Max: Underdog Royals Quickly (And Temporarily) Becoming America’s Team

By Jared Max
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After Kansas City won the American League pennant on Wednesday, I wanted to call a friend to offer congratulations on the Royals advancing to the World Series.

But, I don’t know any Royals fans. I never have. Do you?

Unless you have traveled through western Missouri or Kansas, you may have never seen anybody wearing a royal blue “KC” cap, in person — outside of a baseball stadium. Unlike teams that boast collections of out-of-state fans — like the Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, Dodgers, Cubs, Phillies, Braves, Cardinals or Giants — Royals fans, by and large, live in Kansas and the “Show Me State.” If Facebook could show me such a map reflecting rooting interest as of this morning, I would bet Americans would not be so blah on the Royals. Since winning their last division title (they finished second in the AL Central this year) and only World Series in 1985, the Royals have represented little more than a classification — a “small-market team.”

Why is there sudden, widespread interest in a sports franchise that has won more games than it has lost only three times in the last 21 years? Aside from maybe one percent of the one-percenters, everybody relates to the little guy, sometimes. I assume this is the greatest reason why the Royals have become America’s Team, temporarily.

Consistent psychological research shows that people often believe that underdogs exert greater effort than favorites and, therefore, are more deserving of success. We feel empowered when underdogs succeed, believing that we too possess an ability to overcome adversity and win. When gauging “emotional economics,” we see greater upside in rooting for a team that is less likely to win because its victory would seem much sweeter. In contrast, a loss by the seemingly-inferior team does not seem as shocking or devastating.

Unlike their potential World Series opponent, the Royals do not rank near the top of most obvious Major League Baseball fan charts. However, a recent Emory University study discovered that when fandom is measured by presence on social media (independent of a team’s market size, winning percentage, stadium size or fan-cost-index), the Royals rank ninth in MLB — one slot behind the Giants, seven ahead of the Cardinals.

The Royals drew more fans this year than in any season since 1991 — the same year that research conducted at Bowling Green University found that the majority of us prefer to root for David over Goliath.

Underdog! (Photo by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

Underdog! (Photo by Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

College students were asked which team they would root for in a hypothetical best-of-seven game series between teams “A” and “B” — in which Team “A” was heavily favored. More than four out of five (81 percent) responded that they would root for the underdog. Then, when asked who they would root for if Team “B” had surprisingly won the first three games, half of those who initially picked the underdog switched their allegiance. While I have been rooting for the Royals since the playoffs began, yesterday I found myself rooting for the Orioles in the ninth inning, hoping the ALCS would be extended.

Now that the Royals are in the Fall Classic, I am wondering about my affinity for this team — aside from its role as an underdog. Am I rooting for Kansas City because of its modest, workmanlike demeanor? Am I excited for Ned Yost, who became the first manager to win his first eight playoff games? Is it because the Royals are the first team to win their first eight games in a single postseason? Is my interest in the Royals based on their less-than-flashy royal blue and white uniforms?

While I would like to hear Royals radio announcer Denny Matthews inject a dose of John Sterling in his broadcast style — to portray excitement more reminiscent of a pennant clincher than an exhibition game against the Southwest Missouri State University — I am riveted by this relatively unknown baseball team. Maybe I just like the name Mike Moustakas. It reminds me of past Royals doozies like Buddy Biancalana, Dan Quisenberry, Amos Otis and Freddie Patek.

If I was raised outside of the New York area, I doubt that I would have become a Yankees fan. Likely, I would have been turned off by the Gotham-like spending and overall largeness of the interlocking N-Y. As I have experienced through my lifelong fanaticism of the rock band Rush, there is a satisfaction in rooting for the little guy — particularly one who never sought widespread public acceptance but gained undeniable respect resulting from decades of hard work and production, remaining grounded, modest.

If not for George Brett’s pine tar histrionics over 30 years ago, the Royals might be the most benign baseball team to New Yorkers. The Royals are the anti-Yankees. The average ticket to a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City costs less than half what it does to see the Yankees play in the Bronx. The average “premium” ticket to a Royals game costs less than one-third of a prime seat at Yankee Stadium. Average parking price is $10 for Royals games, $35 for Yankees games.

Even though the Royals will not be playing the Yankees in the World Series, their opponent will be considerably more Bloomingdale’s than Walmart. The 2014 Team Marketing Report shows that the Giants and Cardinals rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in fan cost index. The Royals are 21st. They are destined to be underdogs.

So, spark up your KC Masterpiece barbecue and cue Kansas City’s own Charlie Parker, Burt Bacharach and the Chipmunks. It’s time to become an honorary Kansas Citian.

By the way, what percentage of Americans do you think believe that the Kansas City Royals play in Kansas?

Jared Max is a multi-award winning sportscaster. He hosted a No. 1 rated New York City sports talk show, “Maxed Out” — in addition to previously serving as longtime Sports Director at WCBS 880, where he currently anchors weekend sports. Follow and communicate with Jared on Twitter @jared_max.

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