The bottom three teams in the American League’s attendance chart this season include one first-place squad (the Cleveland Indians, who rank 12th), a third-place club that is just one game out of first (the Tampa Bay Rays, who rank 13th) and a last-place team that is just two games out of first (the 14th-place Oakland Athletics) through the games of Tuesday, May 24.
The Kansas City Royals, whose average crowd of 18,803 at 40,055-seat Kauffman Stadium ranks 11th in the league, are the first team among the attendance bottom feeders whose performance is in line with the tepid interest at the gate thus far. The Royals, who have had a losing record in 15 of the last 16 seasons and have lost at least 90 games in eight of the last 10 years, are actually performing better than expected, but at 22-25, they are already 8 ½ games behind the scorching Indians in the AL Central.
As the team begins to emerge from its generation-long funk on the field, though, there are signs Royals fans are ready to follow suit and file into Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals have what is universally considered the best farm system in the game, with a remarkable nine players listed among the top 100 minor leaguers in the game by Baseball America magazine, and are the admittedly very early pick to be a serious World Series contender come 2013.
The player considered to be the best of the Royals’ minor leaguers, rookie first baseman Eric Hosmer, was promoted to the major leagues Friday, May 6, and his presence in the lineup led to the sale of almost 10,000 day-of-game tickets at Kauffman Stadium that night. Beginning with Hosmer’s debut, the Royals have averaged 22,257 fans in 10 home dates at Kauffman Stadium, up more than 5,000 per game from their pre-Hosmer average of 17,077 in 20 home dates. In addition, in their last 10 home games, the Royals had just three crowds below the pre-Hosmer average.
Part of that boost is due to the calendar: Hosmer arrived on a Friday and weekend series almost always draw better than weekday series, and the Royals completed their most recent homestand by hosting the intrastate rival St. Louis Cardinals in a weekend interleague series that drew an average of 29,080.
Yet even before Hosmer joined the big league team, interest in the Royals was rising. The Royals drew 30,690 fans for his debut, the third time in a nine-game homestand they welcomed at least 29,000 fans. And, television ratings for Royals games were up dramatically over a year ago — 26 percent, according to a recent article in the Kansas City Star newspaper — even before Hosmer’s arrival. The team has also experienced improvements in web traffic and merchandise sales as well.
Royals vice president George Brett, who collected every one of his 3,154 hits in a Royals uniform and is the franchise’s lone representative in the Baseball Hall of Fame, told the Star that he is “convinced…there’s more of an interest in this team right now than there has been in years.”
On the secondary ticket market, the Royals are not a big draw, but some brokers have generated decent sales. According to ticket search engine SeatGeek, the average price for a Royals ticket on the resale market is $32, which puts them 26th out of 30 MLB teams. For the teams next home game, May 30 against the Los Angeles Angels, StubHub has more than 1,000 tickets available starting at $5 each.
“We’re making a little money them,” ASC Ticket owner Jeff Greenberg told TicketNews, “mainly because we bought some of their two-for-one ticket deals.”
Greenberg said his company could make close to 15 percent profit on the tickets, but as with a lot of teams, that will depend on “how they play on the field.”
Few markets in baseball are as starved to root for a winner as Kansas City, which hosted one of baseball’s best teams during a 15-year stretch from 1975 through 1988 in which the Royals enjoyed 12 winning seasons, made the playoffs seven times (including in the strike-shortened 1981 season, when they finished with an overall record of 50-53) and won the World Series in 1985.
But the Royals have not made the playoffs since 1985, by far the longest drought in the American League, and have produced just four winning seasons since 1990, back when Hosmer was not even a year old. The Royals, despite being owned by former WalMart executive David Glass, have annually fielded a team with one of the lowest payrolls in the game — this year’s squad began the season with the lowest payroll at a little more than $36 million — and have been forced to trade homegrown stars such as Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran before losing them for nothing once they reach free agency.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the last time the Royals sold as many as 2 million tickets and managed to finish in the top 10 in the AL in attendance. They have placed 11th or lower in each of the last seven seasons.