SBJ/June 20-26, 2011/Facilities

Strong debut

K.C. soccer stadium a break from tradition

Two hours before Livestrong Sporting Park opened for its first Major League Soccer game June 9, fans approaching the front door stopped to engage in a simple, emotional piece of sponsor activation.

REED HOFFMAN
Livestrong Sporting Park opened for its first Major League Soccer game on June 9.
Livestrong, the nonprofit group dedicated to fighting cancer, set up a booth to commemorate those stricken by the disease. Hundreds grabbed a Sharpie, wrote the names of family and friends on gold-colored cards and fastened them to the clothesline display. It filled up in no time, dozens of cards identifying people living with cancer, some who died because of it and, in many cases, individuals fortunate enough to beat it.

Sporting Kansas City is paying Livestrong $7.5 million over the next six years, a first in U.S. sports. It’s just one example of how the club has shaken up the traditional business model in developing its sparkling $200 million home.

For more photos around the opening of Livestrong Sporting Park, click here.

OnGoal, Sporting KC’s ownership group, had plenty of time to think over its facility planning in the past five years, a turbulent period spanning the recession. The team hit dead ends at two other sites before OnGoal finally got a deal done to share the cost of financing stadium construction in Kansas City, Kan.

“We actually designed three stadiums, one for each site, so along the way we figured what we liked and didn’t like,” said Sporting KC co-owner Robb Heineman.

Where it stands now, Livestrong Sporting Park seems to blend well into its surroundings. Across the street to the east is the Nebraska Furniture Mart, the Sunflower State’s single biggest tourist attraction and part of the existing Legends at Village West outlet mall. On the west side looms Kansas Speedway. Community America Ballpark, Sporting KC’s temporary home for the past three years, is two blocks up the street. Nearby hotels support the shops, restaurants, nightclubs and other attractions that make up the Legends development.

The finished product is heavy on hospitality, taking that part of the game experience to a new level in Major League Soccer. There are five club areas, by far the highest number in MLS. They cater to virtually every demographic, a sign of Sporting KC’s commitment to providing amenities to all fans regardless of seat location. With its focus on creating segmented destinations throughout the building, Livestrong Sporting Park falls in line with a trend set by Amway Center’s O3
REED HOFFMAN (2)
The Livestrong brand dominates the front entrance, but the team’s brand rules elsewhere.
Bar, Consol Energy Center’s Smokehouse Grill and Arrowhead Stadium’s Horizon Level.

On Livestrong Park’s low end, the 2,000 “rowdies,” who make up the Members Club stand and cheer throughout the game from the general admission bench seats in the north end zone and a portion of the east stands, pay $280 for a season ticket. Before and during the match, they get exclusive access to TheCoolTV Lounge, a field-level bar and grill in the northeast corner. Price points there are a bit lower for concessions compared with the rest of the building.
The lounge provides the team’s most loyal and passionate fans, those without the luxury to write off corporate seats, a place to call their own. The club has a separate liquor license stretching hours of operation until 2 a.m. on game nights, so members and others tied to the team’s loyalty program can hang out, watch sports on high-def TVs and rehash the Sporting KC game long after the final whistle. For the Members Club, the team plans to open the lounge for high-profile Premier League games on television, and this fall, Chiefs games on NFL Sundays.


Livestrong Sporting Park

City:
Kansas City, Kan.

Tenant: Sporting Kansas City

Owner: Kansas Unified Development LLC

Operator: Global Spectrum

Architect: Populous

General contractor: Turner Construction

Cost: $200 million

Square footage: 342,105

Naming rights: Sporting Kansas City pays Livestrong, $7.5 million over six years

Founding partners: Panasonic, Providence Healthcare, Sprint, TheCoolTV

Sponsored spaces: Budweiser Terrace, Providence Sporting Pass Zone, Sprint Plaza, TheCoolTV Lounge

Number of seats: 18,467

Suites: 35 suites, one party suite and the team owners’ “Victory” box

Club seats: 1,000

Food concessionaire: Delaware North Sportservice

Retail concessionaire: Sporting Kansas City
Scoreboards, LED field-level boards: Panasonic

Pouring rights: Pepsi

Source: Populous, SportsBusiness Journal
“The Members Club is a nice touch,” said Peter Luukko, who as chairman of Global Spectrum, the company operating Livestrong Sporting Park for the team, attended the opener against the Chicago Fire. “They have taken care of everybody in the building.”

For Heineman, the north end zone was designed to replicate Wrigley Field’s bleacher seats on a Saturday afternoon. Heineman, a Notre Dame graduate, lived in Chicago for several years and attended about 100 Cubs games. In his mind, it is the best fan experience in sports. “It’s one of those things that regardless of what’s going on on the field ... everybody loves it, and that’s what we’re trying to do here is create a bunch of seminal moments for people,” Heineman said.

The two suite levels along the stadium’s west side have separate clubs, another sign of team ownership’s focus on amenities, even at the highest level of hospitality. It is something new for soccer and a step up for sports facilities in general, according to Populous’ Jeff Spear, designer for Livestrong Sporting Park. Typically, the architect ties both suite levels to one lounge, in large part a cost issue, but Sporting KC co-owner Cliff Illig wanted each level to have its own club, Spear said.

On the upper suite level, called the Signature Suites, ownership’s plan led to the design of smaller units, with movable glass walls in the back of the suite that open to a communal dining space with tapas-style food stations. Food and drink is included in the cost to buy a suite. The group dining space is similar to Red Bull Arena’s club and New Meadowlands Stadium’s Commissioners Club in New Jersey. For all three stadiums, the setup is a nod to the traditional European soccer model of premium dining, where suite holders dine together and build a sense of camaraderie compared with being in their own private space.

In Kansas City, the 14 Signature Suites were the first to sell out, Spear said.

One floor below, on the Executive Suite level, is the more traditional model where suite holders entertain in their boxes.

All told, the 35 suites available tied to long-term leases are sold out. They range in price from $50,000 to $90,000 annually depending on size and location.

The 1,000 club seats and 400 field level seats are also sold out. Club seats cost $1,000 a year plus a $250 fee for first rights to buy those seats for Farm Aid, a radio station’s summer
concert, and three to four other shows Global Spectrum general manager Phil Laws expects to book this year. Field-level seats, $3,000 a season, cover the cost for food and drink in a club that the home team passes through on its way to and from the locker room.

At Livestrong, Row 1 is 19 feet from the pitch with no field wall
REED HOFFMAN (3)
From top: View from the suites, honoring those who’ve had cancer, communal dining.
separating fans from the action. The idea for field-level seats came from the minor league park, where Sporting KC saw great success selling director’s chairs on the field.

The team eliminated regular seats in three of the four stadium corners after its research showed those locations are the last to sell in Major League Soccer and other sports. Two corners became standing-room areas, the northeast corner above TheCoolTV Lounge, and the Budweiser Terrace in the southwest corner, an all-inclusive ticket with long rows of counter space. The two-story “Victory” owners box occupies the northwest corner.

The stadium’s overall design theme, “the ball and the body,” is reflected in the “fins” attached to the facade on the building’s east side, up to the roofline, where the roof canopy rises 30 feet above its lowest point to represent player movement and the flight of the ball, Spear said.

The game “is all about movement and athleticism and powerful gestures by players,” he said. “Once we latched on to that and OnGoal got on board, it permeated the whole theme. They spared no expense making it the best and most visually appealing stadium in the country.”

Livestrong’s brand does not dominate the building other than the huge sign attached to the front of the venue. Inside, there are a few Livestrong merchandise stands, and its yellow-and-black logo adorns directional signs inside the stadium.

“We have a number of Livestrong ambassadors throughout the building, people who know the brand, credo and messages that are important to Livestrong,” Heineman said. “The signs for them aren’t fundamentally super-important. It’s more about the activation, so we wanted to make sure we did tasteful touches in the building and then make sure the activation really hits.”


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