The selection of Kansas City for this year’s Major League Soccer All-Star Game will bring money and attention to the region, and some say it signifies the city’s continued growth as a sports town.
The 18th annual MLS All-Star Game comes to Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday, when Italian squad AS Roma will take on the MLS All-Stars.
Keeping with the recent trend of newer teams or stadiums hosting the game, Sporing Park, which opened in 2011, was selected for this year’s game. Sporting Kansas City communications manager Kurt Austin said Sporting Park’s reputation as a great stadium helped Kansas City land the game, and he said other nearby attractions will enhance the game day experience.
“The stadium is located in an area called The Legends, and it’s surrounded with restaurants and shopping,” Austin said. “There’s a brand new casino that just opened. With us, it’s a destination-type location where you can go spend 12 hours eating, shopping, at the game and at a bar afterwards.”
Sporting Park also touts a variety of technological amenities, including a high-density Wi-Fi network, video boards that incorporate fans’ social media activity and a custom mobile application to engage fans and deliver them special offers.
“The demographic we’ve found as a sweet spot is ages 18 to 34, which is one of the largest demographics for technology,” Austin said. “We use a lot of social media during games, so giving fans access to cell phones and Internet is a large part of our strategy.”
An all-star double dose
Kansas City, which hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game last summer, is the 11th city since 1971 to host two or more major sport all-star games in a two-year span and the first since Washington, D.C. in 2001-02. Kansas City has done it once before, in 1973-74, when it hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and the National Football League Pro Bowl shortly after the opening of Kauffman Stadium (then Royals Stadium) and Arrowhead Stadium.
“I think what this says is Kansas City is becoming a sports town,” said Bridgette Jobe, executive director of the Kansas City Kansas Convention and Visitors Bureau. “When you look at Kansas City, we have major league baseball, professional football, major league soccer and an international NASCAR track. We have, on both sides of the state line, four major league sports facilities. I think Kansas City is becoming a major sports town.”
Said Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission: “I think it shows that Kansas City is an all-star town.
“We consider ourselves Kansas City USA, and that we truly are a united front.”
Kansas City’s soccer scene has shown signs of improvement since the second half of the last decade. A new ownership group, OnGoal LLC, bought the team in 2006. Austin said things took a turn for the better in 2010, when the team won a friendly match against English powerhouse Manchester United. Following that season, the team rebranded from the Kansas City Wizards to Sporting Kansas City, which Austin said played a large part in making the team more relevant. Under new ownership, with a new brand and a new, tech-forward stadium, the franchise has attracted a new, younger demographic.
In the past, Major League Soccer All-Star Games have been played at stadiums with capacities of approximately 40,000-50,000, according to Austin. Sporting Park, however, has a much smaller capacity. “Our owners are very much committed to make this the best All-Star Game the league has ever had,” Austin said. “Playing it at Sporting Park, there’s a capacity around 20,000, but with all the other events around the stadium, we can add thousands more.”
Previous MLS All-Star Games have generated between $15 million and $20 million of economic impact for the host city. In Kansas City, the game alone is projected to have an economic impact of $6.3 million, according to Stacy Bartlett of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association.
As dollars and fans flow into Kansas City, local groups hope to capitalize on the spotlight. Jobe said the Kansas City Kansas Convention and Visitors Bureau wants to bring as much attention to the city as possible by taking advantage of all the exposure that this “special type of event” provides.
“We know that the eyes of the soccer world will be watching this game,” Jobe said. “We wanted to make sure that we were really getting the word out on how wonderful Kansas City is on both sides of the state line.”