Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays
Jays at the Crossroads
The rekindled success for the Toronto Blue Jays seems to be in the rear view mirror. The return to the playoffs in 2015 and 2016 rejuvenated a dormant fan base and showed Major League Baseball that the Blue Jays are not just Toronto’s team or Ontario’s team, but they are Canada’s team. An upper management change during this period added a significant number of question marks for a team that was the highest of the high. The retirement of President Paul Beeston, a Toronto baseball legend who was an employee of the team on Day 1, led to his replacement with former Cleveland Indians executive Mark Shapiro. Out was General Manager, Canadian Alex Anthopoulos and in was Ross Atkins. The time has come for the Blue Jays management team to show some results.
With this has come the question marks about the Rogers Centre. Opened in 1989, the Rogers Centre was once viewed as the future of stadiums. Originally, multi-purpose, the one-time SkyDome brought a litany of innovations to professional sports. The retractable roof, massive video board, restaurants in the stadium, upgraded luxury boxes were all SkyDome innovations. However, the building of Oriole Park at Camden Yards changed the way ballparks were built and it seemed that the Rogers Centre became outdated quickly. One of Mark Shapiro’s plans is a significant renovation to the aging stadium. However, the President is slightly hamstrung with finances coming from a publicly traded company and no possibility of going to a new location.
In the meantime, Rogers Centre remains an underrated Major League Baseball experience. Even while waiting for the next generation of Blue Jay stars to make their way north through the Minor Leagues, a trip to see the Blue Jays is well worth it.
Food & Beverage 5
Rogers Centre continues to provide a top notch culinary experience for Blue Jay fans. Among the wide variety of concession stands, fans will find a wide variety of food options. All of the items you would expect to find are front and centre for fans. Hot dogs ($6), nachos with cheese, caramel corn, chocolate bars, popcorn ($7.50), ice cream, corn dogs, fish and chips, sausage, chicken fingers and pretzels are all easily available. Pizza Nova provides pizza slices ($6.75). There are also a number of items that are pretty unique. Some items that you may want to try are the unique poutine flavours including brisket poutine, sausage poutine or Buffalo cauliflower poutine. The T.O. Sandwich Co. offers some interesting sandwich options including peameal bacon sausage and the Italian club. The Muddy York Market in the first level concourse might be the best place to stop. Jerk chicken nachos, meatloaf burgers or the porchetta sandwich are all great options. The cantina box gives fans the opportunity to create their own nachos style selection.
Soft drinks in the Rogers Centre are Coca-Cola products and can be found in the bottle ($5.75) or fountain pour ($5.75/$8.75). The Tim Hortons stand provides Canada’s massively popular hot beverages. The variety of alcoholic beverages is also pretty huge. The Bacardi Stands provide a variety of rum based drinks and mixed cocktails. The beer selection at Rogers Centre is absolutely massive. Import and premium cans are available as well as tall boy cans ($10.75-$14). It may take a while to choose from the massive menu which includes Budweiser, Bud Light, Mill Street Organic, Corona, Rolling Rock, Sleeman’s Original, Mill Street 100th Meridian, Stella Artois, Michelob Ultra, Alexander Keith’s IPA, Goose Island IPA, Mill Street West Coast IPA, Labatt 50, Goose Island Honkers Ale, Boddingtons, Lowenbrau, Beck’s, Hockley Dark and Shock Top. It is fair to say that pricing for both food and beverage are on the high side.
From the exterior, the Rogers Centre looks like a building that was built with little consideration to exterior appearance. Predominantly exposed concrete, the behemoth at the base of the CN Tower does have a few highlights on the outside. Approaching the stadium from the north, fans will notice the large bronze sculptures in the upper corner of the exterior. “The Fans” and “The Audience” have been there since the beginning. On the south side of the stadium is the lone bronze statue for the Jays and it is the likeness of former Roger Communications Chair, Ted Rogers. It was under Ted that the Blue Jays were able to pull themselves out of the anonymity which they found themselves when they were under the ownership of Inter Brew. It would be in the best interest of the Blue Jays to capture some of their history with a bronze statue or two outside the Rogers Centre. A statue of Joe Carter jumping in the air commemorating his 1993 World Series winning home run, would be a great addition.
The immediate interior of the Rogers Centre continues with the theme of exposed concrete. Massive ramps to transport fans to upper and lower levels are what welcomes fans at some gates. Some critics will complain that the concourses at the Rogers Centre are not inviting and open to the field. The opposite is actually where the truth lies. The first floor concourse is open to the field, however the Blue Jays have done a terrific job of hiding that with multiple pop-up concession and merchandise stands. The lower level does offer a full 360 degree path around the stadium for fans. Rogers Centre also provides fans with multiple, alternative seating options. Two levels of luxury boxes are available for those with the means. The TD Clubhouse and Sightlines Restaurant behind the plate and behind centre field respectively offer full dining experiences for fans. Possibly the most popular spot is the WestJest Flight Deck in centre field, which is an open-air bar offering a full social experience.
The inside of Rogers Centre can be cavernous at times, however, the innovative, retractable roof is open on nice days giving fans a full view of the CN Tower. In centre field, above the Flight Deck and Sightlines is the centre of attention, the JumboTron. Another innovative addition at the time, the massive video board is large enough to build a house on with plenty of room for a swimming pool in the yard. The video board is surrounded by windows from the Marriott hotel. Above the video board are the Championship banners commemorating the 1985, 1989, 1991 and 2015 American League East Championships, the 2016 Wild Card and, of course, the 1992 and 1993 World Series. The Level of Excellence is where the Blue Jays honour their greats and the names are permanently etched on the facade of the upper deck. Carlos Delgado, Tom Cheek, Tony Fernandez, Joe Carter, George Bell, Cito Gaston, Dave Stieb, Pat Gillick, Paul Beeston, Roberto Alomar and Roy Halladay are honoured on the level. The Blue Jays have also commemorated Pat Gillick and Roberto Alomar as members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who entered as Blue Jays. Alomar’s number 12 is retired along with number 32 of Roy Halladay after the tragic plane crash that took his life too early.
The game day production at Rogers Centre is okay. At one time, the Blue Jays went overboard with sound effects between pitches. That has been toned down a bit. The Jays promotion team does their thing throughout the stands and the Jays mascot, Ace, interacts with fans. Typical baseball promotions and the like are peppered throughout the game, but the highlight of the Jays experience is the Seventh Inning Stretch. Before the seemingly mandated “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” the Jays play their own song and the eerily catchy “Okay Blue Jays” is belted out to the delight of the crowd.
As some fans and media clamour for a new baseball stadium, the fact remains that Rogers Centre is not going anywhere. The reason is simple. There is not a better location in the city for the Blue Jays to be. Downtown Toronto is a fantastic spot to make an afternoon, a weekend or an entire vacation. There are a huge number of locations where one can eat before or after the game. Fans looking for a true culinary experience, may want to ascend to the top of the CN Tower to the 360 Restaurant. For fans looking for a more traditional pre-game experience then The Loose Moose, Fionn MacCool’s, or Steam Whistle Brewery are good options. Front Street and Bremner Blvd have a plethora of dining options. New to the area is the Sportsnet Grill, which is located inside the Toronto Marriott and offers views of the field where fans can eat and drink and watch the game. Heading down to 99 Blue Jays Way, will bring fans to Wayne Gretzky’s, which is one of the best spots to hit. Great food and a ton of hockey memorabilia from the Great One are right there.
An entire vacation can be had in downtown Toronto. The CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada are right there by the Rogers Centre. The Rogers Centre does offer tours, however they are not nearly as good as they should be. The Theatre District may be second only to Broadway in New York City as far a stage entertainment is concerned. The Eaton Centre is a fantastic place to shop. Right across the road from the Rogers Centre is Toronto Railway Museum. You may also want to take the Steam Whistle Brewery Tour, which is also across the road. However, no trip to Toronto is complete without a trip to see the Hockey Hall of Fame. If you are looking for other sports, Toronto FC, Toronto Argonauts, Toronto Raptors, Toronto Rock and Toronto Maple Leafs all play within minutes of the Rogers Centre. The University of Toronto is just north of the Rogers Centre and the Varsity Blues field football, basketball and hockey teams among others. A truly unique experience may be to check out Ryerson University Rams hockey or basketball at the former Maple Leaf Gardens.
Of course there are a ton of places that you could stay in downtown Toronto. A unique experience would be to stay right in the stadium at the Toronto Marriott City Centre. Another unique experience would be to stay at one of the most significant historical hotels in all of Canada, the Royal York. A little more affordable would be the Delta and Strathcona, however you are going to pay to stay downtown no matter what you choose.
Traditionally, Blue Jay fans have been run of the mill, Southern Ontario sports fans. With the big trade in 2015, attendance at Jays games has skyrocketed. In 2014 Toronto averaged just over 29,000 fans per game. This put them in the bottom half of MLB. The 2015 season saw them jump to over 34,000 fans per game and 8th place league-wide. The 2016 season has the Jays drawing over 41,000 fans, pushing them to an impressive 4th place in MLB. The 2018 season has seen a drop off with Toronto averaging over 30,000 per game, putting them 13th in Major League Baseball. Until Toronto fans can show a little more consistency, they are just below a perfect score.
Ontario fans are traditionally pretty quiet. With the increased support, the Rogers Centre has definitely found increased noise. However, Toronto fans are not as ingrained in every pitch as some fan bases in MLB are.
The Rogers Centre can be challenging to get to as downtown Toronto traffic can be difficult. Rogers Centre is located right by the Lakeshore in downtown Toronto. Driving to the stadium will be difficult as motorists must take either the Gardiner Expressway or Lakeshore Blvd. Hitting the road earlier as opposed to later is always the best idea.
The bad traffic downtown is mitigated by the fantastic public transit options. Rogers Centre is just a couple of blocks from Union Station. The TTC subway, GO Transit and Via Rail are all major presence in Union Station. Along Spadina you will find the TTC street car. Any public transit info can be found at the TTC and GO Transit websites.
Decent parking can be found downtown, however depending on the day it can greatly fluctuate. Most days you can find parking within walking distance of the Rogers Centre for around $15. On one of those special days, the same parking space can go for $40.
The ticketing windows are outside Gate 9 along Bremner Blvd. There are a huge number of windows, but the sidewalks are not massive and can get crowded very quickly. Increased security combined with the significant increase in fan attendance have made entry a challenge at times. If there is a promotional giveaway, fans will line up for entry more than two hours before the first pitch. Having tickets in hand, as opposed to purchasing at the Rogers Centre or picking up at will call, may be a better bet and entering a gate like 14 will probably be easier.
The concourses in Rogers Centre are pretty wide and getting around is not too difficult. The stadium would have benefited from escalators. The majority of fans will travel up and down with long trips around traditional stadium ramps. The washroom facilities are plentiful and on most days more than adequate.
Return on Investment 3
Return on investment is becoming increasingly difficult to gauge with floating ticket prices. Typically, Toronto Blue Jays tickets will run from $15 up to over $300. One hundred level seats on the sides are quite expensive going for over $50 per ticket. The relative bargain is the 500 level where tickets can sometimes be found for $15 depending on the date. Parking can be pricey and concessions and merchandise are on the expensive side. According to the Fan Cost Index, the Blue Jays come in at just under $214, which puts them 18th in MLB, below the league average of over $230.
An extra mark for some celebrity love. On many nights, right behind home plate, Geddy Lee, lead singer of Rush, can be found.
An extra mark for the return of the ORIGINAL Okay Blue Jays. The early 2000s saw the Jays’ anthem “modernized” with a horrible backbeat. There is no doubt the original is better.
An extra mark for the innovation that the Rogers Centre brought to Major League Baseball. The huge video board, upgraded luxury boxes, retractable roof and in stadium restaurants were all pioneered in Toronto.
As the retooling of the Blue Jays continues, it will be interesting to see if the fans remain on board or will return to the dormant state to which they slept through the late 90s and 2000s. A trip to see the Blue Jays is a pilgrimage that many fans across Canada take in and there is no doubt that Toronto offers one of the best neighbourhood experiences in all of sport. As the Blue Jays stand at the crossroads with the Rogers Centre, which way will they turn?
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Latest Crowd Reviews
Once the future of baseball stadiums, SkyDome (yes, I am still calling it that) has somewhat been discarded among the baseball purists. It was the first with a convertible roof, brought baseball downtown, and introduced hotels and higher-end food. This all took place as the Jays reached the pinnacle of the baseball world with World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. Today, with a modest crowd, the atmosphere can seem somewhat less energetic but give the fans a &quotbat-flip&quot and you&#039ll hear the acoustics rise.
Rogers Centre is often forgotten as the stadium that pushed the envelope for the fan experience in Major League Baseball. However, the significant increase in fan support for the 2016 season has done a lot to shine a light on the shortcomings of the stadium. Although there are some clamoring for a replacement for Rogers Centre, an investment in the stadium infrastructure will do the trick.