The idea is so simple, so pure, so full of fun and potential. But it might fade out instead of become reality because of Major League Baseball’s bureaucracy and worship of television networks.
If that’s the way this goes down, it will be a missed opportunity to grow the game and create experiences, particularly for younger fans — the ones baseball is in such desperate need to connect with.
The Royals have never been more popular, not ever, at least not in measurable ways like attendance and viewership and merchandise sales. They will be playing postseason games in 11 days, and last year’s experience shows that a bursting passion from Royals fans and the relatively small capacity of Kauffman Stadium creates historical demand for tickets.
The biggest winners from this setup are ticket brokers and others in the secondary market, who use the excitement to turn bigger profits by flipping tickets. They would not like this idea. Many others would.
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The idea is to turn the passion for the Royals into a more inclusive and bigger experience. Imagine the moment when fans pack Kauffman Stadium cheering every pitch, and across the parking lot — close enough to hear the noise — thousands more at Arrowhead Stadium are cheering along and watching live on the high-definition video boards.
Major League Baseball has to approve such gatherings. Bars are free to show games, obviously, and places like the Power & Light District can become watch parties as long as there is no additional cover charge or sponsorship beyond the norm.
But creating an experience like this, in a stadium, specific to watching a broadcast, requires MLB approval. It’s why you hear the disclaimer: “ ... without the express written consent of Major League Baseball, is prohibited.”
The relationship between the Chiefs and Royals has never been better. The Royals fly Chiefs flags on football game days and tweet pictures of their players holding Chiefs signs. The Chiefs put “Go Royals” on their scoreboard and regularly host players for games and practices.
When the Chiefs had a Monday night game at Arrowhead in 2000, Lamar Hunt used Kauffman Stadium’s video board in an attempt to break the NFL record for on-site paid attendance. Next weekend, the Chiefs will host the American Royal at Truman Sports Complex.
They have a history that indicates support for something like this, in other words, and it is difficult to believe they would not be into it, if they had MLB’s approval.
But MLB doesn’t make many exceptions. Back in 2008, the Phillies held a couple of watch parties when the team was playing on the road in the NLCS and World Series. MLB approved the Royals’ involvement with a watch party at the Power & Light District for the 2012 All-Star Game but generally made things difficult for city-sponsored events throughout the area.
When the idea for a sort of simulcast at Arrowhead was presented to people at MLB, the issue of parking was the first brought up. But even if 30,000 people showed, that would still mean fewer people at Truman Sports Complex than for a sold-out football game.
Nobody from the league would speak on the record for this column, but other than basic logistical things that teams do routinely — security, parking, following sponsorship rules, etc. — the overriding concern is a hit on TV ratings.
The potential effect on TV ratings is higher in a smaller market like Kansas City, where each point represents about 9,400 households.
Those numbers are used in negotiations for future broadcast contracts, and the ratings in so-called core markets are particularly important — even if, apparently, both sides could easily document tens of thousands of people not captured in the clunky TV ratings calculations.
This comes through particularly clear when you talk to people about a watch party at Kauffman Stadium for road playoff games. The Royals would be interested in this, likely charging a nominal fee for admission or attendance that would cover staffing, and run between-innings entertainment and other bonuses to create a more authentic experience.
People want to celebrate together, and what better place for Royals fans than Kauffman Stadium? They could come early and tailgate, then enter the stadium and watch from their favorite seat on one of the world’s biggest high-definition video boards (funded largely by public money, by the way).
Inside the Royals’ business and stadium operations offices, they’ve kicked the idea around. The general feeling is that they’d like to do it, but they know they’d need baseball’s approval.
The fact that approval is even an issue goes against common sense and could even be counterproductive. If anything, this is something baseball should be promoting and talking more teams into doing.
It’s in the best interests of both the teams and networks to create the closest possible bonds with fans. Experiences build closer bonds, and closer bonds affect viewing and buying habits.
Major League Baseball is chasing short money here, at the expense of allowing a heightened experience for the fans and customers who will determine the sport’s future.
Good for the ticket brokers, too bad for fans who’d enjoy a more inclusive experience.