he one constant through all the years has been baseball.” –Field of Dreams
Kansas City is many things. It is an intersection of America. The heartland. The KC region is also larger than just Kansas City. Residents of Platte City, and Raymore, and Tonganoxie, and even Excelsior Springs typically say they’re from “Kansas City” when asked. In this divided country, it’s pretty hard to find something that a heavy majority of people agree on and even love. Yet, in Kansas City, we love our sports teams. This is undeniable.
Look no further than the hundreds of thousands of fans who poured into downtown to celebrate a World Series victory in 2015 or a Super Bowl championship in 2020. Sure, lots of towns can say they love their sports teams. Boston comes to mind with their affection for the SAWX or Da PATS. But there is a metric that proves how much more Kansas Citians love their teams than elsewhere — the television ratings.
Let’s focus on our Royals who start their season in just over a week. For the past six years, Kansas City has seen dramatic increases in television viewing. Obviously, everyone wanted to keep tabs with their Royals in 2014 and ’15, but that interest remained strong – even as the television landscape changed. In 2020, a year that featured only 60 baseball games, the Royals were the highest-rated program in the Kansas City market during prime time 13 times according to the Kansas City Star.
The Royals ranked in the top five of Major League Baseball rankings according to ratings from 2014 thru 2017 and popped right back up in the top four in 2020.
So it stands to reason that this a windfall for the folks who own the television contract, right? Or for the Royals? Or for Major League Baseball? Well, as is often the case with baseball, up is down and wrong is right. Thanks to some corporate hat shuffling, Fox was bought by Disney who spun off Fox Sports Regional Networks, so Fox Sports Kansas City was bought last year by the Sinclair Group. And the Sinclair Group got into a contract whizzing contest with cable and streaming providers. As such, what is currently called Fox Sports Kansas City, but will later this year be called Bally’s Sports Network (yes, after the casino), disappeared from streaming networks YouTube TV, Hulu, and Dish Network. That’s roughly 25% of the audience serviced by the Royals and other baseball teams.
Yes. I am one of those blacked out. Well, that’s fine, right? Because surely I can just purchase the games to stream on MLB.com or from Bally’s directly, right? Nope. Thanks to arcane blackout rules that are meant to encourage in-person attendance (which will be capped at 15% this year because of the pandemic) games aren’t available inside the viewing audience.
If all that sounds dumb, it’s because it is. I’d say Baseball is shooting themselves in the foot, but I don’t give them enough credit to fire the gun in the right direction.
So we head into the 2021 season with an exciting Royals team and no way to watch them — in the middle of a pandemic. It would be comical if it wasn’t so damn depressing.
The one constant through the years, it seems, has been baseball making it hard to serve their product to their fans.
(Get more Chris Kamler on Twitter as @TheFakeNed and, after he’s healed from COVID, find him on Landmark Live)