A new ownership group taking over a sports franchise is usually met with incredible fanfare and optimism. The billionaire savior comes out of the bullpen in a Lincoln. Waves as the crowd goes insane. Makes a great speech about the coming glory in the decades to follow. Throws out the first pitch and then magically ascends into the owner’s suite where he looks down upon his kingdom and dines on the finest shrimp cocktail and chicken fingers Aramark has to offer.
Unfortunately for John Sherman, the Royals and his A-list minority partners, he bought the team in the middle of a pandemic and the honeymoon was further delayed by the most useless and petty work stoppage in MLB history. The post-ownership change PR warm fuzzies have been non-existent.
But if you had just woken up from a three year coma, would you know the difference between a David Glass season on factory settings and what we are looking at now? You might think things have gotten worse.
The Royals are currently last in their terrible division, owners of two losing streaks of four and five games in the first month of the season, bottom of the league in offense, 25th in attendance, half of the team’s fans can’t watch the games due to an archaic streaming rights pissing contest and there is zero excitement for a team who has the #1 prospect in baseball, two gold glovers, the reigning AL home run champion and the franchise’s greatest pitcher making his return to the roster after a decade.
The Royals have problems. Big ones.
The Royals and Bally Sports continue to get bashed left and right for their streaming restrictions for people with YouTube TV and other popular platforms. This is a problem straight out of 1997. A major league sports franchise cannot restrict access to its product. Period. I don’t care if there’s nothing you can do about it. What should have been a quick fix has turned into one of the biggest PR fiascos in franchise history.
If I had just spent a billion dollars on a baseball team, I would be doing everything in my power to rectify the situation. I’d be buying out the remainder of the contract and dumping millions into starting my own broadcast streaming network.
Restricting fans’ access after a covid shortened season and pointless lockout is bad business. I get that this isn’t as simple of a solution as I am making it to be. The Royals have very little control over the situation. TV contracts are ironclad, but this is having a devastating effect on the market’s enthusiasm for a product that I think most fans somewhat enjoy no matter how shitty the team is year in and year out. They may not be ready to buy tickets, but they watch in droves when they feel compelled.
Sporting KC is streaming all of their games for free in Missouri and Kansas. They continue to pack 20k into Children’s Mercy Park for the sixth best soccer league in the world. More on attendance in a minute.
In 2022, when you are competing with every screen in the world, you need to make sure your fans can access your product on every screen in the world. The Bally Sports nightmare is the biggest business blunder the Royals have been involved in since the team just straight up decided to not have an owner in the ’90s.
The Royals are currently averaging 15,484 fans a game. Anyone who has been to a game or seen the crowd on tv (if they were lucky enough to have access to a game) knows this is a flat out lie. The Royals have an attendance problem. A massive one. All the excuses in the book have been thrown out. The kids are still in school. The weather is bad. They haven’t had many promo nights. The team is bad. I get it. I’ve worked in sports. The post-opening day lull is very real.
There are 18 teams in MLB averaging 20,000 or more fans as of Monday. Gonna guess they’ve all had issues with weather and school being in session too.
That was the attendance on the infamous annual “School Day at the K”. That number should read 35,000. Lack of enthusiasm among young fans is a major red flag.
I’ve been to two games at Kauffman this year. It’s stale. It is a stale product. I feel like I’ve been going to the same baseball game since 2011 with a handful of playoff games mixed in (which were awesome). Kauffman was electric on Opening Day despite a meager crowd. Haven’t heard it like that in a long time when Bobby Witt Jr. roped a game winning double in the late innings…then the lights go out, the decorations get put away, the buzz dies down and you’re still trying to sell people the same slop in a bucket and tell them it’s delicious. That is both literal and a metaphor for how awful brisketachos are.
In the year following Sherman purchasing the team, the Royals front office was purged of several key figures. Most senior leadership was sent packing or advised to get to packing. To be expected when the new brass takes over in any business. Yet, the baseball operations side was untouched despite putting up back-to-back 100 loss seasons, the dubious milestone that led to Dayton Moore being hired in the first place.
Dayton Moore achieved the impossible in Kansas City. Impossible. Impossible in the scope of the Royals history and reputation as a franchise and impossible in the scope of how Dayton Moore philosophically views the game of baseball. I was content to live the rest of my life to never see the Royals win a World Series. Just luck into the playoffs once. I got way more than I asked for thanks to Dayton Moore.
The unfortunate reality is that Dayton took orders from Sherman to be aggressive in free agency. He went out and tied up over $30 million in Carlos Santana and Michael A. Taylor on two year deals. More of the same. The 2013-16 years are looking more and more like an outlier.
Maybe I’m wrong like I was in 2012 and 2013.
What I do know is this is not what success looks like. This is not what a passing grade looks like. This is flirting with failure. Unfortunately for Sherman, he is carrying the stigma of the Glass family around with him and Royals fans are a stingy bunch. Ned Yost had to beg people to come to the ballpark in 2014. It takes a lot to get momentum going, but once it’s going, it’s difficult to stop.
He came into an unsavory situation. Back-to-back 100-loss seasons just a few years after back-to-back AL pennants. A pandemic. A work stoppage. That’s not easy to overcome.
Maybe I’m overreacting. Someone has to demand a standard, I guess. Especially when the team’s Gen Z beat writers act like glorified cheerleaders and tell fans to not believe their lying eyes.
It’s not all for naught. They are doing some great things. They covered admission to the Negro Leagues Museum for the entire month of February. Momentum for a downtown stadium continues to build. They launched an in-house marketing and creative agency instead of diluting a 53-year old brand by outsourcing it to a flavor-of-the-year marketing agency. They have overhauled their offensive approach in the minor leagues with incredible results. They’re continuing to make an investment in the Urban Youth Academy. They have a great class of prospects coming the next few seasons. I understand that how I sound right now is almost exactly how I sounded in 2012 and the early part of 2013. I don’t think I’m being unrealistic when I say the current product is unacceptable.
The good news about failure (or even the prospect of failure) is that it makes you better. It makes you evaluate. It makes you think. It makes you act. It makes you never want to encounter it again. I am hopeful that the course corrections are coming.