Building in Kansas City: The Future of the Wizards

wozardsIn September, 2006, On-Goal, LLC purchased the Kansas City Wizards from Hunt Sports Group.  Led by Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, the purchase brought a local ownership group to MLS and started a new wave of MLS franchise sales that included Houston and DC United.  At the time, Kansas City was playing to small crowds in massive Arrowhead Stadium and was one of three MLS teams in the Hunt stable.  OnGoal brought limited sports expertise to the transaction, but expressed its desire to build a “world class” soccer specific stadium by April, 2009 and a refreshing entusiasm to the League.

It is now April 1, 2009 and The Wizards are playing in tiny Community America Ballpark to crowds of around 10,000.   OnGoal still plans to construct a stadium as part of a larger development at the site of the former Bannister Mall, but the project has a long way to go.  Demolition has started, but financing remains in question for the project as a whole and the retail components are struggling.   Nevertheless, the Team is shooting for an April 2011 opening.

To the ownership group’s credit, they have not let the pace of construction impact their willingness to spend on the team.  Last year, the Wizards brought in Claudio Lopez as a Designated Player.  The seating capacity of Community America Ballpark was increased and fixed seating was added in multiple places.   At the same time, OnGoal has continued to maintain corporate sponsorships and has continued strong ticket sales in 10,000 capacity stadium.

To many MLS fans, Kansas City has long been considered a “weak” franchise and a prime candidate to relocation to St. Louis or elsewhere.  In a market saturated with other sports teams like the Royals and Chiefs, the Wizards struggle for recognition from the local media.  Yet the team has endured, and the transition to Community America Ballpark has created a level of ticket scarcity not available at Arrowhead.  The team has been moderately successful on the field and has developed a loyal following.

As an original franchise in the under represented center of the country, Kansas City is important to MLS.  The new ownership group was a necessary infusion of new blood for MLS at a time prior to David Beckham’s arrival.  The decision to move to the smaller park during construction was savvy and should sustain the franchise during construction.  However, construction of the new ballpark will ultimately be the determining factor in whether the Wizards survive and thrive.