Behind the MLS Ambition Rankings: Sporting Kansas City

Go behind the numbers of Sporting Kansas City's place in our MLS Ambition Rankings.
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How much money has your team spent in the past five years on youth development? How much in the past year?

Sporting Kansas City has invested millions in its Academy, as chronicled in a recent feature story by The Kansas City Star. The Sporting KC Academy currently fields teams at the U-18, U-16, U-14, U-13 and U-12 age levels. The U-14 team won the U.S. Youth Soccer U-15 National Championship in 2015, while the U-18s and U-16s both advanced to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy playoffs last summer. All Academy teams train at state-of-the-art Swope Soccer Village.

How many homegrown players have you signed? How many have played in MLS league games for your first team?

We have signed four Homegrown players: Jon Kempin, Kevin Ellis, Erik Palmer-Brown and Daniel Salloi. Palmer-Brown is currently the captain of the U.S. U-20 men’s national team, which is competing at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship this month and will [almost certainly] play at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in May. Kevin Ellis led MLS defenders in 2015 with five goals scored and has been a valuable contributor along the back line since 2014.

How many season-ticket holders do you have? How many did you have in 2016?

We currently have 14,000 season ticket members, the same number as in 2016. This is the fifth straight year we’ve capped our season ticket base, and we presently have a waiting list. We also have a season ticket renewal of more than 90% over the last four seasons. We have sold out 87 straight MLS matches and will be sold out for every league game in 2017, as well.

Where does your first team train? Did you build the training facility yourself? If so, how much did it cost?

The team currently trains at the state-of-the-art Sporting Kansas City Training Center at Swope Soccer Village, which houses nine fields (synthetic turf, bluegrass and native soil fields to allow for year-round competition) as well as an expanded office and workout complex. With three separate additions since it opened in 2007, it has cost $22 million.

In 2018, Sporting KC will move into the world-class National Training and Coaching Development Center, an $80 million facility that will open at the end of this year in Kansas City, Kansas, less than a mile away from Children’s Mercy Park. The NTCDC will also accommodate the Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center and the U.S. Soccer National Coaching Education Center. This will effectively make Kansas City the hub for youth athlete sports medicine services and overall soccer development in the United States.

Did your team build its own stadium? If yes, how much money did the team spend on the stadium?

Yes. Children’s Mercy Park opened in June 2011 at a cost of $200+ million.

Do you have a USL affiliate? How big is your budget this year for your USL team?

In addition to the Sporting KC Academy, the Swope Park Rangers are considered a valuable investment as the club tries to cultivate players from the youth to professional levels. The Rangers enjoyed a hugely successful first season in 2016, winning the USL Western Conference Championship and appearing in the USL Cup.

How much money have you spent in the three previous years on Designated Players (transfer fees and salary)? How much are you spending on Designated Players this year?

Over the last three years, we have signed three players who are currently Designated Players, or were DPs at the time of their signing but have since been bought down using TAM. Those players are Roger Espinoza (2015), Diego Rubio (2016) and Gerso Fernandes (2017). All three came to Kansas City from Europe, as Espinoza competed in England, Rubio played mostly in Portugal and Spain, and Fernandes played in Portugal.

Espinoza has made an impact not only on the field, but in a variety of charitable ways. He is an active member in The Victory Project, Sporting KC’s philanthropic arm, and traveled to his native Honduras in early 2016 to teach young kids soccer skills in underserved neighborhoods.

How much TAM have you spent since its inception in the middle of 2015 (including this year)?

We have used every single dollar of TAM since its inception. We have also used TAM to buy down a DP’s budget charge, as has been the case with Matt Besler, Dom Dwyer and Diego Rubio.

How would you describe your investment in and use of data analytics? How many full-time analytics employees do you have?

As a technology company, Sporting Club places great importance on the use of data analytics. We have one full-time technical staff member who specializes in on-field team/player analytics. We also have a full-time analytics employee on the business side who breaks down consumer data and translates it into useful information for the company. In addition, Sporting Club’s technology company Fan360 specializes in data collection, digital solutions and mobile experiences for our growing fan base.

Who is your jersey sponsor? What’s your total income on sponsorships this season?

Ivy Investments is our jersey sponsor through 2022. Total income from sponsorships ranks in the top third of MLS clubs. The partnership between Sporting KC and Ivy Investments is multi-faceted and fully integrated, as Ivy sponsors not only Sporting KC but all Academy teams, the Swope Park Rangers, and is a naming rights partner for the Ivy Executive Level at Children’s Mercy Park.

Local TV deal: How many of your games this season are shown on local television? How much is your local TV deal worth per season? How big is your budget for presenting local TV broadcasts? Do your broadcasters travel on the road for local TV broadcasts?

Local television will show 26 of our 34 games. The other eight will be televised nationally. Our new deal with FOX Sports Kansas City is worth $750,000 per season, and our budget for presenting local TV broadcasts has increased since last year. Our broadcasters will travel on the road for all but two away games in 2017.

How many front-office employees does your team have? How many have you added or subtracted in the past year?

We currently have 131 front office associates, a sizable increase from the 92 we had a year ago. That’s an addition of 39 employees over the past 12 months.

What other sorts of details should we know about your club that are a good barometer of the club’s ambition? 

In addition to owning and operating state-of-the-art Children’s Mercy Park, Sporting Club is also looking forward to opening the National Training and Coaching Development Center at the end of the year. The $80 million facility will become the new, expansive training home of Sporting KC and also accommodate the Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center and the U.S. Soccer National Coaching Education Center. This will effectively make Kansas City the hub for youth athlete sports medicine services and overall soccer development in the United States. The nearby Wyandotte Youth Soccer Complex will be a premier youth soccer venue capable of hosting premier youth tournaments at the national and international level, complete with 12 full-size fields.

In another initiative targeted toward youth, Sporting Club and The Victory have constructed 20 futsal courts at 11 different locations across Kansas City. These futsal courts provide safe and accessible venues for community use, encouraging active lifestyles for local youth and fostering the growth of soccer in the city. The Victory Project is Sporting KC’s philanthropic arm that unites players, staff and fans to help children afflicted with cancer and other serious illnesses.

Sporting Kansas City excels on a variety of digital platforms, ranking among the top third in social media engagement despite being in the league’s second smallest media market. The team ranks among the top third in engagement across three major channels—Twitter, Instagram and Facebook—and has garnered more than a million video views over the past 12 months on its website and other digital properties.

Sporting KC has also extended its brand into a restaurant and entertainment venue called No Other Pub, located in downtown Kansas City. As one of the premier sports bars in town, No Other Pub serves as the official watch party location for all Sporting KC road games. The venue features dozens of televisions as well as a bowling alley, golf simulators, table tennis, shuffleboard and foosball, not to mention a selection of every local craft beer and spirit made in KC.

Sporting Club has also placed great importance on event hosting. On an annual basis, Children’s Mercy Park hosts weddings, high-profile concerts, the NCAA Division II Football National Championship and Sporting KC’s postseason awards show. Sporting Club also oversees the Three Points event space, a rooftop lounge with a 360-degree view of downtown Kansas City.