‘Flyover Country’ Now a Soccer Destination

Sporting KC’s home of Sporting Park has shown it is a worthy of being a soccer mecca for supporters
by Katherine Rupp   |   Thursday, May 01, 2014

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

Though debatable, one of Major League Soccer’s best owners, Robb Heineman, is a focal point for why Sporting Kansas City, and also Sporting Park, have become such a success in the sport in America.

Heineman, who is one-fifth of the ownership group of Sporting Kansas City along with 4 other gentlemen who are business leaders within the Kansas City area, is often seen at the beginning of matches in the supporter’s section of the Cauldron on the north end of Sporting Park, enjoying a beer, holding up a tifo, or joining in on the chants. The exuberance and candid nature – especially with fans (and people not considered fans of Sporting KC) on Twitter – of Heineman make him one of the most popular, but also griped at, owners of MLS.

Since being bought in 2006, the leadership of Sporting Kansas City has shown what it takes to get not just Major League Soccer on the sporting radar through television deals, community partnerships and collaborations with local businesses, and also the quality of players on the team, but through the shrewd, and sometimes critical, steps that need to be made to have a club – as a sports team and a business – succeed.

Sporting Park, once known as Livestrong Sporting Park, has become somewhat of a soccer pilgrimage site to live, breathe and experience top class soccer in the United States. And not only does Sporting Park bring soccer – mainly because it’s a soccer specific stadium – to the fans, but the stadium hosts concerts as well. Although the stadium does not have a downtown locale like other MLS stadiums, the home of Sporting Kansas City is a quick drive from downtown Kansas City, with shopping and lodging nearby for out-of-towners and locals alike.

Sporting Park, in conjunction with Sporting Kansas City, has brought new life to the area and will continue to do so for years to come as well as in the near future. In the past, Sporting Park has played host to multiple soccer games including CONCACAF Gold Cup games, summer friendlies between Sporting Kansas City and Newcastle United Football Club (in 2011) and Stoke City Football Club (in 2012), a World Cup Qualifier between the USMNT and Jamaica (with Graham Zusi grabbing one of the 2 goals), and the 2013 MLS All Star game – which also included events around Kansas City the week leading up to the Wednesday night match that pitted the best players in MLS against AS Roma.

This coming summer in July, Sporting KC and its home of Sporting Park welcome Premier League giants, Manchester City. The fact that the potential Premier League champions are coming to the Midwest should excite and intrigue soccer and sports fans. What’s more, had the ownership of the club not taken hold of the demographics of soccer-mad Kansas City, the team might have been something completely different now, and quite likely a team without its own stadium.

However, Sporting Kansas City as a team, its owners and the home it plays in at Sporting Park, have made Kansas City more than just ‘Midwest flyover country’ and into a place to watch the beautiful game and to soak in the US soccer culture. Heineman and his fellow co-owners of Sporting Kansas City have certainly shown over the past couple of years what a little confidence in the fans, the community, and the club – with its own home stadium – can do for a city and sports league.

Although Sporting Park is not yet a Wembley, Maracana, or Azteca, if the trajectory continues with successes at the stadium, it shouldn’t be too long until the home of Sporting Kansas City is a soccer mecca, not only in the United States, but also possibly in North America.

NEXT UP: May 4, 2014 Sporting Kansas City vs. Columbus Crew, Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kan. 4 p.m. EST, NBCSN.

Katherine RUPP

Nationality:
USA
College:
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.
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