Cliff Illig is a billionaire entrepreneur, fiercely proud of Kansas City, and objectively successful at building and running a major sports franchise here.
So he understands the question, recognizes that every few years or so, when talk of bringing a potential NBA or NHL franchise to Kansas City arises, his is always among the first names that come to mind.
Cerner, the company he co-founded, does more than $5 billion in revenue annually. He has the connections. Has the interest and experience in sports. With a lot of luck and work and the right timing, Illig has the potential to drastically alter the sports landscape in Kansas City.
Imagine, right? The NBA will likely expand in the next five to 10 years, and it's impossible not to envision the boost and fun from a team here, presumably downtown at the Sprint Center, potentially part of the same sort of ride the Royals took us on three years ago.
So ... Cliff? Any interest?
"Candidly, no," he said.
When the conversation began, Illig asked only that the focus be more on representing the gist of his words than finding the most quotable parts. More than a fair ask, so here we go.
Illig's reasons are myriad. He's busy enough already, not just as the co-founder of Cerner and co-owner of Sporting Kansas City but with financial interests and positions on boards of directors of other companies, too.
He does not do things halfway — can't do things halfway — so taking on principal interest in landing and then running another major sports franchise in town could be literally untenable.
"You know us very well," Illig said. "We get things done because we stay focused. We're not inclined to just jump on something because somebody thinks we have enough money maybe to make it work."
But it's not just that. Illig is skeptical of whether another major team could work here. Salt Lake City and San Antonio are often cited as small-market success stories for the NBA, and they are, but each is larger than Kansas City by Nielsen market rankings. Salt Lake has an MLS club, but both cities are otherwise free of major pro sports competition.
Kansas City is the country's No. 33 market, and already has the Royals, Chiefs and Sporting KC. Of the cities ranked below Kansas City, only Cincinnati (No. 35), Milwaukee (No. 36), New Orleans (No. 51) and Buffalo (No. 53) have two teams among the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL.
If you include Green Bay — two hours away — only Milwaukee has three. Columbus is in the NHL and MLS but is in danger of losing its MLS club. Consider Sporting's strong presence here, and that would be four teams for a market smaller than Hartford, San Diego, Sacramento and others.
You might think Illig's experience with Sporting would make him more open to the NBA or NHL, but it might have had the opposite effect. He knows the work required to make a team successful — the investment, the obstacles and perhaps most of all the demographics and existing demands in Kansas City.
"You try to figure out why Oklahoma City works and why San Antonio works (in the NBA)," Illig said. "It's hard to say that same set of chemistries might come together in Kansas City. I personally can't quite connect the dots and project with any degree of confidence that we could replicate one of those things, given everything else that's going on in town."
But, it's not just that.
Illig has told the story many times of why he and his late business partner Neal Patterson took to soccer. It was Lamar Hunt, the founder of both the Chiefs and Kansas City's MLS franchise. He told them that Kansas City is a major-league city in the minds of many around the country because of our sports franchises. Lose any of them, and we become a little less major league.
Illig's approach to sports here, then, could be described more accurately as protectionist and focused on maximizing what already exists. You can see that most tangibly in Sporting's rise from a fringe niche interest to 112 consecutive sellouts.
You can also hear it in his wider view. Illig is an avid Royals fan, with season tickets behind home plate. He has thought about potential interest there, if the team ever went up for sale, but, well, here is one place his words probably describe it best.
"That's a big ticket," he said. "The time to buy that was when it went for ($96 million in 2000), not when it's going to go for $900 million or $1.2 billion. I can't imagine the parameters under which that might happen, but if somebody comes in and tries to move the thing, and we have to put together a defensive strategy, I'm going to look first at what's best for the region. Then see if there's a way we can help that, as opposed to having some burning desire to own a baseball team.
"I've had enough exposure to sports now to know it's not easy. It's a very complicated thing. You sit there and look at all these factors, and I'm not sure the next 10 years are going to generate the same appreciation in values as the last 10 years, in any sport."
That goes for more than just baseball, and might best sum up Illig's hesitation to push for, or even look into, owning a potential NBA or NHL team here.
He's skeptical it could work, first, seeing far more reasons for the negative than positive. But there could also be part of him that would rather save any potential resources for a fourth team here in order to protect — and, in Sporting's case, enhance — the three we already have.
It's the logical approach, particularly as there is no real decision to make at the moment.
If you're looking for optimism, here's the best Illig offers right now:
"Certainly we'll listen to anything," he said. "OK, if there were a big-money person here in town who says, 'Look, I'm willing to put up 60 percent of the dough to make this thing happen, but I need four or five others to come alongside,' well, you know, we'll listen to that. If it's not stupid, and it meets our criteria of what it could do for the region, I'm not going to say no out of hand.
"But I've not had any of those overtures, and I'm certainly not trying to stimulate someone else's interest in stepping up."