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Miserable crowds at Rogers Centre for Toronto Blue Jay games gives UFC unique chance to make their case

By Zach Arnold | April 20, 2010

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Proclamation: A UFC event will easily outdraw a Toronto Blue Jays game on their best day at the Sky Dome (Rogers Centre).

I said it. You read it. I stand by it.

We’ve seen plenty of politicians in Ontario, especially Toronto, fight amongst themselves about whether or not UFC and Mixed Martial Arts should be legalized in the province. The main reasons brought up by proponents of MMA legislation in the area revolve mostly around money and fan support. Toronto and many major Canadian markets are strong for UFC in PPV business.

I’m willing to take the argument one step further and it’s an argument that will anger baseball fans everywhere, but it’s the truth.

This kind of talk might be blasphemous in some sports writing circles, but let’s look at the numbers. The Blue Jays have had four home games with crowds under 11,000 so far in this early baseball season. (Look at this picture.) Like a lot of MLB teams, there’s a lot of empty seats at baseball games so far this season. However, Toronto has always been a major market with passionate sports fans that have unfortunately been tormented by their sports teams. The Raptors have been one giant tease in basketball. The Maple Leafs are, well, the Maple Leafs. And the Blue Jays are stuck in MLB’s toughest division. They’ve lost a lot of games in past seasons and nobody is showing up to watch them.

If Rogers Sportsnet wasn’t in charge of the Blue Jays, that team would be destined for relocation or contraction given the current business climate.

There has been a lot of chattering about how “bad” it would be for UFC to go to a big stadium like Cowboys Stadium in Dallas and have a lot of empty seats. (The Manny Pacquiao-Josh Clottey fight drew 50,000 there in March.) The knock against UFC is that they can’t sell out a major stadium and that they simply are an arena attraction. I say it’s time for UFC fans and supporters to challenge the critics on that claim.

The UFC can outdraw the Blue Jays and other franchises at the Sky Dome and deep down, a lot of people know it. Forget the Air Canada Centre — I think UFC could do very, very well at the Dome. Imagine a mostly-filled Sky Dome event with UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and UFC Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar as the headliners. It would draw and the politicians know it. The over/under line — start with 30,000 paid. That’s right. They could do realistically draw that many people at Rogers Centre. As an added bonus, the building would get to see a Canadian hero who is a winner as opposed to occasionally watching an NFL franchise that is a yearly cellar-dweller in their division. Poor Buffalo…

Which is why UFC’s lobbying firm should be rubbing their hands gleefully at publicizing pictures of all those empty seats at every Blue Jays game to highlight the exclamation point on UFC having more support in Ontario than the Jays currently do. Rogers Sportsnet has, as noted by UFC proponents in the province, been supportive of bringing in UFC to Toronto. The big roadblock has been Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who has been bugged by the media and by citizens in Ontario to allow UFC to come into the market. The more the Blue Jays tank business-wise at the Sky Dome, the more pressure there will be on the politicians by businesses (like Rogers) to allow UFC to come into the market. Rogers, like Comcast in America, would have a vested interest in backing UFC in a big way. They would make money on UFC PPVs and in the case of the Sky Dome, be able to bring in a sports promotion that would actually fill the seats up.

The worse things get business-wise for the major sports franchises in Toronto, the better politically it becomes for UFC to make the charge to come to Toronto. Everyone knows it, too. Now is not the time for UFC and their lobbyists to be in “sssshhhh” mode. The May 8th event in Montreal could serve as a nice media platform.

Topics: Canada, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 38 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

38 Responses to “Miserable crowds at Rogers Centre for Toronto Blue Jay games gives UFC unique chance to make their case”

  1. Nepal says:

    The Blue Jays play 81 games a year at Rogers Center. Of course UFC would out draw one Blue Jays game. I highly doubt it would anger baseball fans. They understand the product that the Jays bring isn’t high end and obviously the first UFC event in Toronto would be a gate smasher.

    Of course they’d do more than 30,000 paid. The market GTA (Greater Toronto Area) is 3 times the size of the Vancouver market, which sold 22,000 in 15 minutes. They would not need GSP “and” Lesner to do it either. Either one would create 50,000 paid tickets in a day.

  2. Mark says:

    UFC doing a GSP main event anywhere in Canada will be a sell out. Canadians love Canadians who get success in America and right now GSP is among their top exports.

    Now, if they came back for a second show without GSP that would be the real test.

    • Miller says:

      This is true. Watch the Juno Awards where they pretend like Avril Lavigne is the second coming on John Lennon because she had a few #1’s in the States.

  3. Ultimo Santa says:

    I work in Toronto, a 10-minute walk from the Rogers Centre (note: everyone still calls it the SkyDome even though Rogers bought and re-branded it several years ago).

    News flash: those people you see in the stands? NONE OF THEM paid for their tickets. You can get free Jays tickets virtually anywhere. They give them away any chance they get to make the Dome look more full.

    At my office I get asked every week if I want tickets. Sales people give them away by the handful.

    The paid seats at the Dome are mostly season tickets owned by companies, and they give those away to employees and clients. I would be surprised of 1,000 people actually went to the box office and purchased a seat for each game.

    Toronto Maple Leaf hockey tickets are the hot item – they’re like gold. Raptors are somewhat popular as well, but nowhere near the level of the Leafs.

    But for MMA, yes, the UFC would outsell the Jays several times over. Easily. No one, especially under the age of 60, gives a flaming crap about baseball in this town.

    • lol, free tickets? Really? Man, I need to book a trip to Toronto then. Email me some info – come June or so I’d love to see if they’re still that easy to get. The wife and I can make a weekend of it.

      • Miller says:

        Ha! I assumed they’d be cheap and used as corporate giveaways or only populated by visiting Americans, but damn. How do they make money?

      • Fluyid says:

        LOL, I was just scrolling down to make the same reply that Alan made.

        My wife and I are heading up that way in the middle of summer.

      • The Gaijin says:

        He’s not kidding. FREE – as in I remember times a few years ago (when they still had Halliday and Burnett and people were drinking Riccardi’s kool-aid – i.e. illusion of winning/competitiveness) when partners at the firm basically begged people to take their tickets because they didn’t want them to go unused and look bad not having someone using them.

        Poor scalpers, I don’t know how they survive when hockey’s not on.

        • Alan Conceicao says:

          This is fine and dandy, but I don’t see emails about contact info so that I can try and acquire tickets as a trade or something along those lines. This is much more important to me than MMA vaporshows.

        • The Gaijin says:

          Who do you want to see?

        • Dream scenario is getting tickets for the Boston game on July 10th – I’d also be plenty happy with the Saturday games against Tampa or Cleveland at the end of July/beginning of August.

          Oh, this is off topic, isn’t it? Uhhh, GSP rulz.

        • The Gaijin says:

          I’ll poke around and let you know. It won’t be tomorrow or anything, but I’ll keep it on the radar for you.

    • Bryan says:

      I can’t say that I’m surprised. As long as the Jays are stuck in the AL East with Boston and the Yankees they’ll never achieve anything. You can probably include Tampa Day with that group and it wouldn’t surprise me if Baltimore is better than Toronto with the next two seasons.

  4. The Gaijin says:

    What Ultimo said. While it may sound like Zach’s making a big prediction, no offence, but you wouldn’t raise ONE eyebrow if you put that on the front page in T.O. papers.

    No one gives a rat’s ass about the Jays outside of these particular times:

    1. Home Opener – it’s an huge joke between most people to make bets at what the drop-off between the home opener (sell-out) and the game the very next night.

    2. Yankees or Red Sox games.

    3. If they are in 1st place in July (that’s not happening any time soon).

  5. Oh Yeah says:

    The Jays have been selling a “Season’s Pass” for years which is less than $100 for the entire 81 game season. Good deal if you can stand to watch that much baseball, much harder since Halladay is gone now.

    All of our pro teams suck (banking on our soccer/lacrosse teams to make the playoffs so it’s not a shutout). And sadly enough, the Jays may have the best GM of the three major sports. If the Bills came to Toronto, they might as well ban professional sports here.

    • ttt says:

      i think filling up the skydome would be a tad optimistic, but 30,000 should be fairly easy to do. i’m just worried about the price gouging that would take place.

      toronto really needs a winning sports team. the fact that in 2009 the leafs, raptors, jays, rock, argos, tfc, bills (they played in the dome once), 6 fucking teams can’t make it into the playoffs is very sad.

  6. MK says:

    You can’t compare a one-off MMA event to a regular season Jays game and even with their current miserable state they still draw decent TV ratings every week (probably more then Raptors games).

    If the Jays could sell the illusion of being somewhat competitive with the Yankees/Red Sox then they would get bigger crowds and if they could actually qualify for the playoffs everyone would jump on the bandwagon like they did in the mid 1990’s.

    People in Toronto only really care about hockey, and they care about other sports teams only when they are competitive. The Raptors get decent crowds because of Toronto’s ethnic diversity but most of Canada doesn’t care about basketball.

    MMA would be a big success in Toronto but it has nothing to do with baseball or any other sport. Its not like you are going to see the Toronto Star or Globe and Mail writers ever make this same argument.

  7. JO says:

    Comparing one MMA event to a single Jays game is not right. You try filling the Skydome 81 times for MMA and you will have empty seats. The Jays have a rich tradition here in Toronto. They will not be moving anytime soon and it is not because Rogers owns them. We have a young team of unproven players this year. April attendance is ALWAYS low, especially with the likes of the KC Royals being here mid-week. Attendance will pick up over the course of the summer as it always does. Your beef is with the provincial government, not the Blue Jays. I personally would rather watch a ball game in an empty park than watch two nearly naked grown men rolling around with eachother. Keep your MMA in Quebec, its not as popular as you seem to believe.

  8. 45 Huddle says:

    Blue Jays draw good crowds for Yankee and Red Sox games in Toronto. Of course, many of those people are Americans crossing the border for better and cheaper seats compared to there home stadiums.

    • Ultimo Santa says:

      Possibly, but the few baseball fans in this city are actually more excited about the Yankees or Red Sox visiting than anything else.

      You’ll typically see a half-full Dome for one of those teams, and a lot of locals.

      You can tell they’re locals because they’re drinking Molson, wearing tuques, and say ‘Eh’ a lot.


  9. thedr. says:

    interestingly enough, the MLS soccer team Toronto FC had a larger average attendance in 2009 (20,308) then the Maple Leafs (19,261).

    • Bigger venue. The Maple Leafs average attendance means that they sell out every single game.

      • The Gaijin says:

        LOL. Glad someone’s on the ball.

        • Ultimo Santa says:

          People give away any sports ticket in the GTA (soccer included)…except hockey. Like I said, they’re gold.

        • The Gaijin says:

          Oh I’m totally with you…I was actually hat-tipping Alan for knowing that comparing the raw number meant nothing because the Leafs sell out every game, the ticket prices aren’t even in the same galaxy and the tix are next to impossible to get (at least for 60% of the games – i.e. not FLA, TB, Carolina).

          Toronto FC games, from what I remember when I went a few years ago, where a really fun time b/c of the atmosphere, but the games were (and based on any stories I’ve seen) and are abysmal.

  10. thedr. says:

    there is only about a 2,000 seat difference between the Air Canada Centre and BMO Field.

    • Ultimo Santa says:

      UFC sells out the ACC in 3 minutes flat – guarantee it.

      Although how amazing would it be to see the Dome sold out for a big event? If they did a combined Lesnar/GSP double main event, they could do it, IMO. At least get close to 50k.

      • The Gaijin says:

        I don’t think it’s even a question they sell out the Skydome with GSP/Lesnar…probably just GSP.

        It’s in the country’s biggest, most affluent city. It’s close to a large population base and it’s driving distance from Montreal (and surrounding area) which is a giant hotbed for MMA. Not to mention it’s also close enough for people to come from NY, MA, MI and other northern states. Canada is starved for live UFC events…the Skydome would pull Wrestlemania 6 numbers.

  11. smoogy says:

    Rogers Sportsnet already has a vested interest in backing the UFC: they are the Canadian rights holder to all UFC TV content (TUF, Fight Nights, the Versus shows, etc.)

    • Safari_Punch says:

      Plus the UFC pays Rogers Sportsnet to air their content during MMA Connected; it’s essentially an infomercial for Zuffa.

  12. Durwood Eldridge says:

    They did a research study that showed fewer than 20% of Toronto teenagers pay any attention to the Leafs. Within 20 years those teenagers will be in the prime market demographic and interest in the Leafs will disappear–especially if the owners of the team, the Teachers Pension Fund, continues to arrange for the team to be terrible because it means more profits. I expect the Leafs to relocate sooner than the Blue Jays do. As for MMA, I’ve watched it only a couple of times and didn’t think it was anything special. But then back in Ancient Rome they used to fill arenas to watch people being murdered by lions.

    • Oh Yeah says:

      “I expect the Leafs to relocate sooner than the Blue Jays do.”

      Yes, I’m sure the city people want to put a second team in will lose it’s only franchise while the ~10,000 attendance baseball team with a higher payroll will continue rolling in dough.

  13. Justin says:

    Here in Toronto, it’s hard enough trying to find a bar with room on fight nights!! Give us a PPV at the SkyDome… selling it out would be no problem whatsoever.

  14. […] them is so critical. Rogers Sportsnet is already an excellent media outlet for them in Ontario and as I’ve stated before, UFC wants to run The Sky Dome and I really believe that it will happen. Dave Meltzer reported […]

  15. […] April 20th – Miserable crowds at Rogers Centre for Toronto Blue Jay games gives UFC unique cha… May 21st – UFC establishing an office in Toronto is good news for MMA and UFC books Rogers Centre date for March 2011 […]

  16. chris says:

    although no one is showing up the the games, the jays are still drawing very well on TV, up alot from what i understand, the highest theyve been in a while with them only showing games to 10% of ontarios landmass, plus with all the construction down town, getting to the ballpark is a pain, so not is all as bad as it seems.

    last thursday i went and there was about 38-40,000 for a thursday noon start time game, thats says something right there

  17. […] or not, for the April 30th show at the Sky Dome (Rogers Centre) is big? Of course it is. Not that this comes as any surprise to us given that I predicted 10 months ago that a show with GSP would easily outdraw the Blue Jays (and […]


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