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Hok Talk: Only one thing can get people in the seats.

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Hint: It’ll be more games that look like this.

New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

You don’t have to go far to see this idea that the Royals can and should make roster moves in order to draw more fans. While Nicky Lopez was toiling down in Omaha fans called for his promotion in order to make the team “more exciting” and generate revenue. He made his debut during a game against the Rangers on May 14. It sold fewer than 20,000 tickets. The Royals have sold more than 20,000 tickets only eight times, this year. Their biggest ticket day was, as you might expect, opening day. But even then they only just barely cracked 30,000 far from selling out as they used to do even in the bad old days. And that was the only time they hit even that modest mark, so far.

The Royals will probably promote Bubba Starling at some point this year. He’s hitting acceptably well at AAA, Billy Hamilton isn’t doing anything Bubba couldn’t, and fans have been clamoring for him. They will continue clamoring for him until and unless Billy Hamilton suddenly learns how to hit. Considering he’s at about his career averages, that seems unlikely. Bubba’s promotion might goose the attendance up for a game or two just for the novelty of the local kid making it to the big leagues. I’m sure he has lots of friends and family in the area who’d attend. Of course, it might not even be noticeable, either. Lopez’s appearance in Chicago caused several hundred seats to be purchased in order to support him but those were still some pretty poorly attended games. Admittedly, the weather was pretty nasty. But how can even 1000 tickets in a single night compare when that’s still less than a 10% jump and it only lasts for a night or two?

Much ado was made about the Royals being a much more ‘exciting’ team to watch, this year. They were going to be younger and faster. But it turns out the team really isn’t any younger - the average age of position players last year was 28.6 and the pitchers were 27.6, this year both are at 28 even - and being fast is only so exciting. Average attendance has gone down from a little more than 20,000 a game to only a little more than 16,000 a game. That’s a precipitous 25% drop. I guess watching a player run fast to first base on a routine groundout isn’t actually any more fun than watching them run slowly. It probably doesn’t help that even as a fast team they’ve been caught stealing almost a third of the time. To say nothing of the other times they’ve been thrown out trying to take an extra base. Running fast is all well and good but when your team is losing it just looks like another way to make outs.

And that last sentence brings us, finally, to the point. There is only one way to get people to show up to baseball games. And that is by having a competitive team. From 1977 through 1993, minus the strike-shortened season of 1981, the Royals averaged more than two million tickets sold per season. They were on pace to keep that up in 1994, too, but that season was also shortened by a strike. What do those teams have in common? They were all years in which the Royals could make credible claims of trying to be competitive either by winning lots of games or by being only a couple years removed from winning lots of games. There are only four other seasons in Royals history where they managed to sell 1.9 million tickets or more: 2014-2017; also known as the Royals’ most recent competitive window.

The Royals could dump every veteran and bring up the AAA team and it wouldn’t boost attendance. They could steal more bases than any team this century and it wouldn’t boost attendance. Vague theorizing about the possibility of reaching the second wildcard spot also won’t boost attendance. They could swear they have the solution to world hunger and world peace and they’ll provide it at no additional charge if fans would only fill up the stadium for the rest of the year and I’m still not sure that would boost attendance.

If Dayton Moore really wants to boost the attendance of the team he needs to field a winner. And, since he isn’t going to do that this year, he needs to do the best he can to get a winner as quickly as possible. And that means doing things like actually finding productive talent in the draft, trading for high-upside prospects instead of near-major-league-ready relievers and utility players, or just hanging on to his veterans until their contracts expire. Maybe Dayton Moore still wouldn’t be able to put a competitive team on the field in the near future even if he did all of those things; I’ve pointed out before that there are plenty of reasons to think the recent competitive window was actually a fluke. But the way things are going most fans have already checked out for this season and maybe even next season so there’s no harm in trying. It can’t harm their attendance because they’ve already shown that it’s just not fun to watch a baseball team lose games no matter how they do it.