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Volume 21 No. 34
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Forty Under 40

Robb Heineman turned the sports facility development model upside down at Livestrong Sporting Park, and it worked.

Heineman, president, CEO and co-owner of Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City, along with team co-owner Cliff Illig, signed the first naming-rights deal in pro sports where the team pays the sponsor to put its name on the building. The club committed to pay the Livestrong Foundation, Lance Armstrong’s cancer charity, $7.5 million over five years.

The unconventional agreement drew both praise and criticism in sports marketing circles. Regardless of the reaction, the deal fell in line with Heineman’s mission to develop a stadium set apart from other MLS venues.

It also created an emotional bond for Kansas City soccer fans whose lives have been affected by cancer. At the $200 million stadium’s first game, in a unique piece of activation, hundreds attached Livestrong-yellow cards to a bulletin board with names of those who have had the disease.

The first time Jon Knight, an architect with Populous and one of the stadium’s chief designers, met with Heineman to discuss the stadium project, the venture capitalist by trade told Knight he had zero interest in benchmarking Livestrong Park against other MLS stadiums. The team’s mandate was to develop a stadium on its own with no references to the nine previous MLS facilities built over the past 12 years.

“What was important to Robb and his partners was understanding what it would take to create the MLS stadium that hadn’t yet been created … to become the new benchmark for others to follow,” Knight said. “Their goal was to craft it like no one else had done before.”

Having five clubs is an example of how Livestrong Park separates itself from the league’s other venues. Most soccer venues have one or two private hospitality lounges.

The new stadium also led to Sporting Innovations, the team’s new business venture with Cisco Sports & Entertainment. Cisco installed its first high-density Wi-Fi system at Livestrong Park, making it easier for fans to use their mobile devices inside a crowded stadium. Together, Sporting Kansas City and Cisco are contacting soccer clubs and facilities in Europe to implement the same mobile technology.

“Robb displayed a passion for what it meant to be innovative, and a lot of that had to do with their tech company spin-off,” Knight said.

Heineman said, “There is no traditional sports business model we think is sacred … whether it was a nontraditional naming-rights deal or forming a new software company within a sports team. Our goal is to change the fan experience.”

Age: 38
Title: President, CEO and co-owner
COMPANY: Sporting Club (parent company of Sporting Kansas City)
Education: BBA, finance, University of Notre Dame, 1996
Family: Wife, Amber; daughter Katherine; son Charles
Career: Investment banking, mobile commerce, private equity
FIRST JOB: Investment banking, Chicago, Vine Street Partners
Last vacation: Bahamas
what's on your ipod? Pearl Jam (music), “Mad Men” (TV), “Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” (book), “Words with Friends” (game)
Guilty pleasure: Good red wine
Best stress release: Running in Livestrong Sporting Park pre-game
Pet peeve: Losing
Fantasy job: CEO of Twitter
Business advice: Listen to Steve Jobs: Trust your intuition.