The goal is to have a sustainable championship team: Toronto Blue Jays CEO
It's not just baseball fans that are excited to see the Toronto Blue Jays return to Rogers Centre — local businesses are happy too.
After a 10-game road trip to start the season, Toronto hosts the Detroit Tigers in their home opener on Tuesday. Significant off-season renovations to Rogers Centre forced the Blue Jays to start the year south of the border but team president Mark Shapiro believes the changes will improve the fan experience at the ballpark and be a boon to the local economy.
“Toronto is an incredibly dynamic city and strong entertainment market," said Shapiro in a statement to The Canadian Press. "The recent Rogers Centre renovations created differentiated experiences that appeal to a broader audience, driving greater economic impact in Toronto through job creation and increased activity in the downtown core.
"More than 1,000 Canadian workers were involved in the ballpark renovations over the last six months, and we anticipate increased economic activity to businesses surrounding Rogers Centre from a wider and more diverse group of fans."
The home opener will be fans' first opportunity to take in the new 500-level seats and so-called fan districts overlooking the outfield. The radically different look to Rogers Centre will be showcased in a lengthy pre-game ceremony set to begin at 6 p.m. ET, an hour before the game's start time.
Hall of Fame inductee Fred McGriff will throw out the ceremonial first pitch and individual awards will be presented to Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk (Silver Slugger), closer Jordan Romano (Tip O’Neill), and first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Gold Glove) as part of the festivities.
Fans attending Tuesday's game will receive a Blue Jays light-up wristband giveaway on entry, which is programmed for the opening ceremonies, and a fridge-magnet schedule.
"Ultimately, the modernized fan experience at Rogers Centre increases the ballpark’s appeal and Toronto’s reputation as a world-class entertainment city," said Shapiro.
The city's hospitality industry certainly hopes so.
Andrew Weir, executive vice-president of Destination Toronto, said that the city's tourism business has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels but the Blue Jays and their newly renovated ballpark could help with that, especially as Rogers Centre regularly draws fans from nearby Major League Baseball markets like New York, Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.
"As a Blue Jays fan, I may not like seeing all those New York Yankees jerseys around when the Yankees are in town," said Weir. "But as a representative of the hospitality industry, I'm very happy to see those Yankees jerseys."
Weir said that the Blue Jays have two things going for them from a tourism perspective.
First, unlike some of the other professional sports teams based in Toronto, the Blue Jays are seen by many fans as "Canada's team," meaning they draw visitors from across the country. Second, because baseball is played over multi-day series, it makes it easier for fans from other markets to have a longer stay in Toronto.
Weir explains that a fan from elsewhere in Canada or a nearby American city may stay in Toronto for several Blue Jays games and go to other tourist attractions when they're not at Rogers Centre like the CN Tower, Hockey Hall of Fame, or Ripley's Believe It Or Not Aquarium.
"It's that confluence of experiences in the same place at the same time and baseball lines up very well with that because of the frequency of the games," he said. "You can see an afternoon baseball game and still get to the theatre in the evening or a concert or something like that.
"Because of the nature of the national fan base and the proximity of those major U.S. cities, there's a strong visitor pull to see the Jays here, which it helps create the vibrancy of the stadium area that we all enjoy."
The Blue Jays (6-4) sit third in the American League East behind the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. Toronto (+1400) had the seventh best odds to win the World Series before MLB's regular season began.
That potential on the field could translate to more seasonal work in Toronto too.
Instawork, which provides flexible staffing solutions, commissioned a study in 24 MLB cities — including Toronto — and found a much steeper increase in local labour demand for flexible work in the closing months of the season in playoff markets.
Dr. Daniel Altman, the chief economist for Instawork, said that when a baseball team is doing well, fan attendance at its stadium increases over the summer, forcing businesses surrounding the ballpark to fill more shifts to meet the corresponding increase in sales.
"We certainly saw this reflected in Toronto (last season)," said Altman. "If we look at the aggregated shifts booked in September, in that one-mile radius around Rogers Centre, it was more than double what it was in April.
"If you compare that to markets that did not make the playoffs, they were only a tiny bit higher than in April."