September 27, 2011
by Charles Cuttone
KC got it right
KANSAS CITY, Kan.---With all due respect to PPL Park and Red Bull Arena, both wonderful MLS stadiums, Kansas City has raised the bar.
Livestrong Sporting Park has fueled the development of a strong soccer culture in Kansas City.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
To compare Livestrong Sporting Park to other MLS Stadiums would be an injustice. Comparing it to Yankee Stadium might be more apt.
Built at a cost of some $200 million, the home of Sporting Kansas City has quickly become the benchmark future stadiums should aspire to.
Itís not just the ďspare no expenseĒ approach to construction or the stadiumís top-to-bottom list of amenities including a section of seats that can be converted into a concert stage, four different clubs, state-of-the-art wireless infrastructure and even high-tech ďfast pourĒ beer dispensers, but that the stadium has truly sparked a soccer culture in the city of Kansas City.
It seems the ownership and management of Sporting Kansas City planned it that way. While LSP does not have the advantage of being downtown like Jeld Wen Stadium in Portland and Century Link Field in Seattle, the stadium is part of the already vibrant Legends shopping and entertainment district, which is adjacent to a sports complex that houses the Kansas Speedway, CommunityAmerica Ballpark, where the MLS team played for two years, and now Livestrong Sporting Park.
The structure of this building is the best in the league, no doubt, but it has a soul as well, one that was created not only because of its newness, but because of what the teamís ownership decide to make of it. The result has engaged fans to a degree that the teamís original operator, legendary sports entrepreneur Lamar Hunt, never managed to do while itís small but die-hard fan base rattled around in cavernous Arrowhead Stadium.
Successful Major League Soccer teams have made a point of making fans feel involved with the organization in order to create a strong local team and soccer culture. The Philadelphia Union do this as well as any team in the league. So do the Portland Timbers and Sounders FC. Add Sporting to that list.
LSPís Memberís Club is evidence of that. Not as fancy as some of the other club areas in Livestrong Sporting Park, itís the everymanís club house. Membership comes with the purchase of a rock-bottom $280 season ticket. The team also offers a subsidized food and beverage menu in the club, with typical stadium fare such as hot dogs, burgers and brats, along with chips, for $2.50. Domestic beers are $6.00, $2.50 below the price at general concession stands, and 28 of the 328 screens in the stadium are in the memberís club.
On a perfect Friday evening, the park has a buzz and air of excitement to it, with fans streaming into the open air plaza around the main entrance to the stadium. Itís bobblehead night, but thatís not why the sellout crowd of 18,000 plus are here. Itís a game with playoff implications. The fans know it, and are in good voice all evening. The players are pampered in the best locker room in the league, maybe in all of sports. Plush chairs in front of each fully wired and wi-fi enabled locker allow players to relax before the game and after when talking to the media.
The players have taken to the facility, making it one of the most difficult in the league for opponents to play in. The results of playing the bulk of their home games in the second half of the season has propelled Sporting into first place in the Eastern Conference.
Whether the soccer culture in Kansas City is new, or just needed to be brought out, it now extends beyond the limits of the stadium. Next January, the city will once again host the annual convention of the National Soccer Coaches Association. City boosters are quick to point out that the stadium is not the only thing new in the metro Kansas City area, with billions of dollars in new development downtown, including an expanded convention center, new sports area, and a lively entertainment district. But for the cityís growing soccer community, Livestrong Sporting Park and the resurgent team it houses are a rallying point and fertile medium for continued growth.