Marketing the Royals


The other day I linked to a story from the Kansas City Business Journal about plans to market the Royals in 2011.  After trading both David DeJesus and Zack Greinke this offseason, plus with hardly any realistic chance at playoff contention, the Royals might have difficulty featuring anybody for the upcoming season.

Their choice is to focus on the stadium, then work their way into highlighting the prospects as they come up.

That’s probably fine for now, but what other options could they try?

Armed with the best minor league system in baseball, it’s still tough to market that group, especially considering there’s no guarantee any of them will be with the big league club out of spring training.  Later in the summer, sure, but the Royals can’t base their entire marketing strategy around players who aren’t in Kansas City yet.

The two obvious choices for featured players are Billy Butler and Joakim Soria.

Butler’s the best hitter on the team and among the longest tenured too (amazingly enough, he’s only 24).  He’s active in the community, and he has the build of an everyman.  He’s a country strong hitter who goes out there and rips the ball all over the place.  He’s got as good a shot as anybody on the team to make an All-Star game, especially if his power can develop early in the year.

With Soria, you get a more soft-spoken player, but he’s among the elite at his position.  The trouble with Soria is that he’s not guaranteed to pitch on certain days.  Part of the draw to Zack Greinke was that fans knew what day he would pitch and you’d see increased attendance those days.  With Soria, it’s more difficult to plan that.  You could say to your friend “hey, Greinke’s pitching tonight, let’s go out to the K” but you can’t really say “hey, Joakim Soria might pitch tonight (if the Royals have a lead in the late innings or perhaps if they’re way behind, but only if it’s been a few days since he’s pitched)…let’s go to the K!”

Focusing on the stadium is great, but they’ve done that the past two seasons, so it’s not as “new” as it was in 2009 after the renovations.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Kauffman Stadium.  I think it’s among the best places to watch a game in the history of watching games.  But you can only show the mini-golf course so many times.

The Royals are armed with a rich history of baseball.  Kansas City used to be the hub of activity in the midwest (if you weren’t headed for Chicago).  With the old jazz district downtown and the Negro Leagues Museum and even the Royals teams of the 70’s and 80’s still in the mind of some people, you can focus on that.  They could celebrate a different part of Kansas City history every day, making sure to time the more notable celebrations (George Brett, Frank White) for the middle of the season when the prospects are starting to make their way up.  Then, people can start to recognize the new faces of the Kansas City Royals.

You get a carryover effect, as next season should be ripe prospect-promotion time.  It’s possible you could see a promotional poster featuring George Brett, Frank White and Bret Saberhagen on one side with Mike Moustakas, Mike Montgomery and Billy Butler on the other side.  Perhaps have the field at Kauffman Stadium as the backdrop and on the icons’ side, the old scoreboard, the deep green turf.  On the prospects side, you see CrownVision, the Royals Hall of Fame, grass.  I think it’d be a nice way to start linking the two together – the pride of a baseball town crossing generations.

The way it’ll happen this year, Butler will be the face of the franchise and potentially Alex Gordon if he can finally live up to the hype.  Kansas City has had enough time in the doldrums, and it’s been incredibly loyal to the team.

I’m sure it’s a tough spot to be in.  The Royals can’t come out and say they’re punting on 2011 while the minor leaguers continue developing.  They also have to consider service time rules and can’t just call everyone up at once to make a big splash.  So they’ll have a Billy Butler growth poster day or a Joakim Soria T-shirt day and have to deal with it, but I hope they continue with the idea of showing some of the prospects as they make their way up.

I’m not sure how the casual fan sees the minor league system.  I haven’t been a casual fan…well pretty much ever.  Do they know who Mike Moustakas is?  Or Eric Hosmer?  Do they realize how close this team is to having some serious first-rate talent on the roster every day?  Or without Greinke around every fifth day, do they end up staying home, maybe coming out for Buck Night or a jersey giveaway?  Promoting the team via Billy Butler is fine – he’s a solid player, people like him and he looks to be part of the future (though I’d prefer he sign an extension).  I’d like to see some of the other young players get a big part of the spotlight too.

Perhaps they can push the newest Royals, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress.  As the main pieces to the Greinke trade, the Royals owe it to themselves to show of their new acquisitions.  Escobar has the kind of glove and highlight-reel ability that could garner attention.  Cain plays with a ton of effort and has remarkable raw talent.  Jeffress can hit triple figures on the radar gun.  These are all things casual fans love.  It’s why fireballers get more attention than finesse pitchers.  Why Derek Jeter can still win Gold Gloves despite Betancourt-ian levels of defensive ability.  Give the fans something to “ooh” and “ahh” about to get them back, then, in a year or two, add some substance (i.e., wins) to that style.

If nothing else, the stadium’s amazing.  So there’s that.

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