Dear John Sherman and the new Royals Ownership Group,
Thank you for taking over our beloved Kansas City Royals. As you know, Mr. Sherman, this club means a lot to the community of Kansas City. If there was one thing we appreciate as a metro area, it’s that previous owner David Glass, and even the founding owner, Ewing Marion Kauffman, made it a priority to keep the club in Kansas City. In this day and age where owners hold cities ransom when it comes to stadium costs and taxes and are ready to move if those demands are not met, we are glad that previous Royals owners made it clear that the Royals were not going anywhere, even before the magical runs of 2014 and 2015.
As you know, it’s been some lean years since 2015, when the Royals won their second World Series in club history. As a supportive and realistic Royals fan, we understand that not every season can be like 2015 or even 2014. What happened was a glorious mix of young talent maturing into fruition, smart managing, and timely roster tinkering that produced some of the best baseball the area has ever seen at Kauffman Stadium. We understand that with one of the smallest markets in Major League Baseball, that the Royals are not the Yankees or Red Sox, and that we have to learn to let players go in free agency, even if we wish they would not. It was tough to see such key franchise figures like Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas leave Kansas City, but we are grateful that they stayed Royals as long as they did, and produced some of the greatest sporting moments this town has ever seen.
However, as a new owner, you know the situation you’re getting into and the challenges you and your ownership group will face. You wouldn’t buy the club for $1.2 billion if you didn’t have all your ducks in a row. You know that total attendance has dropped over 800,000 from 2017 to 2019, and home games at the K often ended up being hot spots for opposing fans, especially those from rivals clubs in the AL Central and from St. Louis. You know that the Royals are losing share to the Chiefs not just during the August and September months when Training Camp is starting (which is to be expected in any MLB city that has a NFL team), but even in the dog days of summer, where baseball should be the primary focus of the city. You know that fans are not totally thrilled with the hiring of former Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, and feel Dayton Moore may have run his course after 14 years as general manager. These are issues and challenges that need to be addressed as soon as this Winter if the Royals want to recapture the city like they did from 2014-2017, when the club was competitive.
And I say this not just as a Kansas City resident and Royals blogger, but also as a ticket holder, as I decided to become a member of “The Keep” this year. Even though I don’t make the greatest salary as a high school educator, I am making this commitment because I love the game of baseball and love the Royals more than any sports team in Kansas City. They are my team through and through, and I will cheer for this club in both good and bad. However, there are three things that I (and I think many fans as well) would like to see in 2020.
Make a game at the K more affordable
In 2019, according to Statista.com, the average ticket price for a Royals game was $65. That price put the Royals in the middle of the league, as it was higher than 16 other clubs in baseball. While I understand the Royals had to adjust prices due to the club spending more in player salary over the years after a string of competitiveness, a ticket price of $65 in this market is just far too high, especially after back to back 100 loss seasons. And it’s not just tickets that is the problem, doing something about the high price of concessions would also go a long way as well (which I have highlighted before on a previous incarnation of this blog).
It should be a priority for you, Mr. Sherman, that ticket prices decrease substantially in the next couple of years. Kauffman Stadium seeing a little over 1.4 million fans over the course of a season, and an average attendance of 18,267 should be a wake up call that fans do not like coming to the ballpark under the current price structure. Yes, you could credit the lackluster team as a primary reason for the dwindling in attendance to an extent. However, Detroit, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and San Diego were also last place teams in their division, and they had considerably better attendance numbers than us both on a total and average end. Thus, the Royals can only credit record as an excuse for so long.
Back in 2016 and maybe 2017, those ticket prices would have made sense. The club was competitive, and the aura from 2015 was still strong. That is gone now, and fans need reason to go the ballpark. They need reasons to come to the K on a weekday night and not just on the weekends or for Buck Night on Fridays. Lowering the ticket prices and some of the concession prices would go a long way to showing that the Royals are doing what they can to bring fans back to the K, and make it full again. It’s sad to go to games at the K and half of the fans are wearing opposing colors. Hopefully making the experience more affordable could help bring in more people wearing blue and white at the K on game day.
Focus on a youth movement in the organization
From 2014-2017, the initiative was to win now. However, in 2018 and 2019, remnants of that plan colored the team, even though it was clear a rebuild with young talent was in order. Lucas Duda was signed to be a DH/1B. Billy Hamiltion was preferred over Brian Goodwin, who was a more cost-controlled and cheaper option than Hamilton, a one-year flier. Chris Owings for a brief period of time was preferred as the Royals’ utility infielder, when it was obvious that the Royals had better options in the minors like Nicky Lopez.
I, along with many other Royals fans, understand that payroll will likely decrease this year for a third-straight season. That is okay, Mr. Sherman. This club needs to exercise the fiscal responsibility and front office shrewdness that helped build those competitive Royals teams from 2013-2017. Money does not need to be wasted on Jason Hammel or Ian Kennedy or Brandon Moss in free agency. The Royals need to look for more affordable options, and thankfully, the Royals could do that within their own system.
Lopez has a shot to be a solid second-baseman both offensively and defensively for years to come. O’Hearn deserves one more shot to see if he can finally be more than just a three-true-outcomes guy. Brett Phillips and Bubba Starling need time to prove that they can be regular outfielders at the Major League level, as they have showed flashes of competency and even brilliance during their time here in Kansas City. The rotation is chock full of talent in the minors, but the club needs Brad Keller to help mentor and lead the way for the Brady Singer’s and Daniel Lynch’s when they arrive to Kansas City.
The cupboard is not bare, but it needs chances and needs development. And the organization as a whole needs that focus. The minor league system has to be a priority on day one of your ownership. Kansas City is a small-market club, but so are the Cardinals. They built a winner through a solid minor league system that drafted, signed, and developed their talent in the minor leagues. The Royals have the potential to do that too. The “Royals Way” could measure up to the “Cardinals Way” sooner than we think, and then, we can have an I-70 Rivalry to really be proud of.
But that needs to happen now. The system needs to grow, and the young guys need their shots to prove what they can do at the Major League level. The young guys are key for the Royals turning it around, and they need your support, Mr. Sherman. It’s on Matheny to create that clubhouse culture where young guys are valued, and it’s up to Moore and his team to continue to stock and develop talent in the Royals system. Royals fans gravitate toward players that grew up in professional baseball as Royals. It’s why Royals fans have embraced Moose, Hos, Salvy, and Gordo…they were drafted and developed by the Royals and succeeded at the big league level…as Royals. Now, it’s time for the Royals to find that next crop.
Because once they arrive, I guarantee you, Mr. Sherman, Royals fans will get behind this club again with the enthusiasm of those seasons from 2014-2017.
We don’t need a downtown stadium…just make it easier to get to the K
I know there is a lot of talk about getting a downtown stadium to help spark interest in getting people to come to the K on a weekday night. I get it. I grew up in Northern California, and I have seen at the Triple-A level (Sacramento Rivercats’ Raley Field) and Major League level (San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park) how a downtown stadium benefits the club. I know how going to those games are experiences and how easy it is to enjoy the game without dealing with the hassle of a commute or parking.
However, I understand how expensive and daunting a downtown stadium project is. And I also understand how feelings on a civic level can get hurt when it comes to figuring out how to pay for that stadium. Just take a look at Oakland, who are isolating some of the best and most loyal fans in baseball because the club is trying to hold the city hostage for a new stadium in downtown Oakland. It would be a shame that a similar situation could arise in KC, where let’s face it, our civic government can be hot and cold with certain projects.
Instead of trying to build a whole new stadium downtown, Mr. Sherman, the Royals should push for a better transit system to and from Kauffman Stadium. Instead of a streetcar that goes downtown, let’s push for a light rail that goes from Downtown KC to Kauffman instead. Not only would it make transportation easier on the weeknight for the younger crowd that would like to have a few “pops” before the game, but it would also help bring in people who want to enjoy the Downtown KC night life before or after a game. Furthermore, the whole city could benefit, as it could connect to other cities and communities in the metro, which would give it even more utility as a civic project.
Kauffman is a wonderful place to watch a baseball game. And it still holds up even in this current day and age of modern “downtown” stadiums. But I agree that we need to involve “the City” of KC a little bit more in order to bring more people the K, especially on a weeknight. A light rail system, not a new stadium, would be a step in the right direction, and could also be a better long-term and financial civic project as well for all parties involved.
I hope you have given my ideas some thought, Mr. Sherman. As a Royals fan and ticket holder, I am hopeful and excited for what you will bring to this great Royals club and organization. I, as well as Royals fans everywhere, cannot wait for 2020 Spring Training to start and are rooting for this club to improve next season!
The Royals Reporter