Future MLS Clubs Can Look to Sporting KC

The evolution of Sporting KC is a spotlight for future or rebranded MLS clubs
by Katherine Rupp   |   Thursday, April 10, 2014

State of SKC - column on Sporting KC (SKC) & the Kansas City soccer scene.

There are a few teams yet to be added to MLS before the ‘cap’ of 24 is finalized but those who are added including Orlando City, New York City FC and the other cities that are vying for a team such as Atlanta, Miami, Minneapolis, St. Louis and San Antonio, can look to the team in the heartland, Sporting Kansas City, for inspiration on how to successfully run a club.

Sporting Kansas City have, without much fanfare, done an incredible job of scouting overseas players all the while making shrewd moves for the current club whether it’s acquiring or trading players, in addition to building the Sporting KC brand that so many fans and supporters – whether in the Kansas City area or not – grasp on to the sport and its identity.

Once the Kansas City Wizards became Sporting Kansas City in 2011, the club had a rebirth of sorts, which drummed up interest in KC and surrounding areas. Investing in the future through the community aspects of the club, the Academy, and other changes within the club pertaining to infrastructure – like building Sporting Park – all lent to more people paying attention to how the club was run and to the soccer being played on the pitch. Not only did the club change through the aesthetic aspects of the logo, but also through the addition of the opening of the stadium and some changes in the roster.

One of the biggest changes was to utilize the training grounds at Swope Park in Kansas City, Mo. Additionally, the training center was expanded in 2013 and, subsequently thereafter, played host to the Big XII Soccer Championship. The name of Sporting Kansas City and the footprint of the club’s brand have grown the city of Kansas City as hotbed for soccer, not only in the Midwest but also throughout the nation, and the Swope Soccer Village is just one aspect of the popularity of the Sporting KC name in the area.

As a perfect storm – strong regular season, likable and good quality players and a good connection with the community – Sporting Kansas City have been able to attract more and more people to games as well as through watching online and on television.

The regular season attendance averages, in the past, had always been between about 9,000 and 11,000 with the capacity for the previous home, Community America Ballpark, at just over 10,000. With the help of Sporting Park having more seats, and with a higher demand of not just single-game tickets but season tickets, because – among other things – the smart rebranded name (although quite a few scoffed at the name and identification of the team), the average attendance since 2011 has steadily increased and is over 19,000. Also worth noting is the fact that Sporting Park is able to be expanded by 8,000 more seats, and that there is a wait list for becoming a season ticket holder.

What’s more, the club has fit in incredibly well with the other professional teams in the area – the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs – and to add to that, have given the city 2 championships (2000 and 2013) since the Royals won the World Series in 1985 and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 1969.

Not only has attendance improved since the rebranding of the Wiz to Sporting KC, and enhanced the reputation of at least one Kansas City team able to vie for conference and league championships, but the quality of the team on the field has gotten further in post-season play in recent years than they had say, a decade ago. The ability of the club to find, scout, entice, and sign players from overseas is impressive. Not only have Sporting Kansas City gained quality players in Barcelona-bred Uri Rosell and Defender of the Year finalist Aurelien Collin, but capacity of skill and talent that comes to Kansas City is only matched by the resourcefulness and strength of US players like Matt Besler and Graham Zusi.

One area where Sporting Kansas City improved upon after rebranding – maybe because of it and maybe not – is the form sustained throughout the seasons. Before Sporting Kansas City became Sporting Kansas City, there had been trouble within the regular season to quality for playoffs. That has not been a problem in the past few years with KC finishing as either first or second place in the Eastern Conference.

Although coming into MLS can surely be a daunting task at hand, new – or even rebranded clubs – can look to the teams that have been in the league for the long-haul (i.e. Sporting Kansas City) to see what can be tweaked versus what works well in capturing the audience of a community, city, or region. Sporting Kansas City have performed well in showing how a club can be a thriving business model while the players on the team can do their work effectively by bringing home trophies as well as maintaining a standard of excellence when it comes to name recognition of the club. As the verdict shows now, the Kansas City Wizards transforming into Sporting Kansas City has been a huge success and all signs point to the team continuing forging their path to great achievements.

NEXT UP: April 19 – Sporting Kansas City vs. Montreal Impact, Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kan., 8:30 p.m. EST, MLS Live

Katherine RUPP

Drake University
Club Domestic:
Sporting KC
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Unabashed Minnesotan by birth. Tried reliving the glory days of collegiate intramural soccer championships but an ACL tear dashed future hopes of adult recreational greatness. Covering a city’s team that’s too big for one state: SKC.