The Royals are a very bad baseball team. They have been particularly lousy in front of the home fans, winning just 29% of their home games, on pace to be the second-worst home record in franchise history, behind the 2005 Royals. And fans have, accordingly, stayed away. Attendance is down 22% over last year - only the Marlins and Blue Jays have had a bigger drop in attendance this year.
And yet, an average of 22,000 fans are still showing up to Royals games, despite the team being out of any kind of pennant race since about the second week of the season. Television ratings are down, but still pretty strong, ranking fifth in baseball. Our readership numbers are pretty steady from where they were last year. Obviously you still care about the Royals.
Fandom is a weird thing, and unique to each fan. The name itself comes from the word “fanatic”, which has been defined as “a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal.” The definition suggests an obsessive nature of interest, incapable of being dissipated by facts or logic. But not all fans are like that. Everyone tunes in to the Royals for different reasons. What kind of fan are you?
The Transactional Fan
These are the fans derided as “bandwagon fans.” They are at the stadium with the K is rockin’ and rollin’ and the Royals are winning pennants, but gone once the party’s over. These fans are invested because they get something out of it - a good time, winning, the prestige of being associated with a champion.
These transactional fans may be looked down upon by other fans, but logically, this approach makes the most sense. There is no award for sticking with a team through losing years, no added incentive other than intangibles like pride. Hop on and off the bandwagon at will, spend your money only when you get a return on your investment. In fact, they might argue that sticking with the team through the losing years gives the franchise an incentive not to try as hard to win - this was the criticism of the Cubs for many years as fans would pack the friendly confines of Wrigley despite decades without a pennant. These fans are likely nowhere to be seen at Kauffman Stadium this year.
The Loyal Fan
This is the fan teams covet and praise as being “True Blue” fans since they will stick with the team through thick or thin. We consider fan loyalty a value to be honored, a value with integrity. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and you can only truly appreciate the 2015 championship season if you lived through the agony and embarrassment of watching Ken Harvey crash into Jason Grimsley.
The transactional fans may look down on the loyal fans for giving ownership and management a pass, but the thing is, you never know when things are about to turn around. It was late July of 2014 when many fans (including on this site) were calling for Dayton Moore to be fired. The rest is history. Following the team on its way up was like discovering the next awesome rock band while they’re still playing in dive bars. And the journey to get there - the losing seasons, the 2011 farm system, the James Shields trade, the late run in 2013 - made the destination even more special. Despite all the losing, these fans still turn out at the K, loss after frustrating loss.
The Personal Fan
Some fans care more about the name on the back of the jersey than the name on the front. They’re there to see the Salvy Splash, Two-Hit Whit, and Duffman. The Royals have done a good job catering to these fans by retaining a solid core throughout the last decade rather than churning the roster every year. Even though some stars have departed, there are still a number of reconizable faces.
Maybe those fans will stick with the players to their next MLB destination, maybe they won’t. But they’ll still turn out in Kansas City while those players are here. There aren’t quite as many of these fans as is commonly portrayed. Fans are coming out in droves to see Salvador Perez play on a terrible team. The “star” element in baseball is much less than in basketball. But there is still some draw, and some fans that are there to see the players they know and love.
The Casual Fan
The Royals are in last place now? That may be news to some fans, who are simply low-information fans. And that’s fine, that’s great! Coming out and enjoying a beautiful night of baseball is much less worrying if you don’t have to care about the standings much. Maybe you don’t follow baseball, or even know the rules. That’s okay. Baseball stadiums are a pretty forgiving place for the newbie. In fact, they often try their hardest to attract these fans “DO YOU LIKE BEER? WE HAVE BEER. OH AND BY THE WAY, WE HAVE BASEBALL.”
Not all casual fans are beer-swilling drunkards, of course. Some are the wives of baseball bloggers who enjoy a night out and wonder “is David DeJesus still on the team?” But there will always be casual fans, because who on earth has the time and inclination to obsessively follow a kid’s sport?
I imagine most of the fans here are loyal fans, those that stick with the team through thick and thin. But not all obsessive baseball fans are that loyal, there are some that get fed up with the direction of the club and give up on the team.
But if you’re still here, still following the Royals in late-August in a season careening towards a franchise-record in losses, still caring about what Rosell Herrera does, and whether Brad Keller is improving - why? What keeps you hooked in?