It’s not easy being a sports fan in Toronto.
Observing the declining crowds in the seats of Toronto’s second-tier sports -- like it or not (I’d definitely vote ‘not’), most would agree that hockey is so much the favorite in T Dot that every other fan-favorite game automatically falls to the second tier -- I find myself wondering about the various factors that might be influencing more and more people to stay away.
The economy, or how much disposable cash we collectively have to spend on sports-entertainment, is always the first consideration. But ... I’m not so sure that it stands alone as the big reason that there are as many empty seats in the stands these days as what there are.
Those who follow baseball are pointing out an assortment of complaints that relate to following the Blue Jays. Some gripe that the Rogers Centre is so lifeless a mausoleum-of-a-place when only one quarter or so full (especially), that there’s little desire to pay good money to sit through what sometimes ends up seeming to be marathon-length games that plod along to whatever conclusion they finally get to, at little more than a snail’s pace. Others speak of the harsh reality in the American League East, where the the Yankees and Red Sox reside with their oversized salary-budgets (not to mention the talented Tampa Bay Rays) making it a discouraging long-shot right from out of the gate, that any team other than those three mentioned are likely to see playoff action. (The bad attendance so far in Baltimore this year has fans there, muttering likewise laments.)
The Raptors are another story. I’m often surprised at the relatively high attendance numbers quoted while watching the games on TV, regularly seeing rows of empty seats in the lower bowl that I didn’t used to notice -- the cameras seldom spend much time on the packed upper bowl ... which had me thinking during the last game I attended - in the more sparsely attended lower bowl - that the RR T shirt might’ve got it more right than I had thought: (The) Lower Bowl Sucks (‘cause in some ways, it really does) -- but even with those numbers that may or may not be inflated, officially, attendance is down for the Raptors, as well.
Considering what else might be affecting those who are choosing to watch from home instead of buying a ticket to watch in person, a couple things come to mind. One of them is the memory of seeing (what seemed to me, obviously, at each instance) bad calls against us, by the referees. While I found this year, on the whole, better in this regard than previous years, it didn’t start out that way. I likely won’t soon forget, for example, that first game of this season that we took from the Cavaliers. We were up on them and looking good doing so ... but during the second half of that game, there were calls that SO seemed designed to help the Cavs get back into the game, for those brief moments, when I wasn’t sure how those calls would affect the outcome, I for one, was near apoplectic. (There was more than one, but one that you might recall was the moment when LeBron had the ball and was moving hard towards Bosh ... and Bosh was clearly there with his feet planted, like, a WEEK before LeBron got there ... and yet, instead of a ‘charge’ being called on LeBron, Bosh was called for a ‘block’. At the time, we all knew it was a bogus call before even seeing the replay. But the replay confirmed it easily.)
Then, the Donaghy fiasco-part-2 (his book) put the spotlight on just what it was the referees were doing -- or were capable of doing -- and suddenly, it seemed that the refereeing was considerably more balanced than what I thought it had been ... for years.
Blue Jays fans have their own stories to tell, suspecting that in key moments -- and it’s the key moments when we see what is really what, after all -- the officiating has sometimes been pointedly less than fair and balanced. I can’t say with as much certainty as I feel about some Raptors games I’ve witnessed, but I do recall thinking a very similar thing a number of times during (again) key moments that the Jays found themselves in. (Along this line of thinking in a way, the ‘big one’, that is, the crowning jewel of disrespect against us as a whole, would have to have been the upside down Canadian flag that the American honor-guard so impudently and brazenly displayed during the pre-game festivities in Atlanta in 1992, prior to that first-ever World Series game played against a non-USA team on American soil. While there’s little point in holding a grudge about that shameful event, neither should it be forgotten, as far as this fan is concerned.)
The point being is that according to many (myself included) there might well have been displays of certain biases against Toronto (Canadian) teams on numerous occasions. I try not to hang onto the bad memories for very long (‘though some are ultimately, unforgettable), but I do recall - quite clearly - thinking something along the line of “if I didn’t love this game so much, I’d stop watching it altogether” ... after witnessing a series of what I believed to be, bad calls against us, well out of proportion to how the calls in general were going for the particular game.
While it’s easy for those who would argue against the above with comments that suggest paranoia (more specifically, Canadian paranoia) and the like ... I’m sure there are some on the other side who could recite chapter-and-verse in regards to some of the more egregious charges that we’ve witnessed against our home teams over the years.
So ... as one who sometimes ruminates on things such as these, trying really, to see the big picture more clearly, I find myself wondering if the accumulation of these perceived injustices against our own eventually takes its toll on overall fandom? Truthfully, I don’t know. If so, I still tend to doubt that it alone, would keep us away from the ticket windows. (We are generally a hearty bunch, after all.) But ... it can’t help, especially if other factors combine to cause a ‘perfect storm’ that works to keep many of us from filling seats that would otherwise be filled.
Those of us who attend this site - Raptors Republic - do so because of our love of hoops. It is without question, my favorite sport -- I tend to think of baseball as more of a pastime than a sport, really ... though my affection for the game itself is the closest rival I have to basketball -- but we are forced, it seems, to regularly deal with the reality that most of the very best players of the game come from the U.S. ... and because of that fact, we so often - like clockwork it seems - are cornered into accepting the practical realities that suggests that U.S. players, in the end, will prefer to play their home games on U.S. courts.
So ... here we are again, seeing a player who we’ve watched from his rookie year all the way to growing into the star that he now is, likely, about to leave us.
While his leaving, if he indeed does leave, likely has much more to do with the dynamics of his Raptors team than it does, the Canada-USA thing ... it’s hard (for this fan) to totally ignore the reality that, once again, we’re being left behind for (what I imagine to be) the comfort of native-soil.
While it’s not disrespect to us as a nation if he does leave, having seen this happen before (V.C. and Anthony Davis quickly come to mind ... but there’ve been others as well), it’s hard for me to totally dismiss the notion that the ‘jilt effect’ doesn’t add up somewhere in our collective unconsciousness, perhaps even making us more likely to ‘boo’, even when it might be less than appropriate (witness the booing of Marco Scutaro last evening, who made his first appearance back at the Rogers Centre, visiting with the Boston Red Sox), as well as possibly make more of us stay away.
[Leaf fans would say it’s tough to be a Leaf fan for (mostly) very different reasons than what has been written about here. But one thing they have going for them - while considering the last point above - is that most NHL players actually come from Canada. So ... at least, they’re usually glad to be coming to play for the Toronto team.]
So ... what I wonder is ... does it all (see above) add up to the point where we are more and more reluctant to part with hard-earned money, to pay to see what amounts to mercenary-athletes, perform for us ... knowing -- from eye-witness experience -- that depending on what the circumstances are, the odds may-well be against us, anyway?
With one thing and another, maybe it is a part of what is keeping us away (to varying degrees) from those sporting events that we once eagerly filled up the stands for. It sure can’t help, much. As I see it, anyway.
Thought I’d see what this would look like in words ... and possibly share. I should probably sit on it and edit a bunch ... but I won’t. Share, however, I will. Cheers.