Hearne: Hardballers @ American Royal Browbeat KC Council, Media



These new breed American Royal guys are scary…

UMB’s Mariner Kemper doesn’t really fall into that category – he’s far too mellow – plus he wrote a touchy-feely op-ed two weeks back. However today’s answer to R. Crosby Kemper, Jr., – Cerner main man Neal Patterson,-  is a dick-biter-offer of the first order.

And look no further than Patterson’s Wikipedia page for the evidence:

“Patterson is infamous for an e-mail flaming managers for not coming to work before 8 am and leaving before 5 pm, now a prominent example used when discussing e-mail  etiquette,” it reads. “On the day that the email was posted to Yahoo, the company’s market cap fell by over 22%[5] from a high of $1.5 billion USD.”

How harsh was it?

“The only things missing from the office memo were expletives,” the New York Times wrote in 2001. “It had everything else. There were lines berating employees for not caring about the company. There were words in all capital letters like ”SICK” and ”NO LONGER.” There were threats of layoffs and hiring freezes and a shutdown of the employee gym.”

Originally intended for Cerner managers, the email spread throughout the 3,000 person staff, went viral and became a shot heard round the world.

“Now, Neal L. Patterson, the 51-year-old chief executive, a man variously described by people who know him as ‘arrogant,’ ‘candid’ and ‘passionate,’ says he wishes he had never hit the send button,” the Times continued.

“Mr. Patterson went on to list six potential punishments, including laying off 5 percent of the staff in Kansas City. ‘Hell will freeze over,’ he vowed, before he would dole out more employee benefits. The parking lot would be his yardstick of success, he said; it should be ‘substantially full’ at 7:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and half full on Saturdays. ‘You have two weeks,’ he said. ‘Tick, tock.’ ”

Jeffrey Pfeffer, a business professor at the Stanford University, characterized Patterson’s approach as ”the corporate equivalent of whips and ropes and chains. It puts you at war with your employees and with your basic tendencies in human nature.”

A more recent example of Patterson’s “take no prisoners” corporate warfare went down in September when he threatened to move the American Royal out of KC.

Like that’s gonna happen.

Then again, if KCK or Louisville, Kentucky has $50 to $70 million and wants to hitch one of their wagons to a livestock and horse show, more power to ’em.

Ford Pic 4 WEBFrankly, it’s hard not to envision Patterson’s fingerprints on the American Royal’s WWE-style manhandling of the Kansas City Council.

When a proposal to remake Kemper Arena into a youth sports Mecca began to get traction, the Royal sicced the town’s top law firm on the lowly Foutch Brothers and cease-and-desisted them into dropping their proposal.

“There’s not a lot of love for the American Royal proposal,” KC councilman Ed Ford said shortly afterward, in an understatement of Titanic proportions.

Upon which an attorney for the American Royal threatened the city that if it didn’t go along with its plan to bulldoze Kemper and invest in a smaller venue, the Royal would force it to choke out $188 million to make good on its current agreement.

Mariner Kemper 2014-1

Mariner Kemper

The latest?

Following the nice guy approach two weeks ago by UMB Bank honcho Mariner Kemper to schmooze KC into getting behind the Royal’s plan, it was back to playing hardball.

A few days before Thanksgiving the Royal told the KC council to stick it and dropped it’s proposal to raze Kemper and build a smaller venue.

“It is unfortunate that a conversation about what to do with Kemper Arena has morphed into a hostile debate on whether or not Kansas City supports the American Royal,” it read “The City has made it clear that investing in the American Royal is not a priority.”

Not only that, but “the current debate and negative dialogue have become a detriment to the American Royal brand and its core mission,” the letter went on.

So while most headlines focussed on the American Royal “halting” it’s plans for Kemper, make no mistake, that was merely a smokescreen.

A full reading of the letter reveals that the Royal’s “threat” to bail was little more than a bargaining ploy to threaten that it had the city over a barrel.

And face it, who in their right mind was going to respond to the city’s request for proposals after what the American Royal had done to the Foutch Brothers?

It’s just one more example of an increasingly impatient American Royal trying to bully the city into green lighting a $50 million ($70 million when initially proposed). deal.

I spoke recently with one of the Kansas City area’s top investigative reporters and asked for a prediction on whether the Royal would be successful in intimidating the city council into granting the organization its $50 million white elephant.

“I think they get their way,” was the answer.

Even Mariner Kemper half-heartedly conceded in an open letter that the glory days of  livestock shows was o-v-e-r.

“Times have changed,” Kemper wrote. “I get that. Ag no longer defines our city. We’ve become a metropolitan community with a state-of-the-art performing arts building and a revitalized downtown that plays host to some of the best concerts and events in the Midwest.”

The flip side of the Kemper concession:

“But agriculture is still very much a vital part of our day-to-day lives,” he immediately added. “It is also an important part of our Kansas City economy.”

Seriously, other than going to a grocery store, what sort of daily awareness do average Kansas Citians have about agriculture? Certainly not watching society matrons circle orange barrels on horseback or country bumpkins lassooing livestock.

None of which has anything to do with Kansas City hosting a boring ag event that virtually nobody local attends – let alone paying customers.

The worst – most ridiculous – Kemper argument for building a $50 million smaller venue – was Mariner’s comparison to Major League Soccer team Sporting Kansas City…Patterson’s pride and joy.

“Just a few short years ago the Wizards had minimal attendance at games and a small fan base,” Kemper writes. “But their leadership, and the leadership of Wyandotte County, had the vision to build a soccer-specific stadium. Now, Sporting Club plays in the best stadium, arguably, in the world, right here in Kansas City. You can’t pass a car on the street without seeing a Sporting Club sticker or someone wearing a T-shirt bearing their logo.”

Talk about a reach…

There’s no connection whatsoever between the growth of the world’s most popular spectator sport – not to mention a championship team – and faltering livestock shows.


The Wizards of old drew 10,000 to 20,000 fans at the cavernous Arrowhead Stadium, which looked bad because there were another 60,000 to 70,000 empty seats.

Well, guess what? 

Sporting Park only seats 18,000.

Earlier I referred to the American Royal’s proposal as a “white elephant.”

The definition of a white elephant:

whiteelephant2010“A white elephant is a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness. The term derives from the story that the kings of Siam, now Thailand, were accustomed to make a present of one of these animals to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance. In modern usage, it is an object, scheme, business venture, facility, etc., considered without use or value.”

Get the picture?

What’s gonna be the most fun is seeing how the KC Council rationalizes granting the local rich guys their bogus new venue, then counting down the years until somebody finally figures out a way to0 repurpose the venue and make a buck.

Which could happen.

However that won’t excuse the serious waste of taxpayer dollars in the here and now.

The $64 million question:

Will Patterson be able to browbeat the Big Guy when he gets to the Pearly gates?

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9 Responses to Hearne: Hardballers @ American Royal Browbeat KC Council, Media

  1. Barry says:

    Patterson provided fodder for communications and management professors around the country for the next 30 years. It’s all about what NOT to do when you are a leader of a team of people or a company. One course in leadership would have likely prevented him from hitting the send button, but perhaps he had a course and simply thought is was all drivel. For that is what arrogance does to the mind.

    • admin says:

      Clearly Patterson is a piece of work, Barry…

      It’s hard not to think he’s got a major role in all this extreme hardball the Royal has been playing while trying to browbeat the KC Council into letting them have their way.

  2. harley says:

    exc ellent!!!! this is what you do best. Loved the story. Am anxious to see
    what happens next. Again…great story.

  3. balbonis moleskine says:

    It’s funny because all the Cerner drones are brainwashed to love Sporting KC too. That stadium must be filled with 60% cerner people trying to be the biggest fake Ultra.

    It was never really explained why they needed that stadium other than that was the MLS new business model to force the building of new stadiums of which they own the revenue stream rights.

    The fact that they played in a nice football stadium that seats as much as FC Barcelona at Camp Nou doesn’t mean that they needed a new stadium.

    They are unlikely to win this one though unless the City Council just doesn’t want to fight. But our last black mayor wasn’t afraid to tell the white horsey crowd GTFO and go back to Saddle and Sirloin so maybe Sly will come to his senses.

    It is worth noting that the Kemper people already squeezed money for the AmRoyal out of KC Twice previously. They demanded a completely new arena in Hale Arena that seats 5,000. They also squeezed the city to renovate Kemper under the guise of keeping the Big XII tourney (remember the upper level seats they put in, HA).

    They don’t need a new building. They have TWO already for an event that lasts three weeks a year. One that seats 5,000 (hale)and one that seats 18,000 (kemper). If that isn’t enough I would suggest they leave.

    • admin says:

      Excellent points, balbonis…

      You’ve obviously done your homework.

      I’m not so sure though that they don’t have the clout to push this one through though.

      Money talks and there are more than a few former city council types who got cushy corporate jobs after the fact.

      The scary part is, they can green light this deal without so much as really having to answer to their electorate.

  4. jimmy says:

    “It was never really explained why they needed that stadium other than that was the MLS new business model to force the building of new stadiums of which they own the revenue stream rights.”

    There is a “start up” company called Sporting Innovations that was backed by Cerner/Patterson. They put together this fan experience package that was going to be included for Sporting Club Members at Sporting Park (then known as Live Strong Park). You would get a card and each time you buy tickets, merchandise, or food from the park then you would get points which could then be used to buy stuff from Sporting KC. They had some other ideas for “fan experience” that they were going to implement (mostly app based stuff) and then the idea was to market and sell a customization package to other athletic teams both nationally and internationally. I am not sure how much involvement Patterson has with them these days but I was always under the impression that Sporting Innovations was his baby and he saw a good opportunity to use Live Strong as an example of how a stadium could have more interaction with it’s fans and then use it’s success to market the Sporting Innovation products/apps. Obviously that was not the sole reason they wanted to build the stadium but I am sure Patterson saw some other incentives/opportunities with the stadium other than a love of sport. Makes you wonder why he so damn passionate about the American Royal…

    • admin says:

      You know Jimmy, I wonder about why Patterson has such a hard on for the Royal myself…

      All I can think is that he’s a rural sorta guy himself and old enough to remember perhaps when the American Royal truly was a big deal in KC. Corporate types – like my dad – would wear those little gold AR logo pins for a couple weeks and it was pretty high up on the big deal for civic leaders to support for decades and well into the 1980s.

      I actually took a couple dates to the horse shows – or maybe they took me, come to think of it. And whoever was the top bidder for the top steer got their picture in the newspaper and on television.

      The BOTAR society ball is second to the Jewel Ball in prestige and the top business and political leaders in KC fawned over wanting to be seen as supporting it. The American Royal Parade was a really big deal long before anybody thought anything about St. Patrick’s Day and somehow or another the BBQ contest took on a life of its own (although it was always pretty boring to me – a bunch of locals wafting past contestants trying to mooch some free food.

      What’s entertaining about watching other people you don’t know tailgating?

      Union Station head George Guastello had the right idea dn tried to breath life into the Royal by booking national music acts that mattered.But that didn’t last long.

      The top act this year was an all-girl AC/DC tribute band.

      I think Patterson is just a hard charging guy who doesn’t want to go down as one of the dude’s who was on watch when the American Royal went for a dirt nap. Plus he’s got a ranch out south in Kansas and I believe some horses so…

      • jimmy says:

        So you think it’s a nostalgia thing with these guys as opposed to an opportunity to make some cash? They certainly do have money and influence to throw around on whatever niche passion they might have…

  5. chuck says:

    Quality article Hearne.

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