There’s no question: America misses Major League Baseball. Kansas City misses Royals baseball. There is no doubt that the summer would be a much drearier time, especially in Kansas City, if baseball does not resume in any form, either with or without fans, in 2020.
However, it seems like the challenges of resuming play are only becoming more difficult, and already, it seems like MLB Owners’ proposal is getting massive heat from MLBPA, as expected. While the details are better described in the post below, essentially, the players will experience massive pay cuts, which the owners ensure is necessary to alleviate their own expected massive losses, especially if no fans are able to attend baseball games in stadium this season:
Things also took a turn for the worse in terms of owner-player negotiations after reports leaked that the Oakland Athletics notified Minor League players in their organization that they would not be paying them their $400 a week stipend after May 31st (Major League Baseball essentially pushed teams to do so for April and May). The decision has sparked huge outrage among players, fans, and even the media, as the decision could set a precedent, and allow other Major League clubs to follow suit, and also withhold money from players in their farm system, who are already vastly underpaid as it is.
Granted, the Royals haven’t entered Athletics levels of “frugality” just yet (and let’s be honest, if any club was going to do this, it was going to be the A’s, who are known for cost-cutting to the extreme; hell, they didn’t enter into a radio contract this year in order to save money). That being said, the next week or so will be crucial for John Sherman and the Royals ownership group, as they will be forced to make a lot of difficult decisions financially, especially if the owners and players are not able to come to an immediate agreement on returning to play.
This isn’t exactly the start Sherman and the ownership group expected when they bought the franchise in November.
The change of ownership for the Royals franchise came at an interesting time shortly after the conclusion of the 2019 season. The Royals did win two pennants and a World Series championship under David Glass’ tenure as CEO and Primary Owner, which began in 1993 after Ewing Kauffman’s death (Glass was the CEO of the Ewing Kauffman Estate, which owned the Royals until Glass bought it outright in 2000). Furthermore, Glass kept the team in Kansas City, an issue that plagued previous professional baseball and even other sports teams in Kansas City in the past (the Athletics famously moved from Kansas City to Oakland, and the NHL Scouts and NBA Kings also moved after brief tenures in Kansas City). However, Glass received a lot of heat, especially early on in his tenure, for being a frugal owner, not willing to spend at either the Major or Minor League level to help the club become successful in either the short or long-term. While things did change after Glass hired general manager Dayton Moore, and the 2014 and 2015 seasons did soften the blow of those early Glass years, it does seem like some Royals fans are quick to blame Glass for the overall struggles of the franchise over the past 26 seasons.
The arrival of Sherman and his ownership group brought a breath of fresh air to Kansas City, especially during Royals FanFest. Unlike Glass, who seemed more aloof from the media, especially during his latter years (though that was probably due to health reasons, as he passed away in January), Sherman was forthright and open with Royals fans and media. He credited his previous experience in “ownership” in baseball, as he frequently referenced his time as a minority owner of the Cleveland Indians. And lastly, he seemed to paint a bright, promising outlook for the Royals franchise, as he stressed being competitive at the Major League level without sacrificing the farm system in the process (and his time in Cleveland certainly gave him the experience to do so, as the Indians have been constantly at the top of the Central thanks to their balance of Major League talent, and farm system depth).
Yes, there is a lot of hope for Sherman and what he can do as the principal owner for the Royals. There seems to be a better commitment and plan to winning in year one under Sherman and his group than year one under Glass back in 1993. But now, Sherman and his group face a monumental challenge: can they balance doing the right thing for players and employees financially while juggling this medical and financial crisis in a small market like Kansas City?
There’s no question Kansas City denizens care about their sports teams. They also care how their sports teams look in the public eye. When it comes to support, Kansas City fans hold their players, coaches, managers, and owners to high standards, not just in terms of what they do on the field, but off it as well. It’s why Todd Haley didn’t last as Chiefs coach (because he was a dick). It’s why Glass faced so much vitriol early on as Royals owner (because it felt like he was pinching pennies to line his own pockets rather than give the people of Kansas City a winning baseball club).
Sure there are exceptions to this (the Tyreek Hill incident still remains fascinating as many Chiefs fans seemed to be okay with what happened a lot sooner than expected; thought to be honest, the details of that situation remain muddled). However, when it comes to what a sports franchise does, especially if it’s the Royals or Chiefs, Kansas City people expect better. It’s a by-product of the Midwestern and honestly, heavily Christian-concentrated, values of Kansas City and the Metro area (and even surrounding states like Iowa, Nebraska, and parts of Arkansas). What Tampa Bay and Oakland owners do, which can often get overlooked or ignored due to community apathy, cannot fly in Kansas City, because the fans care too much about “everything” regarding their team, which can be both a blessing (great fan support) and a curse at times (over-investment and impatience) for the Royals and Chiefs.
And that is the issue Sherman faces. Without a doubt, there is probably dissension in his ownership group. While there are some celebrities and big business names involved, many of the new owners aren’t exactly flush with cash, or maybe not as invested personally as Sherman. They may want their investment back, or they may want to prevent losses, especially amplified as they may be suffering economically in other areas of their wealth as well. Sherman seems like a stand-up guy, and everything he has done so far during this crisis seems to show that he cares not just about the players and employees of his organization, but also the perception of the Royals in the public eye. Unlike some clubs, who have eventually been pressured by public shame to cave in when it comes to paying employees, the Royals have always been on the forefront in terms of doing what is right for everyone involved in the organization during this critical time.
That being said, the Royals are not the Yankees or the Dodgers. While the Royals are worth over $1 billion dollars, they ranked second-to-last in Forbes’ recent MLB franchise valuation rankings (only the Marlins has less value). Furthermore, their franchise is also about half the value of the Kansas City Chiefs, which also shows that in the grand scheme of things, the Royals are a “small market” franchise in every sense of the word (however, though the Chiefs are worth $2.4 billion, they still only rank 24th in the league when it comes to franchise value).
The Royals are doing what they can now, but what will happen if the Minor League season gets cancelled? (Which seems like a strong possibility, if not a foregone conclusion at this point after two lost months of play). What happens if the season gets further delayed or cancelled? What will happen to the players? What will happen to the employees? And how will the Royals compensate and credit Royals season ticket holders, who already were being generous to buy or renew tickets after the club suffered back-to-back 100-loss seasons?
Sherman and his ownership group have done all the right things for the Royals thus far, but things can change a lot, especially in times of financial struggle. If negotiations don’t improve, the Royals could be faced with making drastic cuts, which could not only hurt the players and employees, but also put a black eye on the Royals in terms of public perception that could haunt them for years after this crisis. After all, the Royals are already trying to compete in a market where the Chiefs are front and center on everything in Kansas City after the Chiefs’ recent Super Bowl win. The Royals cannot afford to lose more ground and give Kansas City sports fans more reason to stop paying attention to Royals baseball sooner, if not completely.
There still is time, and nothing official has been said about what the Royals will be doing when it comes to paying players and employees beyond May. But as these negotiations perhaps stall or get more muddled, Sherman and his ownership group will start to feel the pressure financially.
And perhaps Royals fans will see the ownership’s true colors.
Let’s hope as Royals fans, Sherman and his group continue to do what is right for everyone involved, both inside and outside, in the Royals franchise.