by $4 to $10. And don't forget, before the team enjoyed any success last year, ticket prices increased between 10 and 40 per cent, depending on the seat location.

So far, the increased cost has deterred few from buying what's again become the hottest ticket in town. Season-ticket sales are up, as are flex packs and single-game sales.

Dynamic pricing

New for 2016 is so-called "dynamic pricing," a model being increasingly adopted by teams across North America.

The Blue Jays' website describes it like this: "Prices for Blue Jays game tickets may change as game day approaches, based on market factors including, but not limited to, team record, opponent, day of week, and supply and demand of tickets purchased by fans. Given that prices can change based on a variety of market conditions, fans are encouraged to plan ahead and buy early for the best price and seat locations."

The thinking is that fans are willing to pay more to see a game against, say, the Yankees in August than for a weekday Twins date in May.

"Teams can't rely on winning in order to generate revenue. They need to find unique and innovative ways to squeeze every single asset they have,"  Setlur said.

The new model benefits the team in two ways. It incentivizes fans to buy tickets up front, locking in revenue, and Setlur says the team also collects money otherwise destined for the secondary ticket market.

"If a ticket is underpriced, which often happens in a static pricing system, then it gives the purchaser of that ticket the opportunity to resell that ticket for a much higher price on the secondary market," Setlur said. "And that revenue generated from that sale doesn't go to the team."

The new system could take some getting used to.

"It can create confusion and make fans feel like they're paying more than they should," Setlur warned.

Hungry?

After paying more to get in the stadium this year, Jay fans may roll their eyes at what's perceived by many to be a limited and expensive food and beverage offering. But according to the 2015 MLB fan index, the price Jays fans pay for a hotdog, drink or beer is just slightly above the MLB average.

Concession prices for 2016 still haven't been made available.

Good news for cord cutters

Rogers also hopes to raise revenue with a new offering they're calling Sportsnet Now — a direct-to-consumers live streaming service.

Fans will no longer be required to subscribe to a pricey cable package to watch the Jays. Instead, for $24.99 a month, they can stream all of Sportsnet's content, including every Jays game, on the device of their choice. If fans have a cable package, the service is included.

"This service is ideal for sports fans who do not have a TV subscription, but still want to watch live sports," said Rogers Sportsnet president Scott Moore.

Besides being a potential money maker for Rogers, the new delivery system could be a hit among the Jays' younger fans. They're more likely to be without a cable TV package, and more willing to watch games on mobile devices, than older fans.

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