TORONTO -- The Blue Jays set forth a winning mandate across the organization this offseason -- one that would see the club improve both on and off the field. While postseason baseball remains the top objective, the organization is striving to make the fan experience at Rogers Centre more enjoyable. For the 2012 season, it involved a concept called the ambassador program.
"We hired a director of guest experience who is responsible for analyzing all aspects of the fan experience, such as how we could make it better," said Stephen Brooks, senior vice president of business operations for the Blue Jays. "One of the initiatives this year was the ambassador program. There are about 20 people whose sole job inside and outside the stadium is to greet guests, answer questions and provide information on the stadium. "Our workers are trying to be proactive. The fan experience is often dictated by the little experiences, so our goal is to help provide that." The program puts an emphasis on the experience inside the stadium and, because of a diverse fan base, a wide range of considerations were implemented to make Rogers Centre a better environment for all. For instance, several hundred new video screens were installed on the 100- and 200-level concourses that have made the stadium more interactive. There are also three new video walls, making it possible for fans to watch the game from almost anywhere inside the park. In addition -- and in conjunction with Budweiser -- there's a King Club on the 100-level concourse, which has a sports-bar theme and a video wall that airs live games from around the league. On the 200-level concourses, there have been upgrades to the two bars down the first- and third-base lines, and the design also features a host of new video monitors and video walls for viewing pleasure. "This is to engage the fans and make the experience that much better and, so far, the feedback has been great -- real positive," Brooks said. "Fans are saying the guest experience has been better than in previous years." There are also parts of the ambassador program aimed directly toward the younger crowd. For the lucky ones who catch a game ball, there is a foul-ball and home run verification program that authenticates the ball right inside the park. Also, Jr. Jays Saturdays have returned, which offer fans a number of ways to get closer to the players. Children 14 and younger can take part in the popular ritual of running the bases after the game, can be selected to announce the players when they come to bat, can be chosen to accompany a player to the field for the national anthems and will have opportunities to get autographs from their favorite Blue Jays. "The little things can mean so much to the fans, so we are going to keep plugging away with this program," Brooks said. For those that like to purchase merchandise, there's been a major addition to the Blue Jays Shop with the Blue Jays Shop Memorabilia Clubhouse -- an area within the store that displays authenticated merchandise, such as game-used bats and balls, game-worn jerseys and bases from some of the most memorable games. An even more memorable area could be on its way, too. "It would be nice to do something more formal with the Level of Excellence area like a Blue Jays Hall of Fame -- that's something that we've talked about," Brooks said. In addition to a revamped Level of Excellence -- which recognizes a player's individual achievement to the club in the form of a banner hanging on the facade of the 500-level -- a vacant Windows Restaurant, a three-tiered glass enclosure that offers a clear view of the game from right-center field, is something that's currently unoccupied. Brooks believes there's enough space to make it another fan-friendly spot, and discussions have already taken place on a number of potential projects. Fans are encouraged to send in ideas and have their voices heard, as well -- last year, customer feedback helped ensure that more giveaways would be provided to customers on promotional days. "We've increased all of our promotional days, including the number of items that are given away each time from 10,000 to 20,000," Brooks said. "We tried to mix it up and do some different days. We have a batting helmet day and a bobblehead series -- there are three of them [different bobblehead days], displayed with the new Blue Jays logo on the back of them. "We want to know what their [fans] thoughts are -- what they like, what they don't like, or things they would want implemented in the future. We want to hear from the fans. They are the customer, they are the people we are here to serve, they're the ones whose experience we are trying to make better." Brooks says the organization is trying to build a baseball culture and atmosphere at Rogers Centre that will motivate fans to go down to the park early to conglomerate outside of the stadium -- something they are encouraged to do during the Blue Jays' new Friday Fan Fests. The Fan Fests will take place four times during the season with the hopes that it will create a baseball buzz in Toronto well before the first pitch. The biggest culture they are trying to build, however, is a winning one, as the Blue Jays know the greatest fan experience their customers will get is a World Series game in front of a sellout crowd at Rogers Centre.
Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.