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Blue Jays Teach Volunteer Engagement

Published: Apr 17, 2023 @ 3:00 PM


I watch 90% of the Toronto Blue Jay game every year as I try to relieve my ongoing sadness from the 1985 playoffs in spite of my joy in 1992. Melancholy anyone?

  • Rabbit Trail 1: I still can’t look at a picture of George Brett without feeling anger from somewhere pushed down deep for many years.
  • Rabbit Trail 2: I still can't think about Lloyd Moseby without shedding a tear for a trapped ball that was definitely NOT a trapped ball!

Back to the story

The Blue Jays play in one of the oldest baseball stadiums in the major leagues. It was opened in 1989 to much fanfare as the first retractable roof for a major sporting venue. Quite the source of pride for Canadians and in even fans nostalgic for Exhibition Stadium. The “Skydome” was built as a multi-purpose venue and therefore not uniquely suited to baseball. Still, no one was complaining.

Fast forward 30 years, low and behold the way fans expect to interact with their professional sports team has changed. In some cases, changed expectations and in some cases increased expectations. So, the Jays looked at building a new stadium or renovating the existing one. They chose to renovate and bring some exciting new changes to the game and fans. We shared last week some of the trends shaping volunteer expectations today, here is how the Toronto Blue Jays adapt to trends.

7 Lessons

Here are seven lessons from that renovation that can be applied to engaging volunteers in your cause:

  • We don’t have to start from scratch every time. Too often when there is new person or a change in our organizations the approach is to start from the beginning, again and again. There’s a time and a place for abolish and rebuild. But what the Jays demonstrate is that a thoughtful approach to renovating can be wildly successful as well.
  • Sure, take the old and make it new – but look around and learn from others and what’s working for them. A small team of people took time to travel to other sporting venues, not just baseball venues, to learn and personally experience what works and what doesn’t in other contexts. When was the last time you volunteered yourself? I love an opinion survey and a coffee to learn from people’s experiences but there’s something to experiencing it first hand as well.
  • Book that coffee and grab those surveys! To hear Mark Shapiro, the Jays President, tell the story, they met with loads of people . . . loads of people to hear from them what they knew about trends, what works for baseball fans and what key things should have their attention. It focused their travel times. Data informed, intuition led.
  • Think about how to treat all the people well. That seems like an easy one for our sector but sometimes it’s good to be reminded. They revamped whole sections for fans. They expanded the exercise facilities for players. They created a new specially designated space for the player’s families. They are thinking about everyone and how to improve for everyone. Even the three-year-old kid gets consideration because their experience has an impact on the game.
  • Speaking of impact – include everyone, all the ways. There are places where the fans are almost hanging over the outfield. By lowering the fence in the centre field, they have removed a barrier preventing a game changing play. In the second inning of the home opener that play happened! Centre fielder, Kevin Kiermaier, jumped up reaching over the 8 ft fence to catch a ball destined to be a home run. To hear KK talk about it, he is adamant that having 42,000 people engaged can change the course of the game. What do we all gain when we remove barriers to our programs? Everyone can feel the impact that we all can make on the mission and the cause
  • Create many ways, not just one way, to connect with other people. Encourage all the connections. From family friendly spaces with a hot dog see-saw to standing room tickets for other fans to bleacher style seating for some. More options to connect allows the fans to decide how they want to experience the game vs one size fits all approach. What happens when we curate community connections that otherwise may not exist?
  • Don’t keep people away from the “important stuff”, people belong . . . the Jays decided the fans belong as close to the bullpen as possible. Look at the pictures, fans are almost inside the bullpen with the players. The knock-on effect of that decision, as shared by the Blue Jay pitchers, a feeling of being in the game before joining the game. Fan induced adrenaline starts before taking the field which gives the pitcher a competitive advantage over the other team. How much richer is community when we all know we all belong in all the places?

Bonus time

Of course . . . above all, the Blue Jays renovation wants us to know it’s okay to have fun, cheer loud and hey guess what . . . even the Blue Jays must take a multi-year approach to their program changes, probably due to funding (an all too familiar refrain). There are more renovations to come in the next off season. Perhaps you’ll get a part two to this post!