Amid the void of no postseason for the Royals and the thud of the Chiefs’ debacle in Pittsburgh lingering because of a bye week and Sporting KC off until Oct. 16, this seems a fine week for a spree of sports at Sprint Center.
On Friday, the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions will parade through … albeit with a cast as yet unannounced. That will be followed Saturday by the NBA’s Miami Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves meeting in an exhibition game.
And it all gets underway with the NHL exhibition game Wednesday between the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues.
Good stuff, and a lot of it … but, alas, also a reminder of another void and juxtaposition:
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Sprint Center is among the most thriving arenas in the nation and has been pivotal in the reinvigoration of downtown.
But nearly a decade since its opening, nothing suggests any prospect anytime soon of the arrival of the NHL or NBA anchor tenant trumpeted by AEG in selling the project.
So let’s get that out of the way first with the latest from Lamar Hunt Jr.
The owner of the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks is the driving force in cultivating more and better local youth hockey — and the man most believe would have to be the deep pockets behind any legitimate movement toward securing an NHL team here 40 years and counting since the wacky Scouts left after two seasons.
“I would say the NHL would be a very distant dream,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We just don’t have the critical mass of fans and sponsors and a killer cable TV deal. …
“The only way I know to say it is to just let it mature over a decade and see where we go with it.”
With so many intermediate steps that would have to be taken, Hunt said it’s not even at the point where it makes sense to worry about how the NHL is proceeding — such as charging a $500 million expansion fee for the incoming Las Vegas group.
“It would be a fantasy (right now), and it’s just not something we spend any time on,” he said. “We really don’t.”
Sorry for any buzzkill, but the point is less that than sheer reality:
Like it or not, this is all about the long haul.
And part of that is the synergy Hunt is trying to stoke with the Blues — who continue to try to enhance their presence here, including with a “working agreement” with the Mavericks that includes an option to send players to them even though the Mavs remain an affiliate of the New York Islanders.
“Without question, this is the start of a more concerted effort to connect the markets and the fan base and the development of youth hockey,” Chris Zimmerman, the Blues president and CEO of business operations, said in a phone interview.
But unlike the Blues’ previous exhibition forays in Kansas City, where they enjoy strong television ratings and some passionate followers, this one coincides with a somewhat parallel circumstance brought on by the Rams leaving St. Louis to go back to Los Angeles.
Once again, the Chiefs are the only NFL team in the state.
And after being wounded twice by owners and the league itself now, it’s hard to envision a third opportunity for St. Louis — whose appetite for another team naturally has been diminished.
So, here are the Chiefs, whose presence and profile there are growing even as they try to remain discreet in their approach.
That growth is reflected in strong local NFL TV ratings in St. Louis.
Per St. Louis Post-Dispatch media critic Dan Caesar, the Chiefs are the only NFL team to have had all their games broadcast there and have earned an average rating of 9.1 percent — which is above overall NFL games (8.3) in St. Louis and the Rams, who have been televised three times and drawn an average rating of 8.1.
And a Sept. 9 stltoday.com poll asking “which NFL team will you be rooting for this season?” was led by the Chiefs with 872 votes. (The Packers were second with 429, the Rams fourth with 328).
Moreover, Chiefs games now are featured on KMOX radio in St. Louis.
So how does this all connect?
Even if I’ve learned in my 3 1/2 years here that some resent St. Louis, where I lived before, seems to me there is win-win in all this cross-pollination.
Each can benefit from the other and enjoy more of what’s to be offered across the state.
“I think it’s real … ,” Zimmerman said. “I think that the fan base for the Chiefs (in St. Louis) will continue to rise, and similarly I see us having the opportunity to continue to build our fan base in Kansas City. …
“Who knows … we need an NFL partner, so maybe we’ll start seeing some programs where we can start doing some things with the Chiefs as well.”
He added, “We need to be firing on all fronts. We don’t want to miss a partnership, a fan group. We need to touch them all.”
Hunt can say the same. He shares a financial interest in the Chiefs, who were founded by his father.
Though careful to note that brother Clark, the chairman and CEO, speaks for the team, he added that the Chiefs are trying to be “respectful” to the pain of St. Louis fans but present, nonetheless.
Ultimately, he doesn’t see why many won’t be tugged by “gravitational pull” to turn their loyalties this way.
While that dynamic remains in its embryonic stages, it’s that same sort of collaboration that Hunt — and the Blues — are focused on with hockey here, where the Blues are televised on Fox Sports Midwest and are striving to make inroads under their Hockey STL 2020 initiative to grow the game.
“That means really extending our reach … ,” Zimmerman said. “Supporting growth of Kansas City youth hockey without question is something we highly value.”
While Zimmerman believes the Blues ultimately would benefit from having the NHL return to Kansas City, he notes “it’s just not a simple task there.”
He also doesn’t know if there is “an absolute, clear set of numbers that we can translate into our own business” by being visible here.
But he does know that it’s good for all for the Blues “to be a part of building, continuing to build, Kansas City’s interest in the game.”
That’s not going to mean an NHL team here soon, if ever.
Whatever is to come, though, will have to start with what Zimmerman calls building blocks — such as Hunt’s efforts to keep the Mavs vibrant and add more sheets of ice locally and secure a team in the USHL, the top junior league.
Youth hockey is the “linchpin,” as Hunt sees it, and one way to measure it will be this:
There are about 1,300 local kids playing hockey now, he said, and he reckons it would take 5,000 to 6,000 playing to prime and reflect the critical mass required for the foundational support to be thinking NHL.
“We just don’t have that (now),” Hunt said, adding, “I think you just have to be very patient.”
Until they at least narrow that gap, chances are at-best remote of filling the void of no anchor tenant at Sprint — as an otherwise full and entertaining week there also will serve to remind.
But it doesn’t have to feel empty, either.