Royals FanFest attracts record crowds, new energy
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When fans walked through the entrance to Royals FanFest, the first things they saw were the 2014 American League champions trophy and a giant blue championship banner. These were just a few signs that this year's event -- the annual fan kickoff to the new season -- looked and felt a lot different from previous editions.
The crowds were bigger. Much bigger. And the fans were full of energy -- some sprinted to autograph lines -- as they gathered en masse for the first time since the magical postseason.
"I think there's an energy on the floor at FanFest that we've never experienced before," said Toby Cook, Royals vice president of community affairs and publicity. "Maybe it's because it's the first time that all of these people are together with these Royals images all around and Royals players since the run ended in October."
Around 10,000 fans came to FanFest from 2008-13 when it was held at the Overland Park Convention Center. Last year's FanFest, the first at Bartle Hall in downtown Kansas City, attracted a slightly bigger crowd but was affected by ice and snow.
This year? It's a new ballgame. By noon Saturday attendance had already surpassed 18,500. Cook said the Royals were on pace to have more than 20,000 at Bartle Hall, far surpassing previous years' crowds and the team's expectations.
"This year, when we set out, we're thinking, 'Wow, we went all the way to the World Series, people are excited, I bet we can hit 15,000,'" Cook said. "Our presales for this year were more than we've ever had people in the building.
"In years past we've had nice crowds at FanFest. This is just a sea of people."
Fans notice the difference. It's also apparent in apparel. All that blue, all that postseason gear.
"Everybody has a World Series shirt or hoodie or AL champions stuff," said Royals fan Greg Janssen, a recent Kansas State grad. "This is the first time in my lifetime that's been a possibility."
Janssen's friend, Matt Strub of Manhattan, Kansas, thinks fans were craving a Royals weekend after three months without baseball.
"Everyone's excited to just see anything Royals," Strub said. "The winter's been hard. Now here's everything Royals you can possibly imagine."
Royals manager Ned Yost noticed a change, too.
"I actually had a fan, during the question and answer thing, get up and say he liked me," Yost joked.
"That's never happened before."