Selling The CFL #2: Fly Like The Blue Jays

On April 7, 1977, I attended my first Toronto Blue Jays game. It was also the very first Blue Jay game ever when Doug Ault hit his two home runs in the snow. I still have my historic ticket stub.

It was the start of a long and successful sports relationship between the Blue Jays and their new fans. Though attendance would fluctuate with the team’s performance on the field, it would never come close to the life-support situation the Toronto Argonauts are currently in.

Selling The CFL #2: Fly Like The Blue Jays

Though MLB has a lot higher status than the CFL, there was little of the arrogance that would be shown with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills games.

Back then, the Blue Jays were the rookies, the new kids on the block who had to prove themselves to the southern Ontario public.  Therefore they understood and followed one key marketing concept: their game had to be sold to the public.

When I attended games during the period that the Blue Jays played at the CNE, one thing that was noticeable when walking in the parking lots was how many buses were in them.  And they came from all over: From as far east as Kingston and Peterborough; buses from the west in Kitchener and London; buses from across the border in Buffalo and Rochester. Clearly the Blue Jays were leaving nothing to chance.  They were marketing in the biggest area possible and taking their product directly to the public.

And they took care during the games too.  One marketing ploy was to sell group packages and everything was carefully orchestrated.  During the game between pitches every group, no matter how humble that had tickets to that game would have a moment where its name along with a message of welcome was flashed on the scoreboard. It made even the most humble person feel important.  It made that group want to come back to another game either during the current season or next year.

How much does the CFL follow such practices? It would not be surprising to find that they are most practiced in Regina which has to market to the whole province of Saskatchewan as well as locally in order for the Roughriders to survive.  The Roughriders are the CFL’s most popular team.

The Blue Jays did not sit back and wait for fans to come to them.  They went out and got them.

There were other good marketing techniques. They made a point of rounding up sponsors so that they could have special days. The first 20,000 fans would get a Blue Jays cap, a seat cushion, etc.  That brought in more people to the games.

They paid close attention to children, both for their present and future market.  They started a Junior Jay Club.  Today, members of that club are invited on to the field after every game so that they can run the bases.

The Blue Jays pay attention to the ethnic composition of Toronto.  How much do the Argonauts do this?

There would be special ceremonies before each game where someone would throw out the first pitch.  Nothing was being left to chance, no matter how small, no matter how seemingly humble and unimportant.

How much of this is practiced by the CFL?  How hard do they market?  How much do they go out and sell themselves?

I remember back in the 1980s when one of my two favorite CFL teams, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won the Grey Cup.  I wanted to buy something, even a pennant that said they had won the Grey Cup. I couldn’t do it.  But when one of my favorite NFL teams, the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl, I had no problem getting one. Fortunately at least that has changed now, but it shows how the CFL with big league pretensions lags behind in big league marketing.  They seldom take the initiative.

There are probably other things that the Blue Jays do to sell themselves and create favorable publicity.  And there are fewer complaints about the Rogers Center for baseball than there are for football.

Of course the CFL has less status and more limited resources.  But they want to be considered big league and the bad image that they currently have in southern Ontario is mostly based on that.

The Blue Jays are not marketed as a minor league team.  Somehow the CFL – particularly in southern Ontario – has to find ways to market themselves as the big leagues.


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