SBJ/July 2-8, 2012/Events and Attractions

Kansas City embracing moment in spotlight

The MLB All-Star Game is a big deal in virtually every city where it’s held. But in Kansas City, site of this year’s midsummer classic, the game will likely draw more attention to the Midwestern city than any other sporting event in its history.

The July 10 game at Kauffman Stadium will be seen in more than 220 countries and remains by far the most competitive of any major sports all-star game. The event also will have heightened prominence in social media, as players for the first time will be allowed to tweet and post on Facebook during the game.

Interest in the All-Star Game is so high that the league had to turn away some local volunteers.
Photo by: COURTESY OF MLB
That kind of global sports exposure represents a new realm for Kansas City, which has seen just one winning Royals season in the last 18 years, no Chiefs playoff victories since 1993, and has not played host to a Final Four in men’s college basketball since 1988, before that event moved exclusively from arenas to domed stadiums.

Perhaps the only comparables are the Big 12 Conference championships in football, held five times at Arrowhead Stadium, and in basketball, frequently played in the city and set for the Sprint Center through 2016. Those events, however, don’t have nearly as much national profile or international TV distribution.

The All-Star Game will essentially take over Kansas City starting Friday and continue through game day, with myriad events held all over the city, the airport festooned with unprecedented levels of event signs, and five city fountains turned blue. More than 6,000 Kansas City locals have offered to volunteer at All-Star Game events, roughly twice the number of most other prior host cities, and the league has been forced to turn many away.

“There’s definitely a different feeling,” said Marla Miller, MLB senior vice president of special events. “This is a very proud city that really loves baseball, has a great baseball heritage and is very keyed up for the All-Star Game. Even our planning meetings in Kansas City have attracted local media interest.”

That outsized local interest will contrast against the 37,903-seat capacity of Kauffman Stadium, representing the smallest All-Star Game host stadium since the 1999 game at Boston’s Fenway Park. The Royals’ season-ticket base, estimated at about 10,000, has eased pressure somewhat, as there has been less of a battle for tickets and prime seat locations between the host club’s season-ticket holders and league sponsors and VIPs than has been the case in other years.

But ticket demand for both the All-Star Game and the July 9 Home Run Derby remains high, particularly on the secondary market. TiqIQ, a New York-based ticket aggregator that researches ticket resellers, says resale listings for the All-Star Game are averaging $936, more than three times the mark for last year’s event in Phoenix at a similar time. Home Run Derby listings are averaging $480, more than twice the level a year ago.

MLB, meanwhile, has tempered expectations somewhat for the FanFest, to be held at the Kansas City Convention Center. After posting an event-record attendance of 150,804 three years ago in St. Louis, turnout for the interactive baseball attraction fell in 2010 in Anaheim and then again last year in Phoenix, to 110,737. A strong ticket presale last year during spring training boosted MLB hopes of an increase in total attendance but ultimately gave way to minimal walk-up sales during All-Star Week. As a result, league executives for now are leaving the target FanFest attendance number at roughly equal to last year.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, meanwhile, is expecting a historic week of its own, although it is not officially connected to the All-Star Game or MLB. The 10,000-square-foot museum in Kansas City, which honors African-American players from the pre-integration era of the game, draws about 50,000 visitors a year but often exists in the shadow of the more well-known National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. A sizable fraction of that number could visit the site during All-Star Week. A series of special events are planned, and museum executives are looking to use the All-Star Game as a means to boost membership.

“For us, this is basically a once-in-30-years opportunity,” said Bob Kendrick, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president. “We’re going to see the most foot traffic we ever have, and while the five days are critical for us, we’re also looking well beyond this as a huge chance to build other partnerships for the future.”

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