Marcus Stroman might be onto something. The Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher says Toronto is a baseball city.
Stroman made the comment in The Players’ Tribune, an online forum founded by former New York Yankee star Derek Jeter to connect professional athletes with fans.
A new poll suggests Stroman might be right. At least when it comes to Toronto.
The Project Canada 2016 Sports Survey – carried out by sociologist and trend-tracker Dr. Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge – found that 49 per cent of Toronto sports fans “very closely” or “fairly closely” follow the Blue Jays. That’s up from 35 per cent last season, when the Jays caught fire in the middle of the season and made the post-season for the first time since they won back to back World Series in 1992 and 1993.
While the Jays are the sports focus in Toronto, the numbers suggest they are far from Canada’s team.
On a national level, the Blue Jays are closely followed by 25 per cent of people surveyed, barely ahead of those who follow the Canadian Football League. Outside of Ontario, fewer than 20 per cent of people surveyed said they followed baseball.
Torontonians prefer baseball to hockey
And it suggests that the Blue Jays are now more popular than the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The survey found that hockey interest in Toronto dipped marginally from 44 per cent last season to 43 per cent this year, well behind the numbers recorded for baseball’s Blue Jays. Toronto’s hockey support has barely budged even though the Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since Lester Pearson was prime minister. The Maple Leafs have appeared in the playoffs only once since the 2003-04 season.
Overall, the survey suggests that in a year that all seven of Canada’s teams were shut out of the playoffs, fewer Canadians are following the NHL than they were three years ago – but the sport is still king when it comes to fan support.
The survey found that the proportion of Canadians following the NHL has slipped to 40 per cent from 46 since 2013.
Disenchantment with hockey was highest in Montreal and Vancouver.
Last year, 51 per cent of people surveyed said they followed the Montreal Canadiens. This year, that’s fallen to 39 per cent. The Canadiens had their best start to a season ever this year, winning their first nine games. But they faded quickly after star goaltender Carey Price suffered an injury in late November. He missed the rest of the season. The Canadiens have not won a championship since the 1992-93 season.
In Vancouver, 49 per cent of people surveyed said they followed the Canucks last year. This year, that fell to 40 per cent. Vancouver has never won a league championship but the team has made it to the finals three times since joining the league in the 1970-71 season.
The survey also found that the die-hard fan bases in other NHL cities have hardly been affected. In Alberta interest fell from 48 per cent last year to 41 per cent this year. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, support went up from 38 per cent in 2015 to 45 per cent this year.
Other Toronto sports teams not to popular outside Ontario
The survey also found that – outside Toronto – the Raptors of the National Basketball Association are followed by about 12 per cent of people surveyed. Despite three consecutive division championships, the team scores well behind the Blue Jays and Leafs in fan support in the Toronto market at 28 per cent.
Major League Soccer trails the pack with nine per cent of those surveyed saying they follow the league’s three Canadian teams: the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps.
The survey also found that – by far – men are more likely to follow men’s professional sports than women, usually by a ratio of two to one. However, when it comes to football, that ratio increases to three to one.
The Project Canada 2016 Sports Survey was carried out online April 1-2. A total of 1,509 people were surveyed online. A probability sample of this size carries an error range nationally of +/- three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.