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Could the Royals Thrive with a Third Professional Sports Team in Kansas City?

CLEVELAND - The vanishing American. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND - The vanishing American. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Right now, I'm watching the Red Sox and Indians play in Cleveland. Despite the presence of Pink Hat Nation and the Red Sox bandwagon fans, there aren't 10,000 fans at the game. Actually, there may not be 5,000. The last two games, both night games, had official attendances around 9,000, which is almost certainly the paid, rather than the actual attendance. Now, it is early, it is cold, and the Indians are bad. Nevertheless, no one is at these games, and it's jarring on TV to see.

I don't want to theorize about the dynamics of a market that I don't live in. (Though my wife is from Cleveland and I spend quite a lot of time there.) The good folks at Lets Go Tribe have been all over the state of the fan attitude for awhile now. There's anger at the owner, anger at the dynamics of baseball, general hopelessness, etc. All of that being said, I wonder if it isn't a little simpler: Cleveland just shouldn't have three major sports teams. As far as I can tell, the Indians-Cavs-Browns have never drawn well at the same time and really, that shouldn't be surprising. Maybe there just isn't enough people (and money and passion) to consistently support three teams.

Which brings us to the Royals. Increasingly, I'm of the mind that Kansas City getting an NBA or NHL team would be bad news for the Royals. The Royals haven't dipped into the A's/Marlins/Indians attendance zone, but they aren't exactly the Cubs. Last season, the Royals averaged 20,191 per game, with some of the cheapest tickets in the game.

Sure, if the Royals win 95 games, people will come. 85 games too. I believe there will be extreme excitement if/when the Royals become competitive. That's all assuming there's only two teams in town. If that downtown arena is also hosting an NBA or NHL team however, I believe there's a different calculus involved.

The Kansas City metro, at 2.06 million, is still relatively small. Sure, joking about Detroit is fun, but the Detroit MSA is literally twice the size of KC's. Cleveland's metro is bigger than KC's too, though just barely. The cities in Kansas City's per group are pretty much a usual suspects list for expansion/relocation: Cincinnati (2.1 M), Sacramento (2.1 M), Cleveland (2.09 M), Orlando (2.08 M), San Antonio (2.07 M), Las Vegas (1.9 M), Columbus (1.8 M), Charlotte (1.7 M). These are mostly one team towns, which highlights how over-saturated Cleveland is. Kansas City is possibly even pushing it having two teams.

The Chiefs are going to be the Chiefs. I think the NFL's popularity relative to the other sports is overstated, but it is, the indisputable king. There's a home game once every two weeks and it's nearly always on the weekend. That's an unbeatable formula. If the Chiefs doubled ticket prices for 2011, would it make a difference? There's also KU and MU sports eating away at the disposable income and non-sports things like movies, dining out, vacations, etc.

As a Royals fan who doesn't live in KC, I can pretty easily be selfish and root against the NBA or NHL coming to town anytime soon. For those of you who live there, I understand that it's a different equation. Gate revenue isn't the only way a baseball team makes money, but it's not something that can be punted either. A shiny new NBA/NHL team might very well draw money away from the Royals at the very moment when the Royals need that money the most.