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Royals ownership has no choice but to spend their way out of this hole

It’s the one way to stoke interest.

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John Sherman
I’ll start using different pics of John Sherman when we get different pics of John Sherman to use. Help us out, USA Today and Getty!
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City sports fans are psycopaths. I say this as a longtime Kansas City resident and I say this lovingly. But it is true—Kansas Citians love their sports with an almost unnerving fervor.

It’s the best place for the Big 12 basketball tournament despite its state not being home to a single team in the league. It’s the future home of the country’s first purpose-built stadium for a women’s sports team. It’s the place where one tenth of the population of the entire metro area showed up to the Royals’ World Series parade in 2015. It’s the place that consistently has some of the best World Cup ratings among all U.S. markets. Kansas City sports fans are, by and large, inclusive, passionate, and knowledgeable. They show up.

Some of this is due to the culture of Kansas City itself. Some of it, I’m sure, is due to how disappointing the Chiefs and Royals were for such a long time. For instance, between January 17, 1994 and September 29, 2014—two whole decades’ worth of time—neither team managed to win a single playoff game. To be a Kansas City sports fan during those years was often hard, but fans kept coming back for more nevertheless.

The past two years of Royals fandom, however, have felt different. Last May and June, the fanbase was angrier than it has been in a long, long time. It helped catalyze change in leadership, with Dayton Moore’s firing finally falling last September. This year, there was some initial intrigue. It was dashed almost immediately, as the Royals only won four of their first 20 games, stood at 18-51 in mid-June, and didn’t win three games in a row until late July. That anger still existed, but it got replaced by the one thing that was worth: apathy.

After the season ended, we got a look into just how bad it was. Thanks in part to popular rule changes (and the ever-increasing span of time since the height of the pandemic), median attendance rose 10% and median TV ratings rose 7%. But the Royals, well, the Royals’ attendance remained flat, and their TV ratings dropped a whopping 30% from last year, the second-largest ratings decrease among MLB.

Fans are checked out. They’re jaded. They are, to use marketing terminology, disengaged. The new stadium push has only exacerbated this. What might otherwise look like a relatively benign move to build a new stadium for the future looks like a cash grab and a smack in the face. Just read some of the responses to one of the Royals’ recent posts about the stadium. Not great!

A screenshot of a tweet from the Royals. Fan response is angry.

That last photoshop with Shohei Ohtani in a Royals jersey is pretty funny. But it’s also a really good insight even if it was just made as a joke: there’s only one way to get Royals fans remotely interested, and that is by the ownership opening up their pocketbooks and spending a ton of money.

What could that money look like? It could look like an extension for Bobby Witt Jr., which is going to be expensive in the realm of at least $200 million guaranteed. It could mean going out and spending a ton of money on one of the top ten or so MLB free agents, which will likely going to cost at least $100 million guaranteed. It could be a mix of things that results in an extra $30 million or so above what the Royals spent in 2023, even if that doesn’t coincide with a huge individual splurge.

The Royals have backed themselves into a corner here. They’ve done so by demanding public tax dollars, matching the franchise record for losses in a single season, and continuing to promote the same talent from within who presided over the Royals’ current streak of crappy baseball. Fans are mad, if they care at all, as those bandwagon fans who joined back in the mid-2010s are long gone.

Winning games would help, but the Royals can’t win any games in the offseason. Being aggressive with the roster would likely help in the long run, but fans are fond of many young players like MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, and Vinnie Pasquantino as well as of veterans like Salvador Perez; trading them might make the team look worse right now. Asking the Royals to trust in new leadership would help except current leadership looks a lot like old leadership—including Sherman, who has been the principal owner of the team for four years now.

So, there’s only way out here. The Royals must spend money, and a lot of money. They must make bold commitments to current players or decisively bring in new ones. There’s no other way to convince fans that the team is prepared to do what it takes to win. Should they be spending a lot at this time? That, unfortunately, is beside the point. If the Royals do not spend money, they risk losing voters.

There’s one more thing the Royals could do, I suppose, which would be to play hardball and threaten to leave if they don’t get the funding they want from the city. But considering all the ownership team has done so far is cut payroll and lose a ton of games, the fans might just laugh and turn their attention back on the Chiefs. We’ll see, but in any case, the clock is ticking.