In late June, as a regular Fangraphs reader, I stumbled across the Hardball Time’s Fan Experience Index, which rated the fan experience of every team in Major League baseball. The ratings didn’t show the Royals in the most positive light, as Kansas City ranked 27th overall in fan experience, according to THT’s ratings. I wasn’t necessarily sure how I felt about this at first: I didn’t grow up in Kansas City, so a lot of my fandom comes from a more recent lens. However, here’s a list of the ballparks I have been and seen games at over my lifetime:
- Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City Royals, obviously)
- AT&T Park (San Francisco Giants)
- Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (Oakland A’s)
- Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles Dodgers)
- Petco Park (San Diego Padres)
- Coors Field (Colorado Rockies)
- The Kingdome (Seattle Mariners, pre-Safeco Field)
- Busch Stadium (St. Louis Cardinals)
I have visited the grounds of Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs) and Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox), but never actually seen a game there, so I didn’t list them. While the amount of parks isn’t numerous, some of the parks I have listed were highly ranked in Asa Beal and Michael Wentworth’s rankings (San Francisco, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Diego ranked 1, 4, 5, and 6, respectively). And to be honest, while a lot of those parks were great, I didn’t necessarily feel that their fan experiences were 20+ spots better than Kauffman Stadium and the Royals.
So, I decided to make a two-part series post where I respond to the supposed “fan experience index”. In this first post, I am going to look at the rankings directly, and either confirm or refute their ratings based on my own experience as a Royal fan. Since I follow the Royals regularly, as well as go to games, I feel I have a pretty good accurate view of what the Royals fan experience is like, and whether or not Beal and Wentworth are spot on, or are letting their “West Coast” and “bigger city” biases get the best of them (which they admit in the article that they’re based in the West Coast).
In part two, I am actually going to recap an experience of a game at Kauffman Stadium on July 25th against the Tigers (a day game). This will be “actual” experience, and based on this recent visit, not only can I examine Beal and Wentworth’s claims of Kauffman even further, but also examine my own, and see where I was on, and where I may have let my own biases as a Royals fan come through.
So, let’s begin part 1 of this “Royals Fan Experience” analysis by directly responding to the late June article posted on the Hardball Times.
THT’s Fan Experience Index Criteria
I really admire what Beal and Wentworth are trying to do with this “fan experience index”. In reality, only one team can win the World Series, so while winning is important, winning is not the only reason fans come to the ballpark. There are a variety of factors and reasons that sway a baseball fan into deciding to pay for a ticket and come to a game in person instead of just watching it on their couch or laptop (because nobody likes to pay for cable these days). Thus, Beal and Wentworth come up with nine criteria that in their words ” judge the experience of being a baseball fan outside of your team’s World Series chances in a given year.”
Here are the nine criteria they list:
- Affordability (18 percent) — is attending your team’s home games financially feasible?
- Ownership (18 percent) — is ownership committed to creating a positive on-field product while also maintaining an atmosphere in which a wide variety of fans feel welcome?
- Game Day Experience (18 percent) — how enjoyable is seeing your team in person?
- Ballpark and Broadcast Accessibility (15 percent) — how easy is it to get to games? To hear a broadcast in your native language? To feel welcome at the stadium? To access insider information?
- Broadcast (15 percent) — how good are the TV and radio broadcasts of games?
- Spring training facilities (9 percent) — how is the experience of seeing your boys in spring?
- Laundry (5 percent) — how stylish are their jerseys and hats?
- Social Media (1 percent) — do the franchise’s social media and marketing team add any fun?
- Mascot (1 percent) — because why not?
I think those criteria are pretty fair, though I’m sure you could argue the weights they give to each individual category. Some may say affordability should be worth more, while others may argue that Spring training facilities should be less, if not inconsequential. Nonetheless, in this post, I will share Beal and Wentworth’s ratings, and whether I think the Royals rating from them should be higher or lower and why. All their ratings are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. And thus, their aggregate rating (an average of all the criteria) is a number out of 10.
Affordability: 6. My rating: higher, but barely.
THT rated their affordability as a 6 out of 10, which I can understand if you’re not in the Kansas City area. If you simply buy tickets off the Royals website, the deals aren’t great, and it probably does merit a 6 rating, maybe lower. The cheapest seats at face value are around 11 dollars, which for a team that is near the cellar of Major League Baseball, seems like a steep price to pay.
That being said, the Royals are the master of specials, and also not “enforcing” the specials. What do I mean? I can buy student night tickets for “student” prices (which are $5, which I did for the Tigers game tomorrow) without having to actually prove I’m a student (i.e. not use a student email, id, etc.). It’s a loophole, but I think the Royals don’t go too hard in enforcing it because they need to get rid of tickets, especially this season where they aren’t quite the “hot item” they were from 2013-2017 (Now if you try to buy it at the box office, that’s a different story, as you will have to show ID). Also, you can find deals aplenty out there on StubHub or other coupons, as I was gifted a “season discount” package where I could get 4 free games (albeit with a $3.50 service charge per ticket) and 8 1/2 price tickets. And scalper prices are pretty reasonable as well, as you can get tickets in the $5-10 range in the parking lot the day of.
In terms of concessions, parking etc., I will probably go into more details about those items in my second post. That being said, I never found the prices too egregious when it came to concessions or parking (it’s $15 day of but you can get it cheaper if you buy it online), and again, much like tickets, there are plenty of days where there are concession sales. Fridays are dollar nights, where certain items like hot dogs and peanuts are only a buck each, which is something I know AT&T would never dream of doing.
If I had to rank the affordability of Kauffman (pregame of course; this is subject to change), I would probably rate it a 7. It’s gotten more expensive as the Royals have gotten better, but they don’t sell out every game, which means you can get cheap or fairly price tickets the day of. Hell, you can even get a good selection of tickets from the box office the day of a game, which is something that would be difficult to do at AT&T or Dodger Stadium. I think that counts for something, and I think there will be even more deals and affordable ticket deals in the second half as the season winds down.
Ownership: 4. My rating: lower.
4 is pretty low, but I still think David Glass merits a lower rating. The guy was on the cusp of making the Royals the premier professional sports organization in Kansas City. He has the advantage of playing during the best season in the Midwest (the Summer, where everyone in the Midwest wants to do shit outside because they know what winters are like), and other than Sporting KC, they actually have a championship title to boast (unlike their NFL neighbors the Chiefs). And yet, not only did he and management fail to capitalize on this run, but they also have made things more expensive, a drag considering the Chiefs are already such an expensive product in the Fall and Winter months.
I appreciate that Glass didn’t go full Jeffrey Loria and totally blow it up after their run. That being said, he definitely could have done more to maintain the competitiveness of this squad so they wouldn’t have bottomed out three seasons after their first World Series title in 20 years. Another key aspect of this rating is also how the organization maintains an “environment in which a variety of fans feel welcome.” I struggle a bit with this one, as it is similar to the Chiefs, in terms of they cater to the traditional White, middle-class family in the KC Metro area. You don’t see a whole lot of cultural nights, or even a whole lot of diversity in fans to be frank (my friends made note of this once when watching the Royals game, remarking “You know, if everyone just judged KC based on Kauffman alone, they would think we were the whitest city in America”). Now, I will say that I think the Royals do a much better job in this regard than the Chiefs: they don’t have the racist props; they really embrace Kansas City’s Negro League roots, especially when it comes to Buck O’Neill; and they do a great job with the KC Urban Academy. But compared to other ballparks and other organizations? Glass and the Royals still have a long ways to go. I give them a 3.
Gameday Experience: 7. Accessibility: 3. My ratings: TBD
I’m going to go into these ones more in-depth in tomorrow’s posts. I feel a fresh experience in response to these categories would be more relevant anyways.
Broadcasters: 5. My rating: higher.
The Royals television team consists of Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler in the booth, with Jeff Montgomery and Joel Goldberg as pre and post-game hosts (Montgomery does fill in on occasion in the booth). The radio team consists of Denny Matthews, Steve Physioc, and Steve Stewart. I tend to listen to more radio than television, as I do not have cable, I subscribe to the At-Bat radio (it’s not blackouts and only $20 for the year), and I like to do a lot of things while following games (the life of a teacher, I guess).
I enjoy the radio broadcasts for the most part. Matthews is a vet who has been with the Royals since the organization started in 1969. Matthews reminds me a bit of Jon Miller for the Giants, though he doesn’t have the pizazz for big moments like Miller. But I respect Matthews for his balanced, unbiased, and no-nonsense approach to the game, which makes the Royals games enjoyable to follow on the radio. Believe me, if you listen to some of those Yankees broadcasts on WFAN, it will make you sick how “homer” they are. Physioc and Stewart have their moments on the show, but Matthews is really the star of Royals Radio broadcasts.
As for TV, I have grown to like them more year by year. Lefebvre is fine, but it’s the combo of him Hudler that really make the broadcasts worthwhile. Lefebvre plays a great straight man to Hudler, who will go on tangents and have a lot of “catchphrases” that already have become the stuff of legend amongst Royals fans today. I know Hudler had a tough time initially, as he is a relative Royal outsider, and many people, especially the older generation, felt he was just off his rocker. Thankfully, Kansas City has warmed up, especially 35 and under fans, who seem to appreciate his goofy style more so than old-school Royals fans. Tonight, KC showed their appreciation for the duo with a special T-shirt night for fans, as evidenced in the tweet below:
— Rex Hudler (@RexHudler1) July 25, 2018
As for the pre and post-game team, Goldberg has become something of an icon for Royals baseball and it’s easy to see why: he’s always there when Salvy is dumping water on players. I’m kind of lukewarm on Goldberg. He’s perfect for his role, has great energy, like Guy Fieri on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” But like Fieri, if you get anything more than a few minutes of Goldberg at a time…well…he just doesn’t hold up well.
Overall, I would rate the Royals broadcast team a 7. I don’t think they’re elite (there are a lot of better broadcasts teams out there; as much as I hate the Dodgers, they’ve had some of the best), but they’re definitely better than the middle of the road grade they were given by THT.
Spring Training: 10. My rating: lower, barely.
I have only been to Surprise once. I was in high school on Spring Break playing in a baseball tournament of my own and from what I remembered, it was a nice ballpark and a fun experience (Ruben Gotay hit a game-winning home run, and we heckled the hell out of the Padres’ Robert Fick). Plus, it is in Arizona, which is infinitely better than the humidity of Florida Spring Training spots. That being said, I remembered it being a pain in the ass to get too (I remembered we got lost going there and went to the wrong stadium by accident initially; this was pre-GPS days and there are a ton of MLB facilities around the Surprise area). Furthermore, it was a nice ballpark experience, as nice as a good Triple-A park, but nothing noteworthy. So, I would probably give it a 9.
Maybe the Royals Spring Training facility in Surprise is my trip for Spring Break in 2019?
Laundry: 7. My rating: higher.
I love the Royals uniforms. I like the hats and the uniforms, and that they don’t try to do too much. I get that their look resembles the Dodgers, but people only say that because they both have blue and white. The Cardinals and Reds both have red and white, but you don’t see people complain or complain about it, right?
I also love the Royals powder blues, which they wear for Sunday games. I do wish they would go full boar with the powder blues and also have powder blue pants, a cry to their old school days in the 70’s and 80’s when they were a powerhouse in the American League and had a legitimate rivalry with the Yankees. I also liked their gold outline jerseys and hats, which they wore primarily in 2016 after they won the 2015 World Series (which most teams do anyways). However, I feel the Royals could get away with the gold more often, just because of the “Royalty” motif of their nickname.
The dark blue road uniforms are the only ones I’m down on and prevent me from going higher than a 9. They just look like Spring Training uniforms, and if they wanted to do a solid blue look, I felt they could’ve gotten a bit more creative with the jersey design. Overall though, I think the Royals uniforms are underrated and don’t get as much love as they deserve, mostly because they always get compared to the Dodgers.
Social Media: 2. My rating: higher.
I admit: the Royals twitter handle is really positive. Like overly positive. I’m pretty sure the Royals twitter is handled by an intern who doesn’t want to piss off Dayton Moore and have to sit through another “anti-porn” seminar, or is a retired mother from Overland Park who has nothing better to do than tweet how much she loves her Royals. I do think though that 2 is pretty unfair. They are pretty responsive to tweets, and they seem pretty active on social media, even if it is a bit vanilla.
If it’s just based on the Royals social media, the rating probably would be around 4. However, I’m giving it a couple of more points (6) due to the affiliates who are just great, especially the Wilmington Blue Rocks, who post GIFs like a madman possessed by Four Loko. Yes, Wilmington’s only the High-A, Carolina League affiliate of the Royals. But that doesn’t stop them from being turned up on Twitter to the 100th degree, which merits a follow from Royals fans who are active on the Twitter-verse. Now if the Royals Twitter can get some help from these guys in Delaware.
Mascot: 8. My rating: higher.
It’s a lion, who is considered “Royalty” of the jungle. He’s dressed in a Royals uniform. The hairs on his head look like a crown. He loves to wave the Royals flag, especially after a victory. And his name is Slugerrr…that’s right, with not one, not two, but THREE R’s. (That’s how we do in Kansas City! F your spelling!)
The Royals have a lion…lions were the stars of “The Lion King,” which kicked ass. Barney sucked. Nobody watched Operation Dumbo Drop. And you think people would go watch a movie called “The Seal King?”
I rest my case. Give Sluggerrr a 10.
Aggregate rating: 4.99. My rating thus far: 7.28 (with 7 categories)
So, my rating of the Royals is about 2.29 higher than THT’s ratings. Now, I didn’t weigh them just yet, so this is simply a raw average for now. If they took my rating, that would put the Royals fifth in between the Dodgers and Rockies. I like Kauffman and the Royals better than both those teams and their ballparks, personally, but I know I am a Royals fan, which colors my view a bit (plus my family cheers for the Giants so that also colors things as well).
Of course, this rating isn’t totally complete. I still have two categories to consider (ballpark experience and accessibility) so this rating could change after tomorrow’s game (which is why I didn’t weigh it; I feel those two categories are weighed so heavily that including the weights with this initial rating would be unfair, not to mention complicated). I do worry about accessibility since I definitely prefer the “mass transit to the ballpark” options of San Francisco and Oakland which Kansas City is devoid of. However, I can tolerate driving and parking if the commute is tolerable, which will be interesting to see during a day game during the week.
Let’s hope Kauffman Stadium and the Royals have a good one in store for Wednesday afternoon.