Toronto Blue Jays: A Large Market Team?

by Douglas Fox | Posted on Monday, December 14th, 2015
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During the Toronto Blue Jays wonderful run to the playoffs this fall, many fans flooded sports talk radio and social media with their thoughts about how the team would be able to go on a free agent shopping spree this off season.  The sharp rise in attendance, along with record television ratings and a huge boost in merchandise sales, the commenter’s said, would lead to record revenues and profits for the crown jewel of the Rogers corporate empire.

With all due respect, and even though season tickets sales for 2016 have reportedly been brisk, half a season of full houses does not put a franchise in the same league as the Red Sox, Yankees, Cubs, and Dodgers.

Before we begin, let’s have a look at the Blue Jays attendance over the past 30 years:

 

Year Attendance Attend/Game Rank
2015 2 794 891 34 505 4th of 15
2014 2 375 525 29 327 7th of 15
2013 2 536 562 31 316 6th of 15
2012 2 099 663 25 922 8th of 14
2011 1 818 103 22 446 10th of 14
2010 1 495 482 19 173 12th of 14
2009 1 876 129 23 162 10th of 14
2008 2 399 786 29 627 6th of 14
2007 2 360 644 29 144 7th of 14
2006 2 302 212 28 422 8th of 14
2005 2 014 995 24 876 11th of 14
2004 1 900 041 23 457 10th of 14
2003 1 799 458 22 216 10th of 14
2002 1 637 900 20 221 11th of 14
2001 1 915 438 23 359 10th of 14
2000 1 705 712 21 058 10th of 14
1999 2 163 464 26 709 8th of 14
1998 2 454 303 30 300 8th of 14
1997 2 589 297 31 967 5th of 14
1996 2 559 573 31 600 5th of 14
1995 2 826 483 39 257 3rd of 14
1994 2 907 933 39 287 1st of 14
1993 4 057 947 50 098 1st of 14
1992 4 028 318 49 732 1st of 14
1991 4 001 527 49 402 1st of 14
1990 3 885 284 47 966 1st of 14
1989 3 375 883 41 678 1st of 14
1988 2 595175 32 039 3rd of 14
1987 2 778 429 34 302 1st of 14
1986 2 455 477 30 315 2nd of 14

 

As late as 2010, the Blue Jays were a bottom feeder both off the field and at the gate – a far cry from the glory years of 1985-93, when the team was always near the top of the standings and attendance.  The team could afford to take on the salaries of a David Cone or a Rickey Henderson for half a season, because they were pulling in 4 million fans a year, drawn by the novelty of the newly-opened SkyDome and a competitive team.  Half a season of near capacity crowds this year put the team only 4th in the American League, and 8th in MLB.

It has long been said that Toronto fans are Blue Jays fans first, and baseball fans second.  The St Louis Cardinals, long a competitive team both statistically and financially, last had an average attendance of under 30 000 in 1995. The Blue Jays, by contrast, have topped that mark only 5 times in the past twenty years.  The Dodgers last had an average attendance under 30 000 in 1976, while the Yankees have led the AL in attendance for the past 13 years.  The Cubs and Red Sox have both outdrawn the Blue Jays by a wide margin over the past two decades.  Toronto fans appear to only show up in huge numbers when the team is competitive, which they have seldom been since 1993.

So, the Blue Jays are behind the 8-ball when it comes to competing with the other large market teams who have far outpaced them at the gate over the last twenty years.  No big deal say those who feel that Rogers has deep pockets that can afford high-priced free agents.  Guess again – the Red Sox are owned by a media conglomerate that dwarfs Rogers, while the Dodgers are owned by a well-heeled group of investors, and the Cubs and Yankees have ownership groups headed by families in the Forbes Top 500 wealthiest in the U.S. Most of the large market MLB teams, in fact, have at least partial ownership by a media conglomerate, several of which outpace Rogers in terms of revenue and market size.  Granted, television ratings for Blue Jays telecasts were through the roof during August, September, and October, and no other ownership group in MLB owns the team, the stadium the play in, and their radio and television rights.   No other team in MLB, however, takes in revenue in one currency, and pays out salaries and other operating costs in a higher one.  Despite record revenues,  like a marginal player who has a career season, it’s hard to see the Blue Jays in the same high-rent district as the other top market teams until the team can post these numbers on a consistent basis.

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MLB Revenues by Team 2013

At the same time, the Blue Jays brand has grown in value, and Rogers has certainly more than made back their investment in both the team and the former SkyDome. There’s no doubt that their pennant chase helped the bottom line, boosting revenues for 2015 by perhaps $20 million.  With revenue sharing about to end for the 15 largest market teams (the Blue Jays rank 13th) in 2016, an important source of income (one that helped sustain the team in the early years of this century) will cease to exist for Toronto.  Currently, all MLB teams put 31% of their local revenue into a pot that is shared by all teams.  Revenue sharing has been worth between $30 nd 40 million to the Jays since Rogers took over the team in 2001.

When all else fails, the Tweeters and Facebook posters and talk-show callers call the Blue Jays “Canada’s Team.”  As a lifelong Southern Ontarian who was educated in Toronto, and visit there multiple times a year, I feel that label’s a bit presumptuous.  I have family members in the Vancouver area who, thanks to the Blue Jays wildly successful Short Season affiliate there, are devoted fans, rushing home from school or work to catch the Jays telecast at 4:00 Pacific Time.  However, not every Canadian is a Jays fan, and it’s a huge leap to think otherwise.  I know of many native Maritimers who think of the Red Sox as “their” team, and baseball fans in Quebec, who seem to be biding their time until the Expos return (yeah, don’t hold your breath on that one, mes amis), did not necessarily flock to the Blue Jays bandwagon.  So, maybe it’s better to think of them as Southern Ontario’s team, with pockets of support across the country.  There is room to grow the brand, which is why the Jays were considering re-locating their AA affiliate to Ottawa, until City Council balked at footing the cost of stadium upgrades.  Suggesting that they’re Canada’s team sounds highly Toronto-centric.

Forbes ranked each MLB team according to a number of financial indicators in March.  The Blue Jays no doubt experienced a jump in value based on this season, but they’re still not in the same ballpark as the top teams.

 

Rank Team Current Value ($mil) 1-Yr Value Change (%) Debt/

Value

Revenue ($mil) Operating Income ($mil)
(%)
1 New York Yankees 3,200 28 0 508 8.1
2 Los Angeles Dodgers 2,400 20 17 403 -12.2
3 Boston Red Sox 2,100 40 0 370 49.2
4 San Francisco Giants 2,000 100 4 387 68.4
5 Chicago Cubs 1,800 50 24 302 73.3
6 St Louis Cardinals 1,400 71 21 294 73.6
7 New York Mets 1,350 69 26 263 25
8 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 1,300 68 0 304 16.7
9 Washington Nationals 1,280 83 27 287 41.4
10 Philadelphia Phillies 1,250 28 8 265 -39
11 Texas Rangers 1,220 48 13 266 3.5
12 Atlanta Braves 1,150 58 0 267 33.2
13 Detroit Tigers 1,125 65 15 254 -20.7
14 Seattle Mariners 1,100 55 0 250 26.4
15 Baltimore Orioles 1,000 61 15 245 31.4
16 Chicago White Sox 975 40 5 227 31.9
17 Pittsburgh Pirates 900 57 10 229 43.6
18 Minnesota Twins 895 48 25 223 21.3
19 San Diego Padres 890 45 22 224 35
20 Cincinnati Reds 885 48 6 227 2.2
21 Milwaukee Brewers 875 55 6 226 11.3
22 Toronto Blue Jays 870 43 0 227 -17.9
23 Colorado Rockies 855 49 7 214 12.6
24 Arizona Diamondbacks 840 44 17 211 -2.2
25 Cleveland Indians 825 45 9 207 8.9
26 Houston Astros 800 51 34 175 21.6
27 Oakland Athletics 725 46 8 202 20.8
28 Kansas City Royals 700 43 8 231 26.6
29 Miami Marlins 650 30 34 188 15.4
30 Tampa Bay Rays 625 29 22 188 7.9

 

So, until Blue Jays fans turn out in numbers sufficient and consistent with the other big players, it’s hard to think of them as a big market team.  There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that if the team fails to repeat its success of 2015 next season, attendance and support will fall off.  Which is why Rogers likely decided to hire Mark Shapiro as their new head of baseball operations.  Shapiro has plenty of experience in building a small market team through the draft. The contract the Red Sox landed David Price with was obviously not sustainable for their business model.   The Blue Jays may have awoken a slumbering fan base with their successful second half, but the bigger challenge may be sustaining that interest.  Attendance is not the be all and end all – it does account, on average, for about 35% of revenue across MLB.  More importantly, it does signal to a franchise the amount of fan interest in the team.

 

This graphic from Forbes does seem to muddy the waters a bit:

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At first glance, this would seem to give merit to the argument that Rogers is sitting on a huge chunk of revenue garnered from record television ratings this season (or three months’ worth).  It’s worth noting, however, that the measurements used in Canada and the US are not the same – the above total for the Blue Jays reflects total viewers, while the American figures show total households.  One would think that the Jays would be entitled to a larger slice of the revenue pie when it comes to rights fees, but it’s not that simple.  Rogers is paying over $5 billion for NHL rights, but that’s largely due to competition from Bell and the CBC.  Since they own the product they’re broadcasting when it comes to baseball, there is not the same impetus to charge high advertising rates, and thus, no incentive to share a larger amount of what tv revenue there is with their baseball property.  For Rogers, the Jays are more of a marketing vehicle when it comes to television than they are a significant source of income.

For those argue that Rogers are cheapskates when it comes to payroll, this graphic tells another story:

Media preview

 

The Jays, of course, added significantly to their payroll at the trade deadline, and had, at least, a $20 million boost in revenues over the 2014 season.  It’s worth pointing out that the former was in US$, while the latter was in CD$.  And with the Loonie at an 11 year low, and forecast to sink as low as 72 cents against the American dollar before it begins to rebound, the challenge for the team will be to continue to remain competitive in the face of effectively sinking revenue.

Many Blue Jays fans will scoff at all of this, and claim that Rogers is a $9 billion company that can afford to spend with the big boys when it comes to MLB players, and they point out the team’s failure to even submit an offer to Price.  What no one knows, of course, is whether or not Rogers made that choice because they felt they lacked the financial wherewithal to do so, or if they felt meeting Price’s salary demands was a smart business decision.  The Jays are not the Red Sox or Yankees, the latter of which can afford to pay a broken-down 36-year-old C.C. Sabathia $25 million next year after a steep decline in 2014 and 2015.

Since the Jays are but one part of a larger corporate empire, it’s easy to argue that the team is awash in hidden cash, and even if they’re not, they are part of a larger conglomerate that can easily afford to throw cash at top players in order to field a competitive club.  In the real world, it’s not that easy.  Jays fans likely have to prove to the Rogers corporate masters that they are in this for the long haul, and that they will continue to support the club in the type of numbers that will allow them to be among the league leaders in attendance before they begin to toss mega contracts around.  The declining Canadian dollar and a still unproven fan base are reason enough for the team to take things cautiously at least for the short term, looking for market inefficiencies and players with hidden value, and scouting and drafting wisely before they take on more risk.  In that way, they are neither like a large market or a small market team, inhabiting a world where managing risk and building from within take precedence.

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Douglas Fox
About the Author

Doug Fox has played, watched, studied, and generally obsessed about baseball for decades, and once played in the Toronto Star Pee-Wee Baseball tournament. He writes about Blue Jays prospects and minor league baseball at clutchlings.blogspot.ca Follow him on Twitter @Clutchlings77.

  • Robert Lee

    Toronto is the 4th largest market in North America. Rogers had an opportunity to capitalize on the momentum created by Price et al., “going forward” as the business analysts say. But they have made a blatant decision not to; no amount of statistics citing the bad years, or “looking backward” can change that, Mr Fox. This is an apologia for Rogers that doesn’t wash.

    • carmen roberto

      If Boston or New York had the same ownership as the jays they wouldn’t be getting consistent fan support. Give us those owners and even though they might not win every year the fans would come out knowing ownership is vested in the team.

  • Brent Koroll

    This author knows jack crap about the Jays. Of course Toronto is a large market. We have had horrible ownership since 1995 when Interbrew took over Labatt’s in a hostile take over. They immediately told Blue Jay management to cut payroll, probably because the Belgian Brewing giant thought that soccer was the only sport to invest in. The Blue Jays bought the Jays in 1999, but not the Skydome or concessions. They further cut payroll and deliberately put out a bad product in a siege approach and got the Skydome and concessions very cheap. Last year was the first time in two decades that the Jays spent money and it was the first time that they had consecutive sellouts since 1995. Rogers, the skinflints should unlock their wallets and spend some money.

  • Robert Lee

    Following up, the exchange rate is a bogus argument. Rogers hedges against fluctuations and also earns US-dollar income. Worse, Price will be pitching against the Jays in home game no. 2 – it’s going to be a major letdown for the city thanks to this small-market and small-minded approach.

  • Robert Lee

    Further: Rogers got the Dome for $25 million, a fire sale price after taxpayers spent $600 million-plus to build it. They have an obligation to the province on moral grounds alone.

  • big spender

    a “market” deal for tv rights and stadium naming rights are easily worth $100mm CAD per annum. so they are undercounting revenue by roughly $50mm CAD

  • Catherine

    Not only is Toronto a large market, it’s a large market just dying to have a team worth supporting. For too many years the fans have had mediocre teams put on the field with little to hope for. After the strike, the team never was the same. Bad ownership after Labatt’s, with the two new owners (Interbrew and Rogers) seemingly not wanting to put much money into the team and put a winning product on the field.

    This year we finally got a great team and the fans came. It’s an easy thing to figure out – you give us the team to cheer for, Rogers, and the fans will be there. In droves.

    But when you set the team up to have a bad couple of months early in the season by not bringing in an ace starter and doing something to bolster the bullpen, you’re asking for trouble. Sure, the fans will be there for the first series or two and, depending on how the team does, maybe there will be a few sellouts early this year. But not having an ace and taking the Walmart spending approach they seem to be taking is just asking for trouble insofar as the fans are concerned.

    Had they made the effort and signed Price, that would have been at least 20 or more sellouts they could have pretty much counted on as the days he was starting would have been almost guaranteed sellouts. And the positive effect he would have had on the balance of the rotation, not to mention the entire team, would have been enormous. I imagine the effect of not making an effort to even put an offer on the table to him has had an equally enormous ill effect on the players as it really does speak volumes about how much support they’re going to get from ownership.

  • Robert Lee

    Where are you, Mr Fox? No rebuttal? With all your charts and tables, i’ll suggest you’re a Rogers insider, part of a disinformation campaign designed to counteract the negative publicity.

    • Douglas Fox

      I find the notion that I’m a Rogers plant to be quite amusing. I’m anything but, thanks. I stick to my premise that Toronto fans tend to be Blue Jays fans first, and baseball fans second, and Rogers has obviously seen this light. The empty seats we’ve seen for the past 20 years are something you don’t see in the true baseball markets, even when their teams are not competitive. Many of you appear to have more knowledge of the Jays financial dealings than I do, but this was an article that took a month to research, and was vetted by a senior AL East executive who has knowledge of the Jays’ situation.

  • wiskers

    There’s so much mis-information in your article that the question certainly begs as to whether you are being influenced by ownership/management or even directly compensated?

    Let me start with you stating the Jays not being Canada’s team. The false argument you make is that just because everyone in Canada doesn’t have the Jays as their favourites, they can’t be. Silly if you don’t mind my saying so. I think you should be able to infer that any team that can have 6 million people watch their game out of 14 million tv households or 43 % of all Canadian households has earned the moniker of being Canada’s team.

    TV Rights : The $36 million TV rights fee is grossly understated IMHO. These numbers are erroneous through no fault of Forbes because the Jays TV rights can’t possibly be obtained honestly from any source as Rogers certainly wouldn’t cop to the right number. Reason being that for just about every other team the numbers are obtained by what they pay for the right and hence you get clean numbers. Rogers is media and the rights are income to them but you need to look at the value of these rights to the Jays if it was a fair market transaction and the Jays were being paid. I submit that these rights are worth closer to the top tiers or $75 – $100 million if not more. Just because Rogers doesn’t show a clean number on the Jays books doesn’t mean that the Jays(Rogers) doesn’t have that income. It’s actually quite higher as they also own TV stations which charge advertising which saw a huge spike in income but we’ll never know how much as Rogers isn’t saying.

    F/X rates. The Jays just announced a 15 % or so increase in ticket prices which is going to generate more than 15% increase as they also eliminated lots of promotional packages of cheaper avg. tickets so who knows how much extra this will generate just on a constant attendance basis. So this takes care of Shapiro’s exchange rate argument. It’s actually moe as they purchase forward U.S. dollar contracts to limit this exposure.

  • wiskers

    More related info on mis-information in this article.
    Rogers bought the Jays at $125 – $130 million. They are currently worth north of a billion $. Bloomberg had them worth $950 million in 2013. In other words they have made $50 – $75 million a year in value appreciation on the team. This number does not appear anywhere but it’s real. However that’s capitalism so I don’t begrudge them this money but let’s not cry wolf if you’re Rogers.

    They own the stadium so they don’t pay rent as most other teams do. It’s still real dollars that they save compared to other teams in payroll affordability.

    Price of a beer is amongst the highest in the league. So they buy beer at maybe a buck a bottle and sell at $10. Again this places them amongst the top teams. BTW LA Dodgers are at the bottom of the league in terms of beer cost yet they can afford elite FA year in year out.

    Population base is amongst top 5 in the league. This doesn’t even account for Canadian fans outside T.O. Again a “Very Large Market Team”.

    Just because you say the team is not awash in hidden cash doesn’t make it so. Given the complex structure of ownership we will never know how much revenue Rogers generates from the Jays but it is maybe fair to say, more than meets the eye.

    Mr Fox: If I had the time and resources available to me that you do, I think my article would show a fair opposite counter point to yours. Of course all this is just my opinion and folks can certainly make up their own minds.

  • Kevin Peterson

    We need a good ownership that is not afraid of spending money to bring a title here but I don’t believe that Rogers can do it. Rogers has a lot of money but they are also greedy bitches!

  • Kevin Peterson

    Rogers smart mtfers, they scam all their customers and made so much money also they got a crazy deal on sky dome too, I don’t think they gonna spent too much in this team to win the title, that have so much money and greedy fuks

  • ice_hawk10

    as has been mentioned, Rogers does not pay market value for the Jays TV rights or even close to this. the Jays have a larger TV market than any team in the MLB, with 30-40mill potential viewers across Canada (9mill of whom watched game 5 versus the Royals alone – pure insanity). larger by far even than the Dodgers, who split California’s 30+mill population with 4 other teams

    to counterpoint, there are significant expenditures needed for the Jays organization in the near future which have to be accounted for in the budget, including a $250-400mill, 5 year proposed spring training revamp and $200-400mill in upgrades and retrofits to the aging Rogers Centre.

    really at the end of the day, i hate talking about Rogers commitment to the team. they will budget what they will budget, and ultimately there’s nothing any of us can do about it. corporate ownership has it’s pluses (stability, consistency, less meddling) and minuses (emotional investment, personal relationships with the front office, sympathetic to fans). the thing that irks me far more is how Rogers hate has spilled over to include Shapiro and Atkins, who essentially are in the same situation and saying the same things as every front office ever.







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