It truly mattered. The American Royal Parade downtown – the one that was cancelled last fall that would have been its 88th – was a kiddie and parent magnet of the first order. The blue-jacketed youth of the Future Farmers of America gathered every fall by the tens of thousands and fanned out across the metro. The top bidder for its champion steer received wide media coverage for their generosity. Its Belles of the American Royal (BOTAR) society ball was second only to the Nelson-Atkins Museum’s Jewel Ball. And to a reasonable degree, locals actually bothered to attend Royal’s rodeo, equestrian and concert events.
That was then…
The waning years of 20th Century and 21st have not been kind to the Royal.
The FFA blue jacket kids are long gone. The parade will go down on September 27th and they’re calling it the 89th, even though the 88th never took place. The big concerts with past crowd pleasers such as Reba McIntyre appear to be history. And instead of showcasing the Royal in the Sprint Center – where the four livestock events drew fewer than 8,000 people three years ago – they’ve dumbed it down to a capacity of 3,000 in the stockyards Hale Center.
Truth be known, about the only thing the American Royal really has to offer of much significance is its annual World Series of Barbecue that goes down this year Friday and Saturday, October 3rd and 4th.
It’s come to that.
And yet the Royal wants Kansas city to choke out $60 million – $30 million from taxpayers – to tear down Kemper Arena and build an Equestrian Center.
I’ve talked in recent weeks to any number of high profile civic leaders and boosters of all things Kansas City, and while at this point they don’t dare go on the record, to a man they say basically the same thing:
The American Royal is an institution, an event that time has passed by.
Sentimentality aside, the interest both locally and nationally for the Royal in today’s world just isn’t there.
It’s time to let it go, not to spend good money after bad.
Why do you think the Royal no longer brings in big name entertainers? Why did it bail on the wildly successful Sprint Center? Why is it no longer a big deal for the city’s wealthiest citizens to bid for the champion steer? Why is the 87th annual FFA confab that reportedly draws 60,000 people – going back to Louisville this year?
The last time the AR had a halfway decent headliner it was Reba McIntyre like three years ago. This year’s FFA lineup in Louisville includes Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton, Toby Keith, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and Jason Aldean.
Big diff, huh?
Seriously, the FFA bailed on KC in 1998 and spent seven years in Louisville. Then instead of coming back to KC in 2006, it moved to Indianapolis where it remained until last year when it returned to Louisville. It’s almost as if the organization’s first 70 years here in KC never mattered. Even though the truth is downtown and midtown KC has a ton more things to do than it did 16 years ago.
And you can bet your bottom dollar that if the FFA was coming to town for the American Royal it wouldn’t just be playing local bands in a venue one-sixth the size of Sprint Center and Kemper.
At this stage of the game it seems obvious to just about everybody except for a very small handful of interested parties, vested interests, equestrians and nostalgists.
If the American Royal really matters, it needs to stand on its own two feet, raise whatever funds they can in the private sector and let Kansas City invest taxpayer dollars in areas of greater need and/or in which the city can reasonably expect to reap a positive return.
It’s too bad – it’s certainly sad – but it’s time for a reality check.