The group of fans gathered at Up-Down in the Crossroads District gasped in awe and traded high-fives.
The Royals had just turned a jaw-dropping, inning-ending double play late in Tuesday’s win over the Detroit Tigers. Jorge Bonifacio chased down a fly ball in right field and lasered a throw down the right-field line; the ball found Eric Hosmer’s outstretched glove in foul territory to force out a Tigers runner who had strayed too far from first base.
Few could believe it, including Mark Van Baale, who was at the arcade bar for a Royals watch party organized by a group of Twitter users known as the Royals Twitter Family.
But the Royals have done plenty of unbelievable things in the last week, and their propensity for accomplishing the seemingly impossible has translated into a surge not only in the team’s playoff hopes but also in the Kansas City retail market.
“When they were in that losing streak for a while there, there were a lot of people upset about, ‘Is this the same team we saw a couple years ago at the World Series?’” Van Baale said. “They were very down about that. But once they started turning around, you could see the enthusiasm come back up.”
Fans have remained glued to the Royals since they returned from the All-Star break two games out of first place in the American League Central after putting together a 22-13 record from June 1 to July 9.
Merchandise sales at chain stores like Rally House have reportedly increased during this stretch. Though the company would not share specifics, CEO Aaron Liebart said in a statement that Royals sales from April through June were down.
“People are just starting to get the excitement back,” Liebart said. “July is starting to pick up. We expect an uptick starting with the next home stand.”
The Royals have started to see a difference at the box office, too. Attendance figures reported on Baseball-Reference.com showed that an average of 27,931 fans bought tickets to each game during the team’s recent 10-game homestand despite sweltering heat and weather advisories.
Back in May, the Royals drew an average of 25,300 fans to Kauffman Stadium.
“Right after the All-Star break, we had nice attendance then,” said Steve Shiffman, the Royals’ senior director of ticket sales and service. “We expect the next homestand coming up … the attendance is looking strong. We’ve seen a lot of action in our office.”
Television viewership has also increased since July 14, averaging a 10.6 household rating through the middle of the week, per Nielsen Media Research. That’s a 31 percent increase over a season average 8.1, Fox Sports Midwest media relations director Geoff Goldman told The Star.
Monday’s extra-inning win in Detroit was the highest-rated game of the season, at 13.1. Close behind was Friday’s walk-off win over the Chicago White Sox, which earned a 12.3 rating.
“That was higher than Kansas City’s ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC affiliates combined during that night,” he said.
The victory was the third in a string of eight consecutive wins — two against Detroit, a weekend sweep of the White Sox, and three more in Detroit to begin a nine-game road trip. The Royals open a three-game series at Boston Friday night, then play three at Baltimore before returning home Aug. 3 against Seattle.
With the trade deadline looming Monday, and the divisional race wide open, fans remain plugged into what the Royals’ championship core might do next.
“This season has been up and down, but even when the team wasn’t winning there were signs that things could still come together,” said Maren Ludwig, a watch party attendee from Lawrence. “I’m enjoying this last ride of our ‘known’ players, but it’s been as much fun to see new guys come in and do so well.
“I’m excited to see that the front office appears committed to going for it since no team in the AL Central has pulled away. The most recent winning streak certainly reminds me of the exciting times of 2014 and 2015, but I’m trying to enjoy it for its own sake as well.”
The Star’s Pete Grathoff contributed to this report.