Downtown stadiums are great…but keep Kauffman where it is

Growing up in Sacramento, California, my family had access to three baseball parks to get our baseball fix (baseball was the biggest sport in our household): Raley Field in West Sacramento, home of the Triple-A Sacramento Rivercats; Oracle (then Pac Bell) Park in San Francisco, home of the San Francisco Giants; and the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Oakland Athletics.

My family often went to Rivercats and Giant games mostly because a.) the Rivercats were closest (even if it was Minor League baseball); and b.) the Giants were my family’s MLB team. In addition to being the team my family cheered for primarily, the Giants also had a great park in the heart of the city that was easy to visit through the BART.

Now, on occasion my family would go to A’s games at the Coliseum. Unlike Oracle Park, it wasn’t a sexy venue by any means. It was a concrete monstrosity, and the only “attraction” around it was a mediocre Italian restaurant across the highway. However, while Oracle Park had all the bells and whistles as a stadium (Garlic Fries and Crazy Crab Sandwiches were some of our favorites) and area (the SOMA area around the stadium was a lot more fun to hang out around once I got to be of drinking age), there was something special about the Coliseum. It was just a great place to watch a baseball game. I remember watching a Giants-A’s game with my Dad, and not only got tickets about 30 bucks cheaper than the rate at Oracle, but it was also a great environment where the stadium was split in half when it came to fans wearing black and orange or green and gold.

Furthermore, I remember about five years ago attending my friends wedding in Oakland, and for the Wedding rehearsal dinner, we went to the Coliseum to watch the Royals take on the A’s. Remember, this was 2015, the year the Royals won the World Series, and it was awesome to see my newly “embraced” team (I moved to Kansas City in 2013) play in a park I secretly liked and grew up around.

By modern standards, the Coliseum is the antithesis of what every baseball team wants from their stadium. The trend these days is for baseball stadiums to be in the downtown of their respective city, with the idea that daily baseball games can bring not just increased revenue into the stadium, but into the surrounding businesses (such as bars and restaurants) around the stadium as well. The Giants were a prime example of a downtown stadium leading to massive economic success, but they were far from the only case of a MLB team rejuvenating a downtown econoy (Baltimore, San Diego, and even St. Louis are some examples).

And now, it seems like Kansas City may want to get into the “downtown” baseball stadium business and be more like Oracle Park than the Coliseum, which Kauffman Stadium is closer to in profile:

Honestly, I get the thinking (though the closure of the Star building is bittersweet for me as a newspaper junkie). It seems unlikely that a NHL or NBA team will move to the T-Mobile Center (or whatever the hell it is called) anytime soon (though there is a possibility of the Raptors doing a temporary move to KC during this pandemic-affected season). So if KC could somehow build a baseball stadium in the downtown area, I am sure that would be enticing to many of the Power and Light and Crossroads bars and restaurant owners who would be eager to cash in on that MLB fan traffic that would come from a downtown baseball stadium.

And this isn’t the first time either that a new stadium has been floated under new owner John Sherman:

However, while the idea of a downtown stadium sounds lucrative, Sherman should keep Kauffman Stadium where it is for now and years to come.

Because at the end of the day, Kauffman Stadium is just a gem of a stadium, even if it may be closer in style to the Coliseum in Oakland than Oracle Park in San Francisco.

There’s something unique about Kauffman Stadium in comparison to many other ballparks in Major League Baseball. I have been to nearly a dozen MLB ballparks across the nation and it still strikes me to this day how unique Kauffman is compared to the other ballparks I have visited.

Mostly because Kauffman Stadium is all about the tailgate and the parking lot atmosphere.

It’s about pounding Boulevard beers, and playing yard games like cornhole (or bags, whatever you want to call it) and washers while waiting to head to the stadium just in time for first pitch. It’s about grilling hot dogs and burgers or chowing on BBQ brisket or burnt end sandwiches from LC’s BBQ, which is located just outside of the stadium. No Kauffman tailgate experience is the same. Some are glorious. Some are meh. Some are horrifying (it’s crazy to see how the young Royals fans can lose their stuff on UV vodka).

And unfortunately, Royals fans just wouldn’t get that from a downtown stadium. A downtown stadium would just sterilize the Royals baseball game day environment. There’s something uniquely Kansas City and Midwest about a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium. A game at the K, including the tailgate, traffic, and all, amplifies what it’s like to live in a Midwestern city, especially a mid-seized one like Kansas City. It’s not overly exciting, and it can be more laid back than it needs to be at times, but despite it’s simplicity, a game at Kauffman Stadium is a complete and enriching experience for the most passionate of baseball fans from the time one arrives to the parking lot to the time one leaves.

That just couldn’t be duplicated through a pre-game bar scene at Power and Light before a 7:15 Friday night game at a downtown stadium. Going to a Royals game is not like going to a concert at T-Mobile Center. I would rather be drinking a six-pack of Boulevard Wheat I bought at a local Gomer’s than a 12 dollar Coors Light at the courtyard bar of KC Live.

And honestly, I know most hardcore Royals fans would agree with me on that idea as well.

Photo credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

I do know the decision to move Kauffman to downtown would be something a decade or two in the making. It’s not a plan that would come to fruition and soon, which makes sense considering that Kauffman Stadium was just recently renovated in 2009 and hosted the All Star Game recently in 2012. If the Royals did move downtown, it would be a long while before that would become a reality in Kansas City.

Even if a new downtown Royal stadium was a long-term plan 20-ish or so years down the line, Royals ownership should still avoid the idea. Kauffman Stadium can draw huge crowds when the teams are good, and even then, the Royals are not the Rays or Marlins when the team is bad. Royals fans are a loyal bunch, and they appreciate Kauffman for what it is. Creating a downtown stadium would not only change the culture of the stadium, but it would perhaps suck the soul of the hardcore and loyal fanbase as well. Losing that group, even if it is relatively small, isn’t worth it, especially considering how Royals fans have stuck with this club since the rebuilding process began in 2018.

I know it’s tempting for Royals fans. it’s tempting to think about what a downtown stadium could do for this city. It’s possible to dream about a downtown baseball stadium area that would rival, if not surpass, our Eastern Missouri rivals.

That being said, Kauffman needs to stay. It needs to say not just for years, but decades.

Because Kauffman Stadium is not just the epitome of what is Royals baseball.

It is the epitome of everything that is good and special in Kansas City as well.

10 thoughts on “Downtown stadiums are great…but keep Kauffman where it is

  1. From 2009-2015 I saw games in all 30 MLB ballparks with my son and continue seeing games when I travel along with about 40 home games in Baltimore. (20 minor league parks also) I’ve been twice to Kauffman and I LOVED IT. The waterfalls are unique, the prices(tix, food, and parking) are low compared with other stadiums. I would love it if I lived in the area. As far as the location being outside of town and less convenient to get to, the Braves new stadium(Trust Park) is at least 10 miles north of Atlanta with no public transportation and almost nobody lives or works nearby. While downtown stadiums seem to be popular now, the $1-2 billion price tag is not. Look at what’s happening in Oakland now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really wonder if a downtown stadium will have the kind of economic impact that the Royals hope. I feel like so much of the fanbase depends on those families, and while a downtown stadium may be able to help with the younger crowd, I am not sure if that crowd exists like it does in Boston, Chicago, SF, etc. I think Kauffman is such a special park in itself, and I worry that a new stadium re-design, even in a better area, may not necessarily capture the magic of what makes the K the K.


  2. I never thought about the pre-game activities being a big part of the game atmosphere. My wife and I have been to both Colorado and Minnesota home games. The stadiums are nice and the surrounding areas have a lot of bars and restaurants.
    I just can’t see Kansas City residents voting themselves into a multi-million dollar, multi-year debt program. Also, several acres of taxable property in downtown Kansas City would come off the tax rolls.
    If a new stadium is really needed, just build it in Lots C& D.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It will be tough unless there is other funding. Jackson County was taxed for the initial remodel, and I doubt Jackson County and the city would be up for that happening again, especially since Kauffman Stadium itself is in such good shape. The problem isn’t the stadium, like it is in Oakland and Tampa Bay (which are crumbling), just the surrounding area. Honestly, it would make more sense to try to build more around that area to do, but it seems like that isn’t going to happen.


  3. I’ve been going to Royals games since the 70’s and tailgating has never been part of the experience. I doubt if many want to hang out on the asphalt in August.


    1. I know it’s not everybody’s bag, but I find it rare to park in the parking lot and not see people in chairs hanging out and tailgating, even during the rough Summer months. For some people who only go to 1-2 games a year, they tend to get all they can out of the Kauffman experience, and tailgating is part of it.


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