Mike Levy, the Royals' vice president of marketing, acknowledges the franchise's problem in attracting African-American fans. "The statistics are real," says Levy. "We know from our focus groups that there are a lot of African-American fans watching the Royals on television and listening on the radio every night. It's difficult to understand why they don't come out to the stadium."
Buck O'Neil, the Negro Baseball League legend, thinks he knows why Kansas City's black residents have turned away from the Royals, and the problem dates back to the Athletics' arrival on the turf of the Monarchs, the city's Negro League team. "The A's came to Kansas City [in 1955] and didn't sell baseball to the black baseball fans," recalls O'Neil. "They sold it to Johnson County. They sold it to the white fans. They had a built-in fanbase with the Monarchs' fans, but they didn't think they needed them."
There is an underlying animosity in the black community toward the Royals that the organization seems unaware of. Glen Graham's father pitched for the Belmont Baby Blue Birds in the Negro Leagues. Graham hawked programs inside the old Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn, right in Kansas City's most historic black neighborhood. He believes the Royals stole baseball. "They built [Kauffman] Stadium and designed it for people other than us," Graham says while attending the Cardinals series. "The basic black family can't afford to pay $15 for a seat like I did here tonight."
Levy counters that a general admission seat can be had for $3.50 on any Monday or Thursday night during a home stand. "A lot of people don't realize how affordable a Royals ticket is," laments Levy.
Dell Wells owns D's Barber Shop on 34th and Prospect. "We have that conversation here at the shop all the time," says Wells, when asked why more blacks don't go to the K. "I used to be an avid fan of the Royals, but I don't follow them much anymore. There just aren't a lot of black players on the team, and the Royals don't want to spend the money to sign any quality black players."
Although the Royals' 25-man roster includes several nonwhite players, the black community identifies primarily with outfielders Jermaine Dye and Dee Brown. Dye, the team's only black starter, has been rumored for weeks to be the next marquee Royals player to be traded.
"How many black players are on the Royals now compared with the 1985 team that won the World Series?" asks Don Sirls, a barber at D's Barber Shop. "There were at least seven or eight. That's why you don't have our support. There's nobody out there for us to root for."
Don Motley, the executive director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, believes there is a solution. He believes that the Royals and Major League Baseball need to use the Negro Leagues Museum as a tool to attract black fans.
"The Royals need to do more than give away 30,000 Monarch caps once a year," says Motley, referring to Monarch Cap Night, which takes place Saturday, June 23. "It's embarrassing that Kansas City is the home of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and they don't do more to attract black fans."
Bob Kendrick, the director of marketing for the museum, is unaware of even one permanent structure at Kauffman Stadium commemorating the contributions the Negro Leagues made to Kansas City baseball. "We've talked to the Royals about putting up a flag at Kauffman Stadium," says Kendrick. "But there was some issue about where to put the flagpole, so it kind of disappeared." Just as the once-prominent black baseball fan has disappeared from the seats of Kansas City's baseball stadium.