Largest lever for revenue is winning: Blue Jays CEO on the business of baseball amid COVID-19
The Toronto Blue Jays are coming home sooner than expected, and Toronto’s street meat vendors will be ready to serve you a sausage on a bun before the first pitch is thrown.
“They’re ready to go,” said Boris Velkovitch, president and owner of the Soloway Hot Dog Factory, which supplies a dozen vendors around Rogers Centre. “They’ve paid for their licence. Inspection is up to date. It’s basically fill up their tanks and go.”
It’s been a challenging year for both Toronto-based Soloway and the independent vendors who line the perimeter of the ball park. Due to a lack of baseball games, tourists, and downtown workers, those vendors didn’t open at all after the pandemic hit, said Velkovitch.
“They opened up briefly when restrictions were lifted last spring, but nobody came. So they closed up shop. There was no point,” he said.
Velkovitch supplies vendors and food trucks all over Ontario with meat, buns, toppings, drinks, and ice, but this downtown cluster of business owners have been the most impacted by COVID, he said. His store has continued to operate throughout the pandemic, supplying those vendors that are operating, but anticipates he will have to ramp up his purchases after the ball club is called back.
On Friday Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the federal government signed off on a border exemption that would allow the Jays to return to home soil.
The Blue Jays have not played a game at Rogers Centre since September 2019.
Velkovitch said before the announcement that he was already in talks with his vendors about how to restart operations.
“If I need the buns the bakery will get them to me next day. The meat is frozen, I already have the meat, but when the games restart I’ll have to buy more.”
Velkovitch said he has a sunny outlook, and thinks locked-down consumers will scoop up tickets and fill the ballpark. His hope is that translates to hot dog sales.
“Fans will come back, I have no doubt.” he said.
The Canadian government allowed the team to host their summer training camp in Toronto last July ahead of the shortened 2020 season, but a request to play regular-season games at home was denied.
The Blue Jays started their season on the road for more than two weeks before moving to their temporary home in Buffalo, N.Y., the home of their triple-A affiliate.
This season, the team started out at their spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla. before returning to Buffalo’s Sahlen Field on June 1.