TORONTO - The Toronto Blue Jays could draw twice as many TV viewers as last season if they play to their potential, Rogers Media (TSX:RCI.B) president Keith Pelley predicted Wednesday.
Last year's home opener drew a season-high 1.27 million TV viewers while the team attracted an average of 507,000 over the course of the year, up seven per cent from the previous campaign.
Of course, there's more hype around the team this year following an extensive off-season makeover.
Rogers gave general manager Alex Anthopoulos the green light to bring in some high-priced talent — including star knuckleballer R.A. Dickey as well as Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle — and now the Jays owners want to cash in on their investment.
"When we looked at (the payroll boost) we said, 'This will do a tremendous amount for Rogers, the Blue Jays are ready to pop in terms of not only on the field, but as far as being a fashionable brand now in Toronto," said Pelley.
If the Jays do contend and make the playoffs for the first time since the back-to-back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993, the revenue potential from TV ads, tickets and merchandise sales would be through the roof.
"So the Blue Jays decision to add money and payroll was not in isolation, it was done in a decision that, if we can play meaningful games in September, what that will do to Sportsnet," Pelley said.
"Those numbers of 507,000 would creep up to in the neighbourhood of a million viewers."
While Tuesday's home opener against the Cleveland Indians was a quick sellout, and fans are eager to tune in to see their revamped team for the first time, Pelley says he hasn't been too concerned about what kind of ratings the game might draw.
"I have not thought about that, I haven't thought about it once until you've asked me the question," said Pelley.
"Do I think we will exceed (last year's opening night ratings)? I think we will exceed that, but I think it's not an important number. I think what's important is the overall average and how the team performs, and if the team performs, then the Blue Jays numbers will be significantly (strong) on Sportsnet."
Some fans will be disappointed that Rogers is again shifting some Blue Jays broadcasts to Sportsnet One, a channel that's typically bundled into the pricier TV packages.
"Sportsnet is a multi-sport brand and ... it's a pretty strong strategic decision not to put all 162 games on Sportsnet, it really then becomes in the summer a pure baseball network and that is not what our mandate or strategic goals of Sportsnet are," Pelley said.
As of now, this season's Blue Jays games will only be available to stream on the web and mobile devices by Rogers TV customers. But David Purdy, senior vice-president of content, hinted that's expected to change and customers with other TV providers should get the same digital access eventually.
"Right now Rogers is the exclusive carrier on multiple platforms of the Jays but we're certainly open to having, and are having, those discussions with other carriers," says Purdy. "It's in our best interest and the Jays' interests to expose our product as much as we possibly can."