With the organization’s focus on an on-field rebuild and spring-training facility upgrades, Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro expects attendance at Rogers Centre to decrease in 2019.
Coming off of a 73-89 record in 2018, the Blue Jays are in something of a transition on the field. While the organization has a few intriguing prospects in its farm system–including the often-hyped Vladimir Guerrero Jr.–none of those players are expected to change the fortunes of a club that finished in fourth place last year, especially in the hyper-competitive American League East.
When recently discussing the organization’s long-term outlook, Shapiro touched on the club’s 2019 expectations and its implications for attendance. The team president expects that attendance at Rogers Centre will decline in 2019, but not to a severe level, as the club’s numbers have been high enough in recent years that it should avoid a dip into the league’s bottom-third in attendance. More from the National Post:
Toronto home attendance dropped for the third straight year last season as the club’s stumbled to a 73-89 record. The Jays drew 2,325,281 fans to the Rogers Centre in 2018, down from 3,203,886 in 2017, about a 25% drop. They led the AL in attendance in 2016 and 2017.
But the 2019 season is going to be painful, as the organization will be fielding a young lineup and are going to play the hell out of their prospects against an American League East division that’s probably going to be even better than it was last year. There’s little to be optimistic about short-term, at least on the field. On the other hand, Shapiro doesn’t expect fans to completely bail on this team. Nor does he expect attendance to hit rock bottom and fall to the bottom third of the MLB.
“I still think you’ll find us somewhere in the middle (in attendance),” said Shapiro. “And for us to say that in our down years is nothing for us to be embarrassed of. Obviously if we draw 2.3 million fans (in 2019), or 2.2 million fans, that’s a number that’s going to put us in a very good place in Major League baseball.”
Shapiro said in any market, attendance mirrors the competitiveness of the team. But even if the Jays are sitting last in the AL East this upcoming season, he believes they’ll be in a better position attendance-wise than most. He said the addition of heralded prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. sometime in the 2019 season will give the attendance a bit of a bump. Guerrero is the most highly touted prospect in club history.
The Blue Jays are certainly making significant changes at this stage, and that extends beyond building a more competitive on-field club. The organization is also moving forward with major facility upgrades in Dunedin, FL–their spring training home. An $81 million project targeted for a 2020 completion will result in significant upgrades to Dunedin Stadium, including an increase of total capacity to 8,500 (6,500 fixed seats) and the addition of a new 360-degree concourse. Dunedin Stadium upgrades will displace the Dunedin Blue Jays (High A; Florida State League) for 2019, though there is no word on where that club will shift its home games. The project will also have implications for the off-site Englebert Complex, with expanded and improved player facilities on the way.
Perhaps further down the road, the Blue Jays will push for ballpark upgrades in Toronto–where Rogers Centre has been rumored for renovations. No firm plans have been announced to this stage, though the retractable-roof venue is regarded as dated for fans and players alike. Any renovation would extend into areas that affect the fan experience, with player facilities likely factoring into the equation as well. (There has been a push to install natural grass at Rogers Centre for years, but the club is not committing to that improvement at this time.)
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