Royals owner John Sherman opens up about baseball

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SURPRISE, Arizona — As the Royals head into Opening Day with just over two weeks until moving into Kansas City, team owner John Sherman is optimistic about the state of his team and organization as he begins his third full season as chief executive and club chairman.

“It’s spring training, right?” Sherman said Monday. “Hope springs forever. I think this is an optimistic time of year anyway. I feel like we’ve made progress since we’ve been here. We try to get better every day. I think we got better last week. But we’ll see what we have. … I think we have a core group of veterans. We have an army of young pitchers developing and we have some new guys who will help us.”

Referring to last week, Sherman spoke about the Royals’ trade for left assist Amir Garrett and the signing of veteran starter Zack Greinke. Both moves bolstered the pitching team, which includes a slew of young arms, as the Royals look to improve on their 74-88 finish in 2021.

For the first time since Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association struck a new collective agreement, Sherman spoke to the media for about 20 minutes Monday in Surprise. He covered a variety of topics, including CBA negotiations, game-streaming options, the progress at a downtown ballpark — and even his excitement for top prospect Bobby Witt Jr.’s debut, which could happen as early as opening day.

It’s fair to say he gets that question a lot.

“When [the fans] Ask, “When is he coming up?” I always say that’s above my pay grade,” Sherman said with a smile. “Someone else makes that decision. But as a fan, I’m ready to see him. I think there is some expectation that that day will be fairly soon, but we’ll see. … He just seems like a rare talent and really great makeup and the kind of player that we want as the Kansas City Royal to have.”

Sherman’s take on the new CBA
CBA negotiations resulted in a three-month suspension and a delay in opening day, which will now be April 7 instead of March 31, but the full 162-game season is still intact. Sherman, owner of a small-market team in Kansas City, said he thinks the agreed deal is “fair to the league and to the players.”

“When we started out, our main goals were a competitive balance, paying players fairly, and as much as possible aligning our interest in building the game together,” said Sherman. “And there are some things I like about it better than other parts of it. But if you think about the competitive balance, the players have respected some things that are important to us. The six-year path to free ownership was important to us. It’s really important for a small market team. The three years to arbitration.”

Sherman wasn’t happy that regular-season games were jeopardized during negotiations.

“I think that uncertainty and frustration, and when we had to cancel some games, that was certainly a concern,” Sherman said. “I’m glad we found out then. And we’ll get the whole 162. I think it’s important for our fans, for our club and for our community.

“Sure, always worried about the fans. We want to gain their trust and not only want them to come to the stadium, but also to watch us when they’re not in the stadium.”

Make games widely available
Sherman was asked about local media rights distribution and what the royals are doing to make games more widely available to fans. It is a highly complicated affair involving the clubs, their regional sports networks and TV providers. Fans can watch games on MLB.TV, but if they are in the market for that team because of where they live, some games will be banned.

Sherman acknowledged the complexity of the issue but stressed the importance of changing the system.

“No question,” said Sherman. “It’s not clear how we’re going to get there. It’s a complicated path. But the commitment is there and I’m confident we’ll make it.

“Reach is more important to us than revenue. And that’s in baseball. A lot of what you heard during the CBA was that we only cared about revenue, but reach is more important than revenue right now. Revenue will come as we reach more fans over time. So that’s the strategy we’re using, but how we get there, there’s turmoil. But of course we want to make it easy for people to connect and see our games.”

Progress at the downtown ballpark
Sherman announced late last season that the Royals were exploring other options for a new ballpark, and downtown Kansas City was the primary target. The Royals currently reside at the Truman Sports Complex in Jackson County, about 20 minutes outside of downtown, and share parking space with GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs play.

The Royals’ lease on Kauffman Stadium expires in 2031, so the organization has a committee studying what a downtown ballpark might look like. This committee engaged with architectural firms and conducted economic impact studies and began receiving feedback from Kansas Citians.

“The way I see it, we’re one of only 25 cities in the United States with a Major League Baseball franchise,” Sherman said. “Four cities have two, and there is one in Canada. These are truly valuable assets for a community. So why wouldn’t we want to optimize the value of this asset for the benefit of our community?”

Sherman understands the love for Kauffman Stadium as it is; He and his wife, Marny, first dated at a Royals game at The K in the late 1970s. But he also understands the economic value of a downtown ballpark to the surrounding community and people.

“I love Kauffman Stadium. It’s a great place to play baseball,” Sherman said. “And if you think about it [Royals founder] Ewing Kauffman and [Chiefs founder] Lamar Hunt came together to do this, 50 years ago it was a really innovative concept. But now with baseball, and again, it’s a great place to play, but we think we can do more. … You can do a lot for a community economically. So that’s what we’re studying. I look forward to receiving feedback that will drive these decisions forward.”

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