Monday, May 4, 2009
Damien Cox, the eternal blowhard, wrote a piece on his blog today about how the Jays are struggling to draw fans despite their early success. He admits that this is partially due to the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox have not come to town yet but still wonders why their success hasn't led to increased attendance. A major problem that the Jays face is the SkyDome (I refuse to call it the Rogers Centre as does almost everyone else who isn't forced/paid to do so). The SkyDome (or The Dome) at the time of its opening in 1989 was considered a state of the art facility. It replaced Exhibition Stadium and made it so that Jays fans knew that if they had tickets they were guaranteed to see a game. No more rain outs.
Its retractable roof was a wonder of the world in the eyes of Torontonians and it made the Dome the in place to be. 20 years later the Dome has not aged well. It is now a blight on the Toronto sports scene. Of all the sporting events I've seen in Toronto it is the worst place to watch a game, even when the quality of the product is great. It is tragically a victim of its time. It was the last of its kind, the last behemoth multipurpose stadium before the trend shifted to return to retro ball parks. When Camden Yards was built in 1992 the designers returned to designs of steel and iron instead of the concrete facade of SkyDome.
A major problem of the Dome hits you before you even reach your seat. It's ugly and grim. The walk up the ramps that lead to the upper deck of the Dome is a depressing one. It makes you feel you are in some industrial factory instead of heading to watch baseball.
At the time of construction the Jays were a hot ticket as they were in the midst of winning the division title, which they did four of the first 5 years in the Dome. More time should have been spent to consider how they could create an attractive facility to get fans to come in when the team was less popular or less competitive
The field itself too has no individuality or charm.
The walls are symmetrical and the turf is artificial. One of the beautiful things about the game of baseball is that they don't put many restrictions on the dimensions of the field. Despite this no thought was put into making the field in Toronto special. There is no Green Monster, like in Fenway, nor a hill like Minute Maid Park in Houston, no ivy covering the walls like in Wrigley or no fountains like Kaufman stadium. Nothing about the SkyDome field makes it unique or a fun place to play. When a field becomes a fun place to play on it also becomes a great place to watch a game.
The Dome is huge. Despite this fact it has no open air concourses or walking areas from which to watch the game. The newer stadiums have little picnic areas and "mini streets" from which the game can still be seen. Due to its size it does not have the feeling of compactness that older stadiums have and removes the crowd from the game. The back rows of the 500 section feel to be about a kilometre away from the field. Heckles and jeers become pointless when the only people who can hear you are your fellow fans. Then there is the JumboTron.
Dome supporters are quick to brag about the screen without noticing its obvious flaws. They placed the JumboTron over the outfield but unlike other stadiums did not bother to put a smaller screen on the other side so the people sitting in the restaurants, hotel or in the outfield under the Tron can see what's going on. Everyone you can see in the above picture has little to no idea what is being shown on the big screen.
The retractable roof though the much ballyhooed invention of the Dome is my biggest problem with it.
Toronto has an unpredictable climate so the idea of having an open-air stadium is out of the question. On the few good days we do have, however, it is still hit or miss whether or not the Dome is open. The Dome has not been opened thus far this season and instead of the 4 or 5 games I would have gone to with an open roof I've gone to one. Baseball is meant to be played outdoors. Open air should be the default with the roof closed only in the event of rain. For some reason SkyDome thinks it should be the other way around. Watching a game under the roof is not as an enjoyable experience as watching it when the roof is opened. The shifting shadows caused by the sun also cause a challenge to the players who have to make adjustments when batting and fielding. Indoor stadiums lose that aspect of nature that adds to the intrigue of the game.
The SkyDome can be saved if Rogers decides to put the investment in. Otherwise, maybe 20 years is enough and they can decide that the best thing to do is spend the money they would spend on renovations on a new stadium.