In hindsight, it’s easy to see any number of factors in the making of the watershed win-win partnership announced Thursday that most visibly will entail Sporting Park becoming known as Children’s Mercy Park.
Perhaps it ultimately hatched because the foundation of a relationship was formed over the years between hospital executives and the Cerner-dominated ownership group of Sporting KC.
After all, longtime Children’s Mercy president and CEO Randall O’Donnell said, the two institutions in some ways “evolved together.”
To say nothing of some hospital execs being season ticket-holders going back to the club’s identity as the Wizards.
And maybe the pump was primed some by Sporting’s Victory Project, which seeks to unite players and coaches to help children.
That’s embodied by the relationship between defender Kevin Ellis and 2-year-old Kit Van Sickle, who was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year at Children’s Mercy.
Since they met at a photo shoot, Ellis engaged and entertained her and has become close to the family. He also took to wearing an undershirt emblazoned with #GOKITGO.
“To see her strength really strengthens me,” he said Thursday, shortly after visiting with her at a news conference to announce the 10-year agreement that begins Jan. 1. “... If I feel tired, all I have to do is think about her, and it gives me the little bit more to keep going.”
All of this in some way fed into Jake Reid, Sporting Club’s chief revenue officer, probing Children’s Mercy about a potential partnership in late April and Sporting ultimately bypassing negotiations with other companies to hone in on this.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
But there was something else at play, too, in Sporting Club aligning itself with such an iconic and honorable local institution.
At play, too, were the lessons of the past: the miserable, rancorous end in January 2013 to Sporting’s affiliation with Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation.
The association had been desirable for the broader cancer-fighting cause, not to mention Armstrong’s visibility and supposed clout.
But the connection became cringe-worthy after Armstrong’s pathological lying and bullying ultimately was trumped by the overwhelming truth of his history of being a drug cheat.
A mess that included a spat over terms of the contract and Livestrong terminating the deal stung, Sporting KC president and CEO Robb Heineman said Thursday.
He acknowledged, too, that the relationship had been problematic even before it came to the bitter end.
“It’s amazing: We were doing lots of things in the (United States) and all over the world, trying to build” the brand, he said. “And there was the constant question: ‘Do you think Lance Armstrong did it?’
“So it was a huge distraction from that perspective, and we’re very glad that that’s well behind us.”
Sporting essentially made a calculated gamble and lost with the last naming-rights deal.
There is no such high-wire act this time around.
Now Children’s Mercy, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s best children’s hospitals, is an ally that Sporting can have faith checks every box it could want in terms of excellence, mission, prestige and strong local identity.
In turn, the hospital believes that identity will be enhanced by the deal that includes a 22,000-square-foot sports medicine and rehabilitation center at the National Training Center projected to open in late 2017.
While Heineman said the naming rights were “an important asset to monetize,” he added, “But we didn’t want to just put any name up there. We wanted it to mean something.”
“Obviously, the stadium’s a gorgeous stadium,” he added. “It’s critically acclaimed for all the reasons that you’ve heard: design, the fans, the technology. But it was really missing a great name.
“For us, we wanted it to be a local partner. And in a perfect world, it would be an iconic brand of a local partner, and, my gosh … this search couldn’t have turned out any better.”
Still to be developed is a logo befitting the partnership, though Heineman added, “But this is about Children’s Mercy brand; it’s not about ours.”
Just the same, Heineman also knows they are entwined … and that Sporting has nothing to fret over this time around.