The other night, Robb Heineman Spoke at the Dole Intitute of Politics at the University of Kansas as part of their Leadership and Globalization in Sports series. During the conversation, Heineman gives a lot of his background that led him to where he's at now, and he answered a lot of questions about the team, the re-branding, and other topics. Lots of good information was given over the hour video. Here are a few of the highlights from notes I took while watching with some of my thoughts after some of them. A lot of my comments are sporadic thoughts as I was watching it as well.
Heineman talks about meeting Lamar Hunt through another deal and hearing from him about soccer. He talked about the business model that Hunt had, which consisted of sport specific entities, basically, soccer specific stadiums. Heineman uses an example of Hunt helping the NFL get more mainstream by getting out of multipurpose stadiums and into football specific stadiums.
During the sale, Heineman mentions that not a lot of people believed in the Wizards, even OnGoal didn't. He throws out that the team had 450 season ticket holders when they bought the team. FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTY (of which I was one at the time actually), that's an insanely low number. And only a few years later it's now over 11,000.
Because of all the tickets that the team gave away, the Wizards average ticket yield was only $4.87 per ticket. That's insane to think of how little the team was making with all the give aways that they did.
Hunt's other option other than selling to OnGoal was to sell the team to Philadelphia. That's a little surprising that they were the other option. They'd been a rumored option, but they hadn't been the most visible candidate, like Rochester or San Antonio had been. But like Tulsa and Houston, Philadelphia had been a known potential relocation option for the Wizards.
Heineman gives a break down of how not only the re-branding went, but also the process that led to the building of Sporting Park, including the failure at the Overland Park and Bannister sites. Stuff that people knew and lots of stuff that people didn't know about the process as well.
In regards to the Livestrong partnership, Heineman called it a "global, epic, proportional failure."
In regards to Kei Kamara, Heineman doesn't want him to come back, because of Kamara's ambition to play in the English Premier League, Heineman wants him to succeed there for his sake. Which I totally agree with, I'd selfishly want him to come back and play for KC, but his goal has been to play against the best and he's getting that opportunity. If he stays in the EPL I'll be sad, but I'll be very happy for him.
This summer is the planned debut of the new mobile app and rewards program "that will actually have rewards" as Heineman said. The previous app had become a bit of a running joke among fans as they've waited for what all their coins and points would be for.
Heineman was asked about the success of Sporting coming because of the Royals and Chiefs lack of success, and while Heineman sidesteps the question a bit he does mention the fact that the "winning niche" in KC has been empty.
In regards to the other clubs in the league, Heineman talks about needing a second team in New York to help as a competitive dynamic to help the Red Bulls. He also talks about the need for DC to have a stadium.
Heineman also talks about the supporters culture for the successful teams in the league, how the successful teams seem to really embrace their supporters' culture. Some really strong comments about the need for the league to really embrace those supporters.
Heineman talks about Sporting Park needing to be the national team stadium. I definitely don't agree with that. I want Sporting to host US games, but I also don't think there should be a national stadium in this country, it's too big and the population centers are too spread out to really need a national stadium. I also think making KC the home of a national stadium would take some of the shine and aura off of hosting national team games for some people over time.
He talks very highly of Peter Vermes and what he's done for the club in developing the club, developing the likes of Kamara and Roger Espinoza. For example Heineman says that "Kamara was going no where before Peter got his hands on him."
This is absolutely true, Kamara was an average MLS striker before coming to KC, he trialed abroad for second division French sides the offseason after KC traded for him without getting an offer. He was really on his way to being an MLS or US lower division lifer before Vermes helped turn his potential into production.
Heineman continued by praising Vermes and the fan base, saying: "Players are dying to play for Peter and dying to play in front of our fans."
To prove that point, look at the quote from Benny Feilhaber after KC traded for him, he made comments about KC being the place that he really wanted to come back and play to. KC is becoming a destination for players. Which was proven again when Heineman said that Kaka's agent had reached out to the team saying that he wanted to come play in Kansas City. Whether he'd come to KC for real or not, I really doubt, but I don't doubt that KC is starting to really get international attention from players and agents.
The only team this window and the first MLS team to transfer two players to the EPL in the same window. That's an amazing stat about the team and continues to speak well of what Vermes has done.
David Beckham the only real needle mover for people that are outside soccer. I'd agree with that point, Kaka isn't going to bring in a lot of non-soccer fans, if any. It'll bring in more soccer fans who aren't necessarily MLS fans, but Beckham really is the only guy in the sport now who will really bring in the non-soccer people. Even the likes of Messi and Ronaldo really aren't going to do that at this point.
The schedule change question. Heineman doesn't ever see it happening. He says it'd be miserable with multiple games in KC in December, January, and February. I agree with him completely, people are more likely to come out for a game in the heat in the summer than the cold of the winter.
Heineman called the Mechack Jerome signing a loan instead of a signing, which is the first I'd heard it referenced that way.
Heineman mentions aspirations of Sporting having their own USL team in a few years. This is what I was thinking when the MLS/URL partnership was announced. This way the full reserves would get time instead of the 4-6 players KC sends to Orlando as their affiliate. No MLS team so far has chosen to take that route, but I think making that move would be a huge thing for KC in the future.
Check out the entire video below.