Think of it as a moral dilemma…
With sellouts mounting by the week, the sky’s the limit it would appear for Sporting Kansas City. The soccer club has become the model of what a successful professional sports franchise in Kansas City should look like.
Oh sure, recently dethroned AEG honcho Tim Leiweke‘s Comets indoor soccer club attained the veneer of success in the 1980s. But it was smoke and mirrors, accomplished by “papering” Kemper Arena with free promotional tickets then declaring the team a success. Local media played along and Leiweke pyramided the mirage into a seven-figure income and a powerful position in the entertainment industry.
Sporting’s ticket sales however are real.The team no longer has to fudge its attendance numbers to save face like it once did at Arrowhead and the ultra lame T-Bones park.
I attended Friday’s game at the stadium-formerly-known-as-Livestrong and not only was it sold out, the crowd was on fire practically the entire match. Despite that it was a dully-played affair with little to no excitement or scoring until the very end.
It’s a clean cut crowd, too.
Too clean cut by my measure, because if soccer’s to truly succeed here, the unwashed need to be part of the equation.
Ever gone to a Chiefs game at Arrowhead?
I hesitate to use the word rabble, but…
Back to Sporting…
With game after sold out game, the obvious question is, when will the team cash in and add more seats to 18,000 and change currently in play?
“In four years,” says Sporting main man Rob Heineman. “We can add 7,000 seats right over there – pop off the roof and add a second deck.”
But why not tomorrow to take advantage of the team’s popularity?
I wasn’t fast on my feet enough to ask Heineman that before he got away, but I think I know the answer.
Like most entertainment forms, soccer’s a supply/demand biz. And in part what helps propel Sporting’s sellouts is that they have a finite number of seats. As opposed to the 80,000 they were stuck with at Arrowhead.
The smaller venue encourages companies and fans to buy season tix because if they don’t, they might be not be available. And when people attend sold out games like Friday’s, it reinforces the wisdom of that decision.
When I took people to Wizards games at Arrowhead, the first thing they noticed was how empty the place was, even with 20,000 people in the stands.
They felt like losers.
After all, 60,000 people had thought the better of going, why on earth were they there?
So while Sporting could probably sell several thousand more tickets a game now, why bother? In the entertainment biz, artists would far rather turn away a handful of people and capture the “buzz” of a sold out show, rather than risk having attendees stare at a sea of empty seats. Everybody loves a winner, right?
That’s how the entertainment game is played.
Leiweke mesmerized locals by putting butts in seats, but nobody bothered to report how few of those were paid butts. Thus the illusion of success was created, while sorely-needed financial success went missing.
Sporting knows better.
Right now the team is still on its honeymoon in a new stadium with thousands of fans who – allow me to suggest – are not to the manor born soccer fans. Plus the team is winning.
Why force seven thousand more seats into the equation now, only to risk watching the team go through a couple losing seasons and be stuck playing to half full stadiums?
It would be foolhardy.
At some point, Kansas City will likely evolve into a more soccer sophisticated town and – like the Chiefs – will draw enough fans to come close to filling a 25,000 or 30,000 seat stadium even in off years.
Why rush it?