After last weekend’s devesating Kansas City Chiefs playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship game, many Kansas City sports fans already began diverting their attention toward the upcoming Royals season:
That being said, Major League Baseball is still entrenched in a lockout that has extended for almost two months, which has halted any kind of “hot stove” talk that has typically dominated the baseball news circles during the Winter months prior to Spring Training.
Unfortunately for baseball fans, after yesterday’s meetings, it seems likely that Spring Training will not begin on time, which could possibly affect the start of the 2022 Major League season.
There is no doubt that when Chiefs season is over, Kansas City becomes a Royals town for the Spring and Summer months. While the city has been rejuvenated as a “baseball town” after the 2014 and 2015 AL Pennants and World Series runs (which included a World Series title in 2015), Kauffman Stadium still was a place to be in the Spring and Summer even during the roughest stretches in Royals history (i.e. the 90’s and early 2000’s).
That being said, with the emergence of Sporting KC as an MLS powerhouse, and NFL fandom being a year-around sport (which includes the NFL Draft in late April), how will baseball be affected in Kansas City, especially if the lockout continues to dive into ugly territory with hostile relations with players and owners and maybe lost games?
Let’s take a look at what the enthusiasm for Royals baseball (and baseball in general) could look like for the upcoming season.
In terms of MLB ownership groups, it is safe to say that there is a positive relationship between John Sherman and Kansas City, which cannot be said for most other MLB fanbases (just look at Dick Manfort and Denver for example).
That being said, the Royals are not winning over sports fans in traditional ways, such as spending an exorbitant amount on players at the Major League level. When it comes to projected payrolls for the upcoming season, the Royals are projected to rank 25th with an estimated payroll of $77.3 million, according to Cot’s Contracts. To some casual fans, that may signal an organization that is not “paying enough” to win.
However, the Royals’ estimated payroll has to be taken with a grain of salt, especially when considering Kansas City as one of baseball’s smallest markets (Kansas City is only bigger than Cincinnati and Milwaukee, and not by much).
The Royals may not be handing out big dollars on free agents, but they are spending money, just in different areas that may not be as obvious to casual sports fans like team payroll.
The Royals have made tremendous expenditures in the past three seasons in terms of scouting and player development. This is evidenced by them hiring more coaches and specialists at the Major and Minor League level, and their recent International Signing class, as they set a franchise record when it came to signings:
So far, this emphasis on player development and scouting the past few years under Sherman has paid off, as the Royals have one of the most exciting prospects in baseball with Bobby Witt, Jr. and their farm system is currently ranked as the fifth-best system in baseball, according to Baseball America (and a significant step up from their No. 14 rankings):
The Royals may not be handing out expensive contracts to free-agent talent at the big league level like Kansas City’s NFL counterpart. But they are investing in different areas which will pay off more in the long-term, which will be key for a small market team like the Royals if the current financial landscape of baseball doesn’t change much after the lockout.
Beyond the actual organization though, the Royals have also won a lot of fans in the Kansas City area, regardless of their record, due to the team’s commitment to supporting many community initiatives, especially in the downtown and urban core of Kansas City.
The Royals’ Urban Youth Academy is a model for many cities when it comes to promoting the sport’s growth with younger populations, especially in high-need communities. And the Royals, through Royals Charities, are contributing financially to the Negro League Baseball Museum to provide free attendance for guests who visit the museum during Black History Month in February:
If that wasn’t enough, there are substantial talks in place to begin work on a downtown baseball stadium in Kansas City once the lease is up at the Truman Sports Complex. While this idea has its fair share of detractors (mostly due to Kansas City’s affinity for Kauffman) and there are questions about how it will be paid for (how much will come via taxpayer money), a downtown baseball stadium could still be a huge economic boost to Kansas City, especially in the downtown area, which is looking to see further growth in the near future:
On a baseball end, the Royals have not really been all that relevant since the 2017 season (and even then, they finished with an 80-82 record). However, under Sherman, the Royals have been putting money in all kinds of ways, both on the field and off, and that is not just building goodwill with Kansas City sports fans, but could also help Royals fandom be even more passionate and loyal in the coming seasons as well, especially if they jettison up the standings, as expected, in 2023 and beyond.
Nonetheless, there probably will be some kind of effect on Royals baseball in Kansas City from the lockout.
The fact of the matter is that going to a Royals baseball game is not a “cheap” affair, which I have experienced myself as a regular Royals season-ticket holder.
With parking passes increasing to $20 last season, regular gameday tickets ranging in the $15 and above range, and concession prices only rising and rising (with the exception of dollar nights on Fridays), it is becoming harder for the normal, average person and family to just enjoy a game. Honestly, that’s not something specific to the Royals. Go to any other MLB ballpark and the financial commitment is just as steep.
However, in a small market city like Kansas City, the prices hurt nonetheless.
And with other options like Sporting KC or even college baseball in the Spring, and the Independent Kansas City Monarchs in KCK in the Summer months, it is becoming easier for individuals and families to consider other, and more affordable, sports options during Royals baseball seasons.
And with the lockout heightening tensions? That could have an effect, even despite Sherman and the Royals’ best efforts to build good relations with fans on their end.
Maybe it won’t be dramatic. Maybe attendance won’t change all that much.
But if the Royals are not in the mix by late July, and Sporting KC and the Monarchs are? Well, the Royals could see those gate numbers and fan following struggles amplify in August and September (which will be further hurt by the start of Chiefs training camp).
The lockout will hurt a lot of other ballclubs, especially ones in similar markets like Kansas City, which are small and have other sporting options in the summer months. Hardcore baseball fans like myself will continue to be passionate about baseball, even if Spring Training games or God forbid, actual games, are lost in 2022.
But the longer this lockout happens, the more it will linger with casual sports fans in the Kansas City area…
And who knows how that could affect the Royals’ investment, not just in the club, but in the city and community in general.
Photo Credit: John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images