Let's not forget that great celebration the Blue Jays had for clinching a playoff spot. People are still shaking their heads over that one, but there's a good reason for it being held and it might surprise you.
A week ago Sunday, after the final game of the Blue Jays regular season, the Jays held a locker room celebration, after backing into the playoffs the night before.
It was a now-familiar celebration with champagne flowing and spraying, big goggles to keep the expensive booze out of the players' eyes and even a DJ to spin some loud tunes for the players to dance to. The team’s clubhouse looked and sounded like a disco I used to spin records at in the 70’s.
Some of it was covered live on TV and players talked about how it had been an up and down season, how they had overcome so many obstacles and how great it felt to be in the playoffs.
Baseball purists groaned, pointing out they hadn’t won anything, including their division. They only got the final wildcard spot. Aren’t locker room celebrations only supposed to be held after you win something? Well, not anymore.
In fairness, there have been playoff-clinching celebrations in baseball before, including by Toronto, but many have come after a team finally makes the playoffs after years of frustration, or goes on a big winning streak to make the playoffs on the last day of the season.
This one felt awkward and manufactured. That’s because it was.
A Made-for-TV Event
Locker room celebrations for just making the playoffs are suddenly everywhere in baseball, not just Toronto. The Texas Rangers held one on the second to the last night of the regular season to celebrate clinching a playoff spot. They still had to win another game to win the division and avoid having to play a best of three series. They got shutout hours after the big celly and had to play a series instead of sitting around with their feet up last week. Their fans must have been wondering if the celebration was worth it. It’s all good now because they’re still playing.
These celebrations are so staged and scripted that Tampa Bay delayed its clubhouse celebration for ten days, so they wouldn’t have to play ball hungover the next day.
For people shaking their heads and wondering why these playoff clinching celebrations have become a thing, it’s all marketing.
Major League Baseball wants teams to hold these celebrations. Don’t blame the players. If they’re asked if they want to have a celebration if they clinch a playoff spot, are they supposed to turn it down? Of course not. Who doesn’t like a party?
In the case of the Blue Jays, all they were celebrating was the chance to lose two more games and get embarrassed in their playoff series against the Minnesota Twins who hadn’t won a playoff game since Facebook was launched and called The Facebook.
As I watched the Blue Jays celebration, it seemed like a made for TV event because that’s exactly what it was. Rogers owns both the team and Sportsnet, so Sportsnet was covering the celebration as if man had just landed on the moon.
It’s the way of the sports world these days. The Blue Jays are spending millions of dollars to renovate their stadium in an attempt to get at the casual sports fan. These are the young people who go with their buddies to the game, buy a ticket to stand in one of the new sections and have a few drinks. They might only watch one pitch out of five or six, but they’ll be damn sure to take some selfies and post them on Instagram to show what a great time they’re having at the Jays game. These are people who couldn’t name the team’s starting outfield if you spotted them the left and right fielders.
These are the people these celebrations are aimed at. They see the celebration on TV, or on their phone on social media. It’s hype the team is selling and some people will buy it. They’ll buy tickets for playoff games and since they’re there and it is the playoffs they may as well buy a jersey. Spending $400 in a night is nothing as long as they showed the world what they were doing on social media, had a few laughs and will have the jersey to wear next season. Hopefully their favourite player will still be on the team.
The problem with this social media masterplan was the Blue Jays got eliminated before they could play a home game. Oops.
People like me who have watched baseball since Bob Gibson was virtually unbeatable in World Series games in the 60’s, will shake their head when they see teams celebrating for simply making the playoffs. Too many though won’t understand it’s all marketing. It’s about social media posts, shares, likes and clicks.
When a sports team, business or politician talks about a need to celebrate anything, you’re being sold something. The word “celebrate” can now be used just the same as “marketing.” If a team celebrates an historic win, as an example, it’s being done to sell more tickets and merchandise and built goodwill.
It’s hype and spin, all embellished by media and social media. Bet on seeing more of it and not less because casual fans will jump on bandwagons and tell their favourite team to take their money.
That’s just good marketing.