Opened or Closed?

The Toronto Blue Jays play an afternoon game tomorrow and it has been announced that the roof will be closed for the game at Rogers Centre.

The reason that Rogers Centre is keeping the roof closed is due to the weather advisories in effect for tomorrow and the projected temperature of 37 degrees which will feel more like 47 degrees with the humidex.

I got into a bit of a discussion with someone I follow and occasionally speak with on Twitter on the decision to close the roof for the game tomorrow.

He didn’t agree with the decision to close the roof.  Some of his points were:

  • Other teams play in hotter weather on a regular basis
  • The players are highly trained athletes who can/should be able to handle the weather
  • That baseball is meant to be played outside
  • That many games, baseball and other, have been played outside in temperatures worse than what Toronto will experience tomorrow.

I can’t necessarily dispute his points (though I believe I did), because well other teams do play in worse temperatures, these are professional athletes who could probably handle it, baseball historically is an outdoor game and sporting events have taken place in worse conditions.

I can see his point of view, I can understand it and I can respect it, but I don’t necessarily agree with it.

Other teams may play in hotter conditions on a regular basis, but their trainers presumably condition them for the climate and the weather they predominantly play in. That is not to say that the Jays aren’t well conditions (though at times I have questioned it with some of the random injuries) but they may not be conditioned for this heat and humidity. Heat like this is a shock to the body and it can put a strain on the human body. Thames was already pulled from a game recently due to leg cramp presumably due to dehydration caused by the current heat wave that we are experiencing. If players are playing in extreme heat that their bodies aren’t used to, there is a chance the body won’t respond well and injuries could happen. Toronto is doing well right now and no one wants to see Thames, Bautista, Lind or anyone else on that team go down with an injury that could have possibly been prevented. (Note I no professional background in health science, so while I think I know what I am talking about, someone with such a background may not)

These players are highly trained athletes and might very well be able to handle the heat, but why not, when possible, create an environment that limits the chance of injury or harm to players?  Also with this extremely heat players need to be cooled down and the MLB tends to blast AC into the dugouts, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is hard on the body to go from that extreme heat to the cold AC and back and forth for the duration of a game. Have you ever noticed that in the summer when you go from outside heat, to inside AC multiple times throughout a day you start to feel kind of crummy?

Many games have been played outside in worse temperatures, but there have also been many athletes seriously injured due to playing or training in extreme heat as well. Just because people have played in worse temperatures doesn’t mean that they should. What’s more important? I personally think the health of the athletes is more important, more so than tradition or fan expectation.

Take the players out of the equation though, this (IMO) is a phenomenal marketing move.

Before I get to that, this decision to close the roof, I believe, is not just about the players, it is about the safety of the fans as well. I personally don’t want to see some poor schmuck pass out in the 500s due to heat stroke, or even someone in the 200s or 100s. Now granted the attendance won’t be even close to the same, but I was at a concert at Rogers Centre just over a week ago and the roof was open. The temperature that day wasn’t nearly as hot as it will be tomorrow, but that stadium was a sauna (admittedly because of the number of people). I swear I have never sweat so much in my life, I thought I was going to pass out by the time the concert was over. I know very different situations, there were 60,000+ people packed in there, I’m just saying that ballpark can get hot with the roof open.

Back to why I think this is a phenomenal marketing move. This is a mid-week afternoon game (something fans gripe about, but is a necessity between home and away series). Mid-week afternoon games traditionally have pathetic numbers as far as attendance goes, which is pretty expected, people have to work. So Rogers Centre wants more bums in the seats for the mid-week day game and the city (and well beyond) is going through a severe heat wave. I believe the city of Toronto or it’s health unit has probably issued a heat advisory, I know the London & Middlesex Health Unit has, so I presume Toronto is no different.

Anyways, Rogers Centre, or Skydome, has the ability to close the roof and turn on the AC. If you’re a poor schmuck living or working in Toronto and your office and or apartment/house doesn’t have AC and you are a fan of baseball (or maybe not) and you hear that the roof is closed at Rogers Centre and the place is a cool escape from the heat, what are you going to do? I’ll tell you what I would do. I’d go buy myself a ticket, take in a great ballgame and cool off! Sit in a cool stadium, take in a ball game and have a nice cold beverage and beat the heat and maybe if I’m lucky pick up one of the young single Blue Jays, but I digress.

Now maybe this won’t happen, but I have a funny feeling at least a couple of people who weren’t planning on taking in the game tomorrow will be now! The Jays organization played this right. They made the call early, this afternoon, and they publicized it throughout the broadcast of the game, as well as on twitter and I believe on their website and presumably on the radio. They are making sure people know that the roof will be closed and that taking in the game will be the coolest way to beat the heat tomorrow in Toronto.  So in my mind this has the potential to mean, increased ticket sales, increased beverage sales and maybe even increased merchandise sales for a typically poorly attended mid-week day game. No only does this help the team pocketbook, but it’s a good PR move because from my perspective it is a good deed that is deserving of a write-up in at least one major paper, magazine or blog.

I’m sure that the safety of the players was a huge consideration when deciding to close the roof. I’m also sure that fan safety (and venue liability) was a factor in making this decision. As a marketing person, I hope Marketing & PR had a hand in this at some point, before or after (I know I’d be screaming “Hey our attendance sucks for mid-week day games and it’s hotter than Satan’s living room, let’s close the roof, cool off this place and give Torontonians a break from this heat!”).

So those are my thoughts on the decision to close the roof tomorrow. I get both sides, but I think it is better to err on the side of caution and protect the fans and players when possible. I also think it is a good idea to leverage a situation to increase attendance on a day bound to have low attendance numbers.

What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Correction on something I’ve written? Comments welcome!

* You don’t have to agree with me, feel free to disagree. I just ask that you be respectful of the opinions expressed by others on this blog, including myself.

** Also I would like to thank the individual that sparked this blog post with the conversation we had on Twitter, if you are reading this, you should know who you are. Thanks for the discussion!

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