Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Where are the Royals’ fans?

Ned Yost was wrong to criticize Kansas City Royals fans after only 13,857 showed up Tuesday night to witness a dramatic win over the Minnesota Twins.

Manage the team, Ned. And let the front office types figure out the attendance dilemma. It’s not your job.

Yost did, however, say what everyone else was thinking. On a nice August evening in the heat of a pennant race – the Royals’ first in a while, in case you hadn’t heard – how can only 13,000-plus show up at Kauffman Stadium?

The Royals drew only 17,668 Wednesday night for a game in which KC scored six times in the eighth inning for another exciting victory.

Kansas City ranks 25th of the 30 MLB teams in attendance at just 24,973 per game. That’s 61.6 percent of Kauffman’s capacity. The Royals are ahead of only five teams in putting fannies in the seats. They are: Houston, Miami, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Tampa Bay.

There are a variety of factors that lead to such a skeptical fan base, even though the Royals have been one of the most entertaining teams in baseball the past six weeks.

1. History – The Royals haven’t been in a playoff game since 1985, the year they won their only world championship. And even in that special season, Kansas City’s average attendance was just 26,375. In fact, since the Royals were born in 1969 – a season in which the average attendance was 11,005 – Kansas City has averaged 30,000 or more just once. That was in 1989, when they averaged 30,589. For perspective, the St. Louis Cardinals have not averaged fewer than 32,519 fans since 1995, when they averaged 24,389. The Royals haven’t built up a lot of good will with their fan base. And even in the team’s glory years – the mid- to late-1970s and first half of the 1980s - the average attendance was just so-so. Never great.

2. Ballpark location – I love Kauffman Stadium. It’s a glorious baseball stadium, one of the prettiest in all of baseball. But it’s never been in an ideal location. Ballparks belong downtown. They should be surrounded by shops and bars and restaurants. But Kauffman is a drive-and-park stadium and that’s never seemed to click in Kansas City. Look at the Sprint Center, which is in the middle of downtown with great night life all around. Parking is expensive. Concessions are expensive. Tickets are expensive. And when the game is over, you have to get in your car and drive home. I think that’s a factor in the Royals’ lagging attendance over the years. Agree? Disagree?

3. The team – When your team goes 29 years without a playoff appearance, cynicism builds. And if cynicism was a building, it would be the Empire State Building as it relates to Kansas City fans, who have built-in skepticism when it comes to this baseball team. So while there is excitement and anticipation surrounding the 2014 Royals, there is always a wait-and-see attitude. Kansas City fans are hoping against hope that the world doesn’t come crashing around them. And bandwagon fans, which every successful team has because everyone wants to be with a winner, haven’t yet totally taken the plunge. The Royals haven’t ranked higher than 22nd in MLB attendance in the past 20 years.

4. No star player - The Royals haven’t had a marquee player since George Brett. That’s hard to fathom, considering that Brett retired after the 1993 season. So during all this time when the team has been bad, the Royals haven’t even had a player that fans will pay to watch. I think that matters. It’s not the biggest reason for the team’s lagging attendance; fans want to see a winning team more than they want to see a standout player. But the lack of buzz in Kansas City for many years now has created a malaise, no doubt about it.

Thanks for reading.