Looking out towards the parking lot from Sporting Park’s press box an hour prior to the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup there are cars everywhere that have tailgaters and enjoying the usual fare kicking a ball around enjoying the build up to a match that everyone believes will end in victory for the home side as they look to repeat as Open Cup champions.
Briefly there is a flashback to an Open Cup final nearly 10 years ago where at Arrowhead Stadium the fortunes of a club and its history and there was a mere 9,000 who were in attendance, and in a 77,000 seat stadium it looks horrible for a television audience.
As the announced crowd of 15, 981 leaves disappointed as the team has failed in their defense of the Open Cup the differences between these two moments cannot be underestimated.
Today there is an ownership group that has built a $200 million stadium that constantly boasts sellout crowds and rowdy fans who cheer on their hero’s while wearing some sort of merchandise bearing the new logo and new colors that was brought when there was the rebranding of the club in the build up to the opening of the new stadium. The club is turning a profit that was never there when they were previously known as the Wizards and there is a local and regional television deal that has the highest ratings to date and has four TV affiliates outside KC broadcasting the games along with a Spanish and English radio partner for the games.
In 2004 there was a TV deal with a KC market only cable channel that had a limited appeal. The owner had his mind more focused on his more important NFL team and gave little effort towards widening the appeal of the team. Attendances were small in a stadium five times too big for what even the best attended teams in the league could handle. Football lines would popup on the field as the season entered the fall. This was during one of the most successful seasons in club history.
The difference is as black and white as could be expected.
Back out to the parking lot after the disappointment of the cup defeat I meander past the disassembling tailgate of a good friend whom I’ve befriended while being a season ticket holder in the Community America Ballpark years and see his view on the match.
“Reminds me of when Man United was dumped out by Bournemouth in the FA Cup in 84”, in his Isle of Man accent.
The frustration is obvious in his tone of voice and the talk of the fans passing by as they head to their cars is much the same.
The captivating nature of the team is so much different than it was even in 2010, the last season as the Wizards and pre-Sporting Park.
Sure the team was able to sellout every match that year when the club was not good but in a stadium that was built for baseball and could only host 10,000 it’s a wonder that now season tickets are sold out entirely a mere three years later.
The next day I meet a friend who is back from serving his country with distinction at a nice café in the Westport Entertainment district. He is wearing the Sporting KC shirt I sent to him while he was deployed and says that when he has down time and needs not to be in full uniform we likes to wear it cause there are other soccer lovers who notice it and are willing to spend some time talking about the ‘Beautiful Game’ and is a welcome distraction from the difficulties of being away from home.
We are only there for an hour and a half and close to 10 people have walked by representing Sporting KC in some fashion, not counting all the cars that pass by with the stickers or magnets on the back.
In Kansas City it is the likes of the Chiefs and Royals who always dominate the headlines but when segments of the big sports talk shows who just a couple of years ago couldn’t be bothered by a Sporting match now have blocks of time where they are profiling players, discussing draft picks, and having callers weigh in on their views about Sporting.
The transformation has been a sight to behold as the sport of soccer grows in the United States and where it will be in 10 years the Royals and Chiefs would rather not think.