In Part II of a two-part series, MLSsoccer.com’s Andrew Wiebe caught up with Sporting Kansas City president Robb Heineman to discuss the Gold Cup and how that relates to Kansas City's demographics, a potential membership program, the latest updates on the stadium construction and upcoming announcements relating to sponsorship deals.
Check out Part I here.
MLSsoccer.com: Moving over to the business side and the stadium, last week Portland came out and promoted some of the numbers related to ticket sales. How is that going so far for Kansas City?
Heineman: I think our ticket sales are going well. We’ve had the opportunity to eclipse our goal. Right now we are approaching 9,000 season tickets so I think we feel good about that number. We’ve got a goal out there to get to 12,000 so we are going to push hard to get there if we can.
With us starting in June, it’s going to be incumbent on our people to really push forward for that first segment of the season to sell tickets so when we do open, we open hot.
MLSsoccer.com: What kind of issues does that late start present on the business side?
Heineman: From a business perspective, that’s not our challenge right now. Our challenge is just the timeline with which we are constructing the stadium and making sure that when we open it, it’s ready to be opened and we understand the systems and the services.
The thing we are going to try to compete on here locally is the level of experiences at the events. Making sure that that is in full gear when we open the stadium is a pretty big thing for us. I don’t think we are concerned about the level of exposure we are getting in Kansas City right now. It’s probably as high as it’s ever been.
For better or for worse, the brand change has kept us in the news quite dominantly here. I think we feel good about that stuff. It’s just a matter of we have to get this thing open, and we’ve got to keep it on schedule.
[inline_node:325094]MLSsoccer.com: What kind of opportunity does the Gold Cup present for the organization to showcase the stadium? Are there any plans for a sort of dress rehearsal before that and the team’s opening game?
Heineman: Our intention is not to be working out any kinks at the Gold Cup. Our intent is to have that be a high-flying event … We want to make sure the Gold Cup and when the national team is here, if they end up being here, that we are running full throttle.
MLSsoccer.com: Some of the main marketing demographics that are discussed in the league are the Latin American and immigrant communities. You have the opportunity to cater to some of those groups with CONCACAF teams coming during the Gold Cup. What do you expect from the Gold Cup experience as a whole and what fans can expect to get out of that?
Heineman: It will be interesting. If we were to wind up with a team like Honduras, we’ve got a very large Honduran population here in Kansas City. There is a large Hispanic population here in general, especially in Kansas City, Kan., where we are putting the stadium. I think it will be a unique opportunity for the city.
We haven’t had the benefits of many events like this over the course of our soccer history. So I think this just continues to build on the momentum that we started to create when we have the Clasico a few years ago and Manchester United come this past summer.
[inline_node:323563]MLSsoccer.com: Some of the other things we have talked about before have been a stadium and shirt sponsor. Where do you stand on those efforts?
Heineman: I think we’ve made some really good progress, and we are going to start to announce not only shirt and stadium sponsors but also our founding partnerships and sponsorships in general around the building in the coming weeks. We’re feeling very good about how all that’s going, and we are excited to announce some of those brands.
MLSsoccer.com: What kinds of brands are we talking? Will there be a local presence?
Heineman: I think there will be a mix of both. We’ve obviously not just focused on local brands but looked at local brands with national presences as well as some league partners and other national brands. It will be a good mix when it’s announced.
MLSsoccer.com: You talked about the challenge of getting everything up and ready. At this point, what is the biggest focus surrounding those efforts?
Heineman: It’s not necessarily one thing in particular. We’re right now working 20-hour days at the stadium. That’s atypical of stadium construction. It’s just managing all those varying timelines. I don’t know how many guys or when they are working out there [this week], but it’s probably about 400. It’s just the varying roles that everyone has so that when we open, we open knowing that it looks and feels as though it’s done.
[inline_node:322387]MLSsoccer.com: Something that is still sort of a grey area is the idea of membership that you talked about at the unveiling. Have the details surrounding being a quote, unquote member been nailed down yet?
Heineman: Yes. First of all, it’s going to be an ongoing evolution so there are always going to be new programs and services available to membership. The initial program will be unveiled at the launch of the schedule. It’s fundamentally tied into the events that will be going on in our building so we want to it to coincide with when the schedule comes out.
MLSsoccer.com: Is that for season-ticket holders? How will that group be defined?
Heineman: Anybody can be a member. A member is a season-ticket holder, a fan of our team, a fan of MLS or it could be a non-soccer fan whatsoever depending on the benefits that we put out there for them. For us anyone has a potential to be a member, and that’s going to be how we approach it.
MLSsoccer.com: Will the local broadcasts stay where they are on WB?
Heineman: It looks that way. We haven’t finalized all the details yet, but our desire is to continue to work in a way that’s its available to everybody locally. Obviously, high definition is also something that all of us in MLS remain focused on making sure happens.
MLSsoccer.com: Since OnGoal bought the team, the stadium has been the overriding focus. Where does that focus shift to once this part of the puzzle is completed?
Heineman: Youth development. Youth development is going to have to be a key component of our strategy going forward. Having a vertically integrated pipeline here in Kansas City and probably also in a couple international sites is going to be key to making sure we build a consistent and sustainable winner on the field. That will be big focus.
MLSsoccer.com: I know a lot of fans are getting a little bit antsy waiting for everything to come together and for the season to start. What would your message to them be as we begin to see how 2011 is going to be shaped and unfold?
Heineman: Nobody is more impatient than I am. I would say that we’ve waited this long. It’s taken a long time. Obviously, there are people that have been waiting for it much longer than I. I think we are close to it. If you drive out to see the stadium, you can see it’s going to be a special thing.
Hopefully, the moves and efforts that we make over the next couple months with players will be evident to people, and they will see that we are trying to make progress. Just bear with us. It’s not that far away.