The Blue Jays and Managing Fan Expectations
|Image courtesy of dscphoto|
At its core, baseball is a game. It’s a beloved past time; something people play and watch for fun. On the other hand, it’s also a business.
The MLB owners are focused on their bottom line, but occasionally I think they forget that fans are customers too. And when the customers are unhappy, it’s not good for business.
Since word of mouth travels extremely fast, bad publicity can spread like wildfire. Depending on who you talk to, there are some unhappy Blue Jays fans out there that believe this off-season as a complete failure.
While the level of success is debatable, there’s no question that managing fan expectations is something that the Blue Jays struggled with a great deal this off-season.
In my time following this team, I have never seen things get that far out of hand. I think the majority of that has to do with a “no comment” policy self-imposed by Alex Anthopoulos. While its purpose is to protect the players, this time it ended up doing more harm than good.
The “no comment” policy really came back to bite Alex as the rumour mongers were able to expose that weakness and let speculation run rampant. And there was no better example of rumours gone wild than the whole Yu Darvish situation.
When the fans were led to believe the Blue Jays were the favourites all along to land Yu Darvish, I can completely understand why they were so upset when it was revealed the Texas Rangers won the bid.
I tried to keep calm during the whole Yu Darvish bidding process, but I’ll fully admit I was victim to the hype machine as well. After all those weeks of hearing how the Blue Jays would make a hard push for Darvish, it was a little disappointing to hear they lost out on the Japanese phenom.
The problem arises when the hype machine gets the fan base so wound up and excited at the prospect of signing these big name free agents. And then when it doesn’t happen, it seems like a complete and utter failure for the Blue Jays.
While Alex’s cone of silence is meant to protect the players and the team, it also inherently contributes to the madness. Not that he needs to reveal the entire inner workings within the organization, but he shouldn’t be afraid to step in and extinguish any rumours that have reached a critical mass.
There are other instances where Alex Anthopoulos’ refusal to comment or acknowledge some things also got out of hand. When it was rumoured the Red Sox were interested in bringing John Farrell back to manage, that was another example where not commenting almost made things worse.
After a few whirlwind days, Alex finally acknowledged the whole situation by amending the team policy about operations employees making lateral moves. My suspicion is that happened because things got so out of hand, other front office members had to step in and do something to remedy the situation.
Viewing things purely from a fan standpoint, I can see why this off-season might feel like a failure for the Toronto Blue Jays. While teams around them got better by signing the best players on the market, Toronto added a few free agents like Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero.
As all the big names like Jonathan Papelbon, Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols and others signed huge contracts for other teams, it may have appeared as though the Blue Jays just sat idly as all the best free agents went elsewhere.
But you know what? Alex Anthopoulos never professed the Blue Jays were going to make a big splash in the free agent market this off-season. He said they were instead going to go the trade route, and that he did – making six trades in total since last October.
The club has adhered to its policy of avoiding contracts over five years, and that immediately eliminated the most highly sought free agents off the Blue Jays radar. So it should have come as no surprise when Toronto stuck to their guns and didn’t sign any of them.
Were it up to me, I’d sign Prince Fielder to a gigantic contract in a heartbeat. But it’s easy for me to say because it’s not my money. If Alex Anthopoulos were to do the same, he’d have to justify that spending to the brass at Rogers because it’s not his cash either.
I’m certain he wouldn’t have to explain it once either, he’d have to rationalize those dollars every subsequent year of that contact. I can’t imagine it would be very easy to sway the higher ups that it’s a wise idea to pay Prince Fielder $24 million dollars at age 36. Even for the Silent Assassin, that would be an incredibly tough sell.
If AA truly felt they were a mere one or two pieces away from becoming a contender, don’t you think they would’ve signed those players? If all it took was Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish to launch the Blue Jays into immediate contention, then I believe they would have made those moves already.
After all, having the Blue Jays back in the postseason is only good for business. The organization isn’t penny-pinching and merely looking to turn a profit with a mediocre product on the field. They want to make money, and bar none the best way to bring in the most cash is to create a winning atmosphere.
It seems like there’s a clear divide out there with fans when it comes to the Blue Jays parent company … that you’re either with them or you’re against them. Either you’re a Rogers apologist or you’re a cynical skeptic. I’m not so sure the issue is as simple as black or white.
Admittedly, I find myself immersed in a shade of grey. While one hand I trust what Alex Anthopoulos has planned, on the other I get frustrated about promises of $120 million dollar payrolls and Paul Beeston’s claims the team will be in the playoffs 2-3 times in the next five years.
I still don’t have a grasp on what the term “payroll parameters” even means, and it irritates me when ownership says the team will boost payroll, but only once attendance figures go up first.
When I say I trust in the AA vision, it’s not entirely blind faith; it’s more so that I trust that he’s going about things the right way. Even though some will gladly point out it’s been nearly 20 years since the Blue Jays have made the postseason, that’s not this current regime’s responsibility.
Alex has been on the job a few years, and by now and he must have a clear picture of where he wants to go with this team. Now that the minor league system has re-established itself as one of the best in baseball, it’s a great foundation for the future.
The funny thing is whether the Blue Jays are a fifth place team or first place team, I’ll be a fan no matter what. Clearly it’s much more exciting if Toronto is home to a first place team, but the diehard fans will be there regardless of where the Jays sit in the standings.
Where it will make a difference is with the casual to moderate Blue Jays fan. And that’s not to say they’re any less of a fan than anybody else. Interestingly enough, it’s actually those fans that wield the most power and control the future of the fan base.
Unfortunately, that fan segment was also the one that was likely most affected by what happened with the Jays this off-season. If all they hear from the media is about how the Blue Jays didn’t sign so-and-so, then that makes it look like the organization just cares about the bottom line and not the fans.
There was something that one gentleman said at the State of the Franchise last week that really struck a chord with me. He said “I’ll be a Blue Jays fan until the day I die” … and maybe it was the fact he reminded me our time here on earth is limited, but I truly admired his commitment and faith to the team.
That gentleman believes in the Toronto Blue Jays no matter what, and he always will … whether they are a 100 loss team like they were in the late 70’s, or a perennial contender like the Blue Jays were in the late 80’s and early 90’s. There are fans like that man who will support the Blue Jays through and through, whether they make the playoffs or not.
No matter if you’re a season ticket holder, you head to the ballpark for the odd game, or whether you watch the team from afar on television, we’re all fans here. We all want the same thing, and that’s to see the Blue Jays win.
Basically what I’m saying is we should just let Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston do their jobs. There’s no sense in second-guessing their every move; looking at every acquisition in a vacuum isn’t the way to measure this regime’s success.
Regardless of your level of interest in the club, all I ask is that you try to see the forest through the trees. Trust the guys that are paid to do what they do, because they do in fact have the fan’s best interest at heart.
If we continue to hold up our bargain of supporting the Blue Jays year after year, then the powers that be will hopefully hold up their end of the bargain and bring a championship back to Toronto.
Just like the gentleman at the State of the Franchise who professed his devotion to this team, I’ll be a Blue Jays fan until I die. Before I kick the bucket though, it sure would be great to see another World Series banner hanging at the Rogers Centre.
Update: Here’s a screencap of a conversation @1BJW and I had a few weeks back about managing fan expectations. Basically this entire post summarized in about 1500 words less. His parts in green, mine in grey.