SBJ/March 14-20, 2011/In Depth

Sporting Kansas City will see if fans have an appetite for year-round sports bar

Sporting Kansas City’s new $200 million stadium, which opens June 9, will include a sports bar that will be open to club members even on non-game days.

“We want it to be a sports bar where people will go to watch the Chiefs, the Royals or an EPL game,” said Robb Heineman, president of Sporting Kansas City. “We want to bring the tailgate party inside, and I think it could become a nighttime hangout as well.”

The team has yet to name the eatery and is looking for a potential sponsor for the concept. The restaurant will house long beer-hall style tables, a DJ booth, 85 flat-screen televisions and room for 2,000 people. It also will feature large glass garage doors facing the playing field that will be open on game days. Delaware North Sportservice will operate the 8,000-square-foot restaurant.

Heineman said the restaurant is a key piece of the team’s rebranding effort — in November it changed its name from the Wizards — and is geared at attracting the 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

The New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox operate in-stadium restaurants that are also open to the general public on non-game days. The concept is new to MLS.
Chris Bigelow, who operates a concessionaire consulting business in Kansas City, said in-stadium restaurants present a series of challenges for a franchise.

“There are very few stadium restaurants that do well on non-game days because there has to be some reason to go there, unless it’s the greatest food in the world,” Bigelow said. “It’s not a huge revenue center for the team, and eventually they ask themselves ‘Why are we doing this?’”

Heineman believes the team’s membership club concept will steer regular business to the restaurant. Fans who sign up on the team’s website and social media pages gain free club membership. The team will provide free tickets to fans who travel to away games, and will allow fans to watch three free games from inside the membership club during the season. “We’re looking for deeper engagement with our fans,” Heineman said. “It’s not just about soccer matches. We want our brand to be a social thread that runs through their life.”

The stadium was designed by Populous, which has its corporate offices in Kansas City. Jon Knight, a senior principal at Populous, believes the restaurant concept will work because of the stadium’s design and location. The stadium is 10 miles west of the city center, near Kansas Speedway and the Legends shopping mall.

“It’s a highly trafficked area; Legends is extremely busy on the weekends,” Knight said.

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