I got so caught up trying to sound intelligent with my questioning of Alex Anthopoulos in my last post, that I forgot to talk about the most important piece of news that came out of the hotstove luncheon.
The Jays and Canadians have agreed to extend their relationship a further two years until 2016. I suppose this isn’t groundbreaking when you take into account two factors. With Vancouver being the only affiliated pro baseball team in Canada, it is an obvious match. And, two years into the partnership, the results have been an unqualified success. Consecutive Northwest League championships and a minor league organization of the year award are only the tip of the iceberg.
So, why only two more years? I’m sure if you asked Anthopoulos, Paul Beeston, and Andy Dunn in a vacuum, they would tell you the relationship is open ended, however, as per the excellent Minor Leaguer over at Bluebird Banter (the link provides a ton of useful PDC information), affiliate relationships work on two or four year schedules.
AA has spelled out very clearly why Toronto are so happy with the current arrangement. Prospects are exposed to Canada early in their careers. Helping them overcome any pre-conceived notions about living in a foreign country. Exposure to the currency, people, border crossings, etc can only be beneficial long term. For those making multiple stops over a minor league season, making cross country treks to and from Lansing, Virginia, and Dunedin may be off putting, but the Jays are trying to develop major leaguers. Comfort zone need not be a phrase concerning these kids living arrangements.
Vancouver provides the west coast connection as the Jays look to build on their ‘Canada’s Team’ strategy.
For the C’s management, they get to tap into a prevalent west coast Blue Jay fanbase. I think it is tough to quantify what that has meant in terms of hard numbers. The C’s management team may have some proprietary information that would give us a better sense of what the Jays link up has meant, but if you look at ‘bums in seats’ alone, Vancouver has established attendance records (for the short season version) in both years of the relationship. You could argue that baseball has been trending in British Columbia for a few years now, and the C’s attendance has been increasing since 2009, but I don’t think you can overlook the fact that, in what is a pretty soft economy, the C’s, as per this link, were only one of eight minor league teams that set attendance records in 2012. And of the 171 teams that played in the same market in ’12 less than 40% showed increases in paying customers.
In the Northwest League only two other teams increased ticket sales in 2012, but the numbers were so small, Eugene’s average attendance grew by 23 fans while Tri-City went up by 4, that it is not statistically relevant. Four of the eight teams in the league saw some pretty significant declines.
Again, I don’t want to attribute all the success of the Canadians box office to the Jays tie in, but I don’t think you can argue they are not at least slightly correlated. I think, with the off-season that Toronto has had, and the excitement it has generated, the C’s brass will be targeting a minimum of 90% capacity in 2013, up from 86% last year (in fact, let’s add that to my 2013 predictions article, the C’s draw at least 176,00 fans next year)
The second major plus for the Canadians is easily quantifiable. Championships won with the Jays as parent club, Two, with
Oakland, Zero. Removing the extra revenue playoff games provide, winning puts bums in seats, sells beers, hot dogs, etc. The prospects the Jays have stockpiled mean Vancouver fans have been treated to some pretty nice players over the last two years. True, some of them are now in other systems, but not before they wore the red and black. And, even with the off-season trades dropping the Jays farm system in expert rankings, there are still some very nice pieces that should see time at the Nat in 2013. With the 10th pick in this year’s draft, and knowing how aggressive Anthopoulos will be in the international market, the pipeline of talent coming through Vancouver will not dry up anytime soon.
Most importantly, on a personal level, I don’t believe I would have taken on this project if it wasn’t for the Blue Jays link. Sure, I would have attended a few games with friends, drunk a few beers, and enjoyed the setting the Nat provides. But knowing that we are watching future Blue Jays means I am at the Nat with a purpose. The experience goes beyond simply enjoying a ballgame. I’m sure I am not in the minority here, and for that reason, the extension is the best news those C’s fans could have received. Long may it continue.