Unfortunately, some of the bases left uncovered are about eight years late in being examined by the friendly reporters and editors at 18th and Grand. Quite a few actually. Other details remain largely untold.
So now, the rest of the story.
Because early on – practically from the get-go – most local news media and jock sniffing sports personalities made the conscious decision to root for a new arena rather than root out any of its cons or potential pratfalls. Thus Kansas City’s $276 million glass house was cheerleaded into existence rather than undergoing a critical examination.
For example, sorts columnist Joe Posnanski anointed himself an expert on how the concert biz works and rattled off shows we’d missed out on but were sure to get if Sprint were to be built. WHB’s Kevin Kietzman even appeared on stage with KC mayor Kay Barnes as a reward for helping campaign for the new arena on his radio show.
And lead Star editorial writer (and new arena enthusiast) Yael Abouhalkah went as far as to laugh about that the newspaper leting Barnes and her spin doctors demonize Enterprise Rent-A-Car in a silly St. Louis versus Kansas City election ploy.
“When Enterprise Rent-A-Car decided to oppose the downtown arena, Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes and others latched onto a brilliant – if somewhat hokey – campaign strategy: Make St. Louis the villain,” Abouhalkah wrote shortly after voters had approved the new arena. “Sports-talk radio shows were filled with hosts and callers defending Kansas City. A conspiracy theory was born: St. Louis feared Kansas City would get an arena and attract a pro basketball team, which St. Louis desperately wants. Kansas City voters, who approved the arena, appear to have been shadowboxing with St. Louis.”
To Abouhalkah many of the Kansas Citians who voted for the new arena were sports rubes suckered by a bogus, “hokey” campaign strategy.
Kind of a smug variation on Romney‘s 47 percent.
Just one problem (that Abouhalkah conceded after the election, not before):
“The vast majority of St. Louis residents didn’t know or care that Kansas City wanted to build a new arena,” he said. “St. Louis newspapers weren’t filled with blow-by-blow coverage. And an NBA team will locate in the city that gives it the best deal.”
I remember attending Enterprise’s election night bash at a downtown hotel bar with company brass who so affronted by the newspaper’s lopsided coverage they could scarcely believe I’d brought out any of their side at all in my column.
That said, I was given a cease and desist order a few weeks out before the election by then Star editor Mark Zieman. Which by the way, was not the case with other reporters and columnists who wished to write positive stories about the new arena.
One of the key selling points on the new arena in 2004 was the prospect of KC landing an NBA or NHL franchise. However not only did the Star‘s Sunday sum up reduce that glaring failure to a mere “wrinkle, ” it dug up a sports scholar to dismiss the notion entirely and spin not having a team into a “blessing.”
“It would have never been a wise decision to get an NHL or NBA team,” Mark Rosentraub, a University of Michigan sports management professor told the Star. “The team can’t be viable with the size market you have. I can’t find an economic model that would indicate to me a fourth professional team can survive in your market.”
That’s all well and good, given the Star’s mission was to put a sunny face on the Sprint Center.
However, Rosentraub – author of the book Major League Losers: The Real Costs of Sports and Who’s Paying For It – probably would have told the Star that same thing in 2004 (if he hadn’t) when the newspaper was doing its pre-election boosterism thing. One of Rosentraub’s warnings did make it into the newspaper back then although it was downplayed.
“The downside of the (Sprint Center) deal is there’s no anchor tenant,” Rosentraub said. “There are few examples of people building these arenas without an anchor tenant. … The reason you’re seeing a higher public (participation) number here is because the anchor tenant is missing.”
So on one hand the Star‘s expert said not having an NHL or NBA team was a liability, now he’s says getting a team would have been a huge mistake.
And if not landing an anchor sports team was so insignificant, why did the Star write dozens of stories about it since? Does the name Boots Del Biaggio ring any bells? Remember when hockey superstar Mario Lemieux visited the Cowtown about the Pittsburgh Penguins coming here?
Check out this passage that ran in the Star in 2007 under the headline, “Anchorless Arena:”
“Former Mayor Kay Barnes’ fondest wish was to drop the first puck or toss up the first jump ball for a major-league tenant in October at the new Sprint Center. But as the opening of the glistening $276 million downtown sports palace draws closer, it appears the building will open without an anchor tenant.”
“No one is more disappointed than Tim Leiweke that the Sprint Center is opening without a major-league sports tenant.”
Barnes was full speed ahead pursuing a new arena at the end of her first term in 2003. However when Stan Glazer launched his bid for mayor against her on a “No New Arena” platform, she immediately claimed she was merely exploring the idea, neutralizing Glazer’s arena issue in the campaign.
Of course practically the minute Barnes won re-election the arena was back in her crosshairs and soon appeared on the front page of the Star cheering for the new arena alongside an architect’s model.
Which brings us to the dollars and sense of this deal, which ran almost as an afterthought at the end of a small sidebar below the main story.
“While the Sprint Center shares its profits with the city, those funds have mostly been eaten up to cover the $1 million annual operating deficits at Kemper,” the Star reports. “This year, the city hopes to reduce that loss to about $650,000 by saving on utilities and staffing and operating the facility itself instead of paying a management fee.”
“The city continues to pay off the debt from Kemper’s renovation in the 1990s. That debt now totals $8.2 million, which the city spends down by about $2.2 million each year. It will be fully paid off in April 2016.”
That’s another $2 million a year for four more years by my measure – another “wrinkle.”
Global was horrified when I showed them a copy of the city’s contract with AEG giving them right of first refusal for managing Kemper.
Up until then, Global had been lead to believe it was still be in running to manage Kemper and remained optimistic about its future in Kansas City.
However by allowing AEG to control Kemper too, the city’s chances of getting a nhalfway decent bid from Global went down the drain, and it was forced instead to pay AEG to run Kemper and basically shift events from the stockyards up to Sprint.
Another between-the-lines little ditty in the Star‘s Sprint story was that the College Basketball Experience was throwing in the towel on its retail store off Sprint’s lobby. A likely indication that the “experience” was not doing all that well.
It sounds like a pretty big space, too.
Because the College Basketball Experience store will be replaced on October 25th by the “Grammy Music Experience,” which is to include “archival footage, memorabilia, interactive video displays and a stage where budding musicians can play drums, keyboards, guitars and other instruments.”
I was alone in reporting in 2004 that the National Association of College Basketball Coaches unexpectedly pulled out at the last minute of moving its offices and the “Experience” to Municipal Auditorium, opting instead to move into the taxpayer subsidized, proposed new arena.
The city came out on the short end of that stick on that deal because it had already just spent $5 million readying Municipal for the coaches.
The flip side of that coin being that the college coaches had only been able to raise $2 million of the $10 million needed for their new offices and museum (which btw , my sources who have taken kids there say is a snoozer).
So yeah, you can say the Sprint Center’s been a success, there’s no arguing that.