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The once-glorious Blue Jays are playing to the smallest crowds in decades.
TORONTO, Canada — It’s never pleasant living in a city where major sports teams always lose. Better a losing team, however, than no team at all.
In hockey, the last time the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup, as every school child here knows, was 1967. In basketball, the Toronto Raptors entered the NBA in 1995, but have only once reached the semifinals.
There’s plenty of passion around Toronto FC, which has played to sell-out crowds since joining Major League Soccer in 2006. But the team has never won more than 36 percent of its regular season games. In fact, the last time Toronto sports fans celebrated a major victory was in 2004, when the Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup of Canadian football.
But the biggest worry these days is with the once-glorious Toronto Blue Jays, who twice became World Series Champions, in 1992 and 1993. Back then, crowds of 50,000 for a baseball game were routine. But a long and steady decline has turned that torrent of support into an embarrassing trickle.
Last week, after a sell-out crowd of more than 46,000 cheered the Jays on opening day, turnout plummeted to 10,314 for a game against the Kansas City Royals — the lowest since the club moved to their downtown Rogers Centre stadium in 1990. Yet the team has been playing winning, even exciting, baseball.
Turnout for their first 10 home games of the season was more than 40,000 lower than the first 10 last year. The betting is that the team won’t attract the 1.87 million fans it did last year. In their heyday, the Jays reached a season high of 4 million fans.
A handful of other major league teams have been struggling with low attendance early in the season, including the Baltimore Orioles, who drew 9,129 people for a game last week, the smallest crowd in the 19-year history of Camden Yards. For the Jays, who have been losing money for at least the last two years, there is no comfort in misery.
A number of excuses for the low turnout have been circulating: sports fans are watching the hockey playoffs, the team is rebuilding, star pitcher Roy Halladay was traded, visiting teams are lackluster, kids are in school and the weather isn’t warm enough.
But that hasn’t stopped diehard fans from fearing for the team’s future. The death of the Montreal Expos, who moved to Washington in 2004, is on everyone’s minds. The Blue Jays are the only major league baseball team Canada has left.
“If we ever lose this franchise, the people of Toronto are to blame — not the team, the people,” said season-ticket holder John Morris, 69, sitting on the third base side of home plate during a game against the Royals last week. The stadium was a sea of blue empty seats.