Hop on the bandwagon! Blue Jays to play the American League Championship Series

By Andrew Baulcomb, October 14, 2016

Story originally posted October 1, 2015.

The Toronto Blue Jays are set to play the American League Championship Series Friday night in Cleveland, Ohio. 

With the team's recent success, so-called "bandwagon fans" are coming out of the woodwork in droves. They're buying tickets. They're fighting over merchandise. They're flooding downtown Toronto and spending money hand over fist. But just how big of an economic impact do bandwagoners really have?

Hannah Holmes, an assistant professor in the Department of Economics and an avid sports fans, breaks down the true value of fair-weather fans.

What exactly is the “bandwagon effect” and how does it work?

The bandwagon effect happens when people do something just because everybody else is doing it. You support something or somebody after they’ve become successful and/or popular. In the case of the Toronto Blue Jays, people want to attach themselves to a winner. It’s a way of belonging to a majority — a sense of conformity — and gives them a feeling of camaraderie.

What are the most tangible economic benefits of a prolonged bandwagon?

Fans who want to show their support will spend money to do it. They’ll buy team apparel, tickets to home games, watch games at their local bars with their friends and other fans. This is spending, but in order to really impact the economy, it has to be new spending. Ideally, you’d like non-residents or tourists to come to Toronto and spend their money, creating a multiplier effect. If someone gives up going to the movies to go to a Jays game, that’s not new spending, just a redistribution of where money is spent that would have been spent locally anyway.

How do businesses in downtown Toronto benefit from the recent success of the Toronto Blue Jays?

Downtown businesses win when the fans come early for dinner or late for post-game refreshments. Taxis and limo services gain from increased ridership. So does the TTC (increased ridership) and parking lots close to the Rogers Centre. Even bars and restaurants located outside the downtown core will benefit if fans come out to watch the games with their friends. Again, there’ll be individual economic winners, but the impact on the local economy as a whole may be small if it’s just a redistribution of local expenditures. The Globe and Mail, in an article published Aug. 18, interviewed local restauranteurs who reported that the Jays’ winning kept the customers, many new and from out-of-town, coming in. Interviewees mentioned that they’ve been busier with the Jays winning streak than when the Pan Am Games were on.

Given that the Blue Jays are Canada’s only professional baseball team, can these benefits be felt or measured across the country?

Absolutely. Anecdotally, I don’t live in Toronto but I’ve seen an increase in Jays t-shirts sported by fans and increased numbers of bar customers on game nights where I live, in Thorold, Ontario. Remember when the Vancouver Canucks went to Stanley Cup finals? They were Canada’s team and the sports bars were packed throughout the series — in contrast to last year’s finals between two US teams. Keep in mind that the closer the fans are to the GTA, the more likely they’ll be Jays’ supporters and will show it.

Why do we feel compelled to spend money — on merchandise, clothing, game tickets, food and beverages — when a local team is suddenly successful?

It’s a matter of pride and a way of identifying yourself as “one of the gang.” It’s fun to be a part of a winning season, to be able to say “I was there when Bautista hit that grand slam against the Twins.”

Why are some fans incensed by bandwagon fans?

Many die-hard fans are very protective of their team. They have loyally suffered through the bad times and see themselves as real fans, not just wannabe’s who are only fans during the good times. These wannabe’s are the ones who take up space at their sports bar, park in their spots and otherwise “get in the way.”