Hearne: Through the Looking Glass @ The American Royal

This isn’t exactly super secret but…

The reporting standards are far laxer these days at the Kansas City Star. That in the wake of going from more than 2,000 employees to 300 or fewer the past 10 or 12 years.

That’s totally understandable and easily explained;  simple arithmetic.

Unfortunately, in addition to that the trepidation by Star writers over reporting errors – even arguably minor ones like spelling mistakes – seems to be missing in action now that most breaking news debuts online where errors can be quickly corrected prior to going into the indelible print editions.

The looser journalism practices and standards have resulted in lower quality news coverage – like the recent spate of stories triggered by a shooting in Westport – in which balanced reporting, (sans any input whatsoever from Westport officials) was nowhere to be found.

All of that said, now that Star editor Mike Fannin has largely completed the house cleaning of oldster reporters he told me about a couple years back and brought in younger guns, the news does seem fresher and more compelling…even given the content cutbacks.

Just one problem…

The Star continues to suffer from a failure to drill down and ask tough questions. 

Take Steve Vockrodt’s recent front pager about the American Royal:

“American Royals makes a lofty bet on attendance with its move to KCK,” read the headline.

The premise being that the Royal’s been drawing an annual attendance of more than 250,000 and is now hoping to double it to around 700,000 courtesy of a new taxpayer-funded facility in KCK.

Memo to Stevie V: Remember that pic of an empty American Royal horse show at Kemper Arena that ran a couple years back in your former pub The Pitch?

Seriously, how about checking the Royal’s 2014 form 990 tax filing.

That’s where you’ll see that more than half of the Royal’s $6,746,829 in total revenue that year came in the form of contributions and grants…handouts

Handouts that are likely to be far harder to duplicate now that heavy-handed, top Royal supporter and recently deceased Cerner honcho Neal Patterson is no longer around to strong-arm donors.

Now let’s do a little math on those reportedly hundreds of thousands of Royal attendees…

With ticket sales of only $588,536 in 2014 that comes out to about two bucks a ticket.

Which doesn’t jibe with ticket prices of $23 per for the BBQ, $20 to $40 for rodeo tickets and $12 to $15 for the cutting horse and hunter/jumper events.

Using an average ticket price of $20 per event would place the Royal’s attendance at around 30,000 all in. Which, all things considered, seems a lot more believable than a quarter of a million paid attendees.

Talking about blowing smoke.

If the American Royal had anywhere near the reportedly 267,000 attendees at even 10 bucks a head that would have generated ticket sales of more than $2.5 million.

Which points the Royal’s core problem; a number of people still want to participate but hardly anybody wants to go and watch it.

So hey, let’s get real at 18th and Grand. 

Instead of serving up countless finger wagging critiques of Donald Trump, KC mayor Sly James and Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, how about a little straight down the line reporting and investigative journalism on topics like KC’s overblown streetcar ridership stats and the bogus manner in which the votes to expand it are being counted by streetcar supporters.

Or how about dialing back the Star’s crusade for political correctness a tad and…

Maybe – just maybe – they can find time to pick through the fading fast remains of the American Royal before KCK stubs its toe on another T-Bones-like financial boondoggle by betting the farm on a livestock and horse show nobody gives two hoots about.

The bottom line:

When all is said and done, the American Royal is a bit player in the current scheme of things in KC, netting a paltry $1,316,624 for 2014.

Equally telling, the vast majority of its actual sales revenue – $2,119,230 – was derived from entry fees by participants…not ticket revenue by attendees.

In other words, money paid in by folks wanting to be part of the show as opposed to fans and interested parties who want to go to the show.

That makes for a pretty good gig from American Royal president and CEO Robert R. Petersen who took down just $30 shy of $200,000 in salary and benefits in 2014.

It’s good work if you can get it.

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16 Responses to Hearne: Through the Looking Glass @ The American Royal

  1. JayhawkTony says:

    Hearne, you (we know the Star won’t do it) need to do a story about how the ARBBQ contest is about to go down in flames due to their insistence to move the date to Labor Day Weekend. When I checked yesterday, they only had just over 400 teams this year, compared to 700-plus in recent years.

    If you look at the list of competitors, you’ll see a lot of the top well-known teams that usually compete in the invitational are not doing so this year, and if you look at the map for the competitor locations this year, you’ll see that the entire grassy area that serves as the backstretch for the track is completely void of teams — last year, it was wall-to-wall competitors.

    • admin says:

      Good points, Tony…

      However, I think they got trapped off base this year and had to schedule it for Labor Day and want to move back to fall next year.

      Have you heard the radio ads for this year’s BBQ?

      Makes it sound like everybody’s going to having a ball wandering around and wolfing down starts of the art bbq.

      I can scarcely think of anything less appealing…especially given the venue and location.

  2. boom boom says:

    Not being a businessman, hearne doesn’t get it.
    The american royal did turn a profit. A net profit.
    So that’s good considering the cities disinterest in all things american royal. But there is
    value to the program.
    As a businessman hearne should know it makes no difference how the money comes or who it comes from …it still had a profit.
    I believe the royal needs a total makeover…especially not running the bar b q so
    early and i think its on labor day (terrible terrible scheduling).
    They need to update the shows (maybe some big name acts)….maybe some events and parties in local entertainment areas to help promote the event….bing in the highly
    attended bull riding shows or get an event on the pbr tour….something to add
    to the fun….possibly huge party to bring in a new generation of attendees.
    This canbe done…just need the creative minds to get it done.
    Let’s see what happens but you’re right on the spot (mostly) but something has to be done. Nice article Hearne. But don’t let glazer jinx our local teams!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • admin says:

      Not being a promoter (as I have been as well as a businessman), boom boom, fixing something like the AR is far easier said than done.

      Because when you can’t draw flies and your underlying theme has become passe and there’s no core interest, you’re in trouble.

      Union Station honcho George Gustello already went with name entertainment acts and other promotions years ago and it helped but didn’t overcome the realities that this goose is cooked.

      And with Patterson’s wallet and bullying tactics in the rearview mirror, who’s gonna ride to its rescue?

      Who indeed?

      • Frank says:

        Goose is cooked? YOUR A GENIUS HEARNE!! You know all those Canadian geese that always want to cross the street at 95th and Metcalf and block traffic. We can kill two birds with one stone. Round up those geese and barbecue their asses at the American Royal. Traffic flow on 95th and Metcalf will increase, and, obviously, traffic flow at the AR will increase. Get Homer Simpson as the spokesperson, “mmm gooooose”

      • boom boom says:

        agree with you hearne….kc left the ag stuff behind years ago when they went with the prime time theme to attract businesses an scared off the ag companies.
        Kc waited too long lost ffa an other ag companies who went to indy,omaha an other cities.
        sad about the royal….it was a great weekend in the fall…whoever did this to the royal should be fired.
        Bring insome new blood…but if you look at other local traditions in kc you’ll see they’ve changed also.

        • admin says:

          True, everything pretty much changes in time, but the city let this one get away entirely…

          Starting with Cleaver and the FFA.

          Too late to fire the responsible parties though. They’re either dead, have moved on or already been fired.

          And short of a minor miracle, it’s too late to save the Royal unless somebody from an entirely different walk of life comes out of nowhere with something totally killer. Which may have little or nothing – or very little – to do with horses, livestock and farming.

          Kinda sad for those who grew up going to the parades and sat thru the horsey stuff with at least mild interest.

          The bottom line: nobody much really cares now that Crosby Kemper and Neal Patterson have gone for dirt naps

  3. Guy Who Says What Others Think says:

    I would be interested to hear about, and see proof of these “bullying tactics” you speak of.

    • admin says:

      Well, for starters may I suggest that you open your eyes.

      Secondly, go back and read my “obituary” of Patterson a few weeks back.

      Should do the trick

  4. Rainbow Man says:

    I live in Kansas but I will not to to the American Royal BBQ again until it moves back to to the West Bottoms.

    • admin says:

      Lemme ask you this Rainbow…

      Just curious; did you ever much go to the BBQ other than when they had the cool concerts under Guastello years ago? And did you find it an enjoyable time?


      Never quite got it, myself.

  5. Rainbow Man says:

    I liked it as BBQ contest… And went yearly for many years… It became a festival where a bunch of people show up to walk around with bags to fill up with free plastic crap from vendors. The BBQ became just part of a big blurr.

    • admin says:

      I guess what boom boom said (for a change) makes sense…

      If I had friends down there – which I did the first year – maybe I’d have gone more but the few times I went the traffic was awful and I was about as bored as I ever like to be!

  6. boom boom says:

    Hearne…where ya been.
    there were some incredible parties on the friday nights down at the royal. It wasjammed packed.. should have kept it like it was. So what if parking was tight…now with
    uber/lyft we’d go to crossroads and drive right in to royal in bottoms.
    have a heart….somethings need to be kept as a tradition.
    where’s southy?

    • admin says:

      I know there were some gatherings in the earlier years but mostly for insiders – people who knew some of the contestants. Short of that wandering around a bunch of strangers and watching other people cook, eat and get hammered is my idea of b-o-r-i-n-g

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