One of the best set ups in sports is when the dominant, powerhouse team takes on the scrappy underdog. It sucks in marginal viewers, listeners and readers. The story is easy to sell, and plays on two American loves. America loves the powerhouse colossus that destroys all, and it pretends to be a hard fighting underdog that with a little moxie and improvisation, can pull through in the end. Baseball will miss out on this with the elimination this post-season of all big market teams, but it has a Cinderella story that usually one finds only in March Madness. The Kansas City Royals are rolling through the playoffs, and everyone is loving the small market team improbably beating up bigger and better foes each round. There is one catch though. The Royals are still spending a ton of money on their roster.
In the minds of sports fans, the small market team is by definition a small television market team from a mid-tier city. The association with small market is small payroll. In baseball this contrast was best exemplified a decade or so ago as the Yankees and Red Sox bankrolled teams for more than $150 million per year, and occasionally met the Athletics or another team with a payroll half or less than half of Yankees/Red Sox levels. The Royals are not near the top of the payroll charts, but they are also right in the middle at a rather inflated payroll of $92 million. Sure, the big market teams spend more than small market teams, but the increase in spending by smaller teams is large. Just this year, all but two teams spent $77 million or more on payroll. That is far different than ten years ago when there was a greater spread in spending. If the Royals are a have not, they are a free spending have not. A key thing from the link on the Royals spending is that they are breaking even with this high payroll despite a poor television deal and an increase in attendance but still not a maximum capacity attendance situation. They probably even have room to increase ticket prices if they wanted to for next year. They can spend this much and still survive.
This is good for the game, and most likely the outcome of better regional television contracts and the league's revenue sharing. Baseball has changed the revenue sharing with time and added a luxury tax. It is not the hard cap of the NFL or the silly, somewhat non-existent cap of the NBA, but it must be doing the trick for teams if Baltimore, St. Louis and Kansas City can all break even or make money with payrolls above $90 million that a few years ago would've been considered rich. The more amazing thing with baseball salaries is that despite overall inflation of the roster totals, the top earners are not signing ridiculous contracts compared to the A-Rod deals of years ago. Kansas City is still the Cinderella. Those powder blue uniforms look pretty on-screen, and Kaufmann Stadium is a beautiful park as well. Even though I am a Baltimore Orioles fan, I will pull for the Royals if they do make it to the World Series. Nearly nine figure payroll or not, I hope this Cinderella story has a few more pages to it.