Maybe you've heard; I was in Kansas City over the weekend. Now that I'm back in Champaign, I feel compelled to write a post on the popularity of baseball in KC. Before I get into that, though, I must give my KC BBQ rankings. We tried the three most popular places, and each one was fantastic. But, I must give the number one spot to Joe's Kansas City BBQ. Their Z-man sandwich (I assume it was named after Royals' legend Ben Zobrist) lived up to the hype.
Number two on my list is a place called Q39. The pulled pork sandwich and chicken wings were a dynamite combo.
And third, yet still delicious, is Jack Stack. They had the best sides (baked beans and cheesy corn).
Alright, so let's talk about the Royals. Going into the weekend, I expected the amazing food. I did not expect to see Royals stuff EVERYWHERE. Yes, I know it was the first week of the baseball season. But, the Chiefs are 43-21 over the past four seasons. They won 12 games last year—the most since Dick Vermeil's 2003 squad. Meanwhile, the Royals were 81-81 last year, finishing 13 1/2 games in back of the Indians.
From what I could tell, the Royals' popularity is a result of targeting the vibrant young adult community of KC. When walking around downtown on Friday and Saturday night, Royals (and KC Monarchs) hats and shirts could be seen all around. As my friend Matt pointed out, the Royals logo is iconic. It has a retro vibe that appeals to younger fans.
I also think the unpopularity of the Royals for years makes them trendy now. If we know anything about hipsters, it's that they love embracing things that are left out of mainstream culture. The Royals (and baseball to a lesser extent) have definitely been on the outside looking in. Let's take a look at Royals attendance numbers since 1990.
As you can see, the Royals postseason success in 2014 was clearly the ignitor for the Royals fan renaissance. In particular, the Royals win against the A's in the 2014 Wild Card was the catalyst. Royals fan and former Grantland writer Rany Jazayerli wrote this following the game:
This game vindicated baseball. And it vindicated everything I’ve been through as a Royals fan. All the threads of my life make sense now. I wouldn’t wish the last 29 years of misery on anyone. But right now, at this very moment, I also wouldn’t change those years one bit.
So I think the recipe for the Royals' popularity is a hungry fanbase that was depraved of good baseball with a bunch of hipsters mixed in. But, the special ingredient might be a once-in-a-lifetime moment like the 2014 Wild Card game.