The Full 90

Kansas City’s 2011 schedule still a work in progress

I’m not a big puzzle guy. I enjoy doing them (crosswords and jigsaws mainly), but I don’t invest a lot of time doing them, because I get frustrated when I can’t find the piece that I’m looking for right away.

Which is exactly how I felt when I returned this week from vacation and submerged myself into the 2011 scheduling “news” that was coming out. I could see what it was supposed to look like, but there were so many pieces that I couldn’t wrap my head around that it just frustrated me.

Next year promises to be a very exciting year for the Kansas City Wizards -- new stadium, new designated player, high expectations. But, with excitement comes obvious anticipation -- the unknown pieces we can’t quite see yet.

Early this week, at a season-ticket holder walk-through at the new stadium, it was reported that Wizards president and CEO Robb Heineman said the Wizards wouldn’t play any games at CommunityAmerica Ballpark or Arrowhead Stadium in 2011 and were “exploring” the idea of playing neutral-site “home” games. These “home” games could be in Phoenix, San Antonio, Cleveland, etc.

Heineman clarified on BigSoccer.com that the team is only exploring these options and nothing had been set in stone yet, but the team would be interested in having a game close to their Arizona training camp facilities. I asked him to explain further.

“If we can make a neutral-site game that has strategic long-term potential work, we would consider doing it,” he said. The focus on “strategic long-term potential” is also joined by a desire to give the players a potential “competitive advantage.” Meaning, if they can keep their players in Arizona to train in an advantageous climate

and

find a crowd that might include a few pro-Omar Bravo supporters (i.e. Mexican soccer fans)

and

cut down on the team’s travel time, they’re going to look into it.

However, “if we can’t make one or both of those things work, we won’t do it.”

But there are other factors to consider. The main one being, the stadium won’t be finished until June. If you look at the calendar, there are only 20 weeks between June 14* and the last Saturday in October. Squeezing all 17 home games and the other obvious road games they’ll have (plus the Chivas Guadalajara friendly and another “real high-quality opponent we are working on”) into that time frame would heavily back-load the schedule and require a healthy dose of weeknight games.**

*“We are working very hard petitioning U.S. soccer to host Gold Cup games on June 14 to open the stadium,” Heineman said. **He is nervous about week-night games, especially Wednesday night games, “which are always a pain.” Saturday is obviously the goal. “Right now, we would like to be pretty vanilla with our start times and do as many Saturday night games as we can.”

“As of right now, all 17 home games are scheduled to be played at the new stadium,” Heineman said. “No games have been moved.”

If they play a neutral-site game* at the beginning of the season and a mid-Spring game at Arrowhead (which, contrary to earlier news, is actually still in play), that still leaves 15 home games (plus the extras mentioned already) in the new stadium. Put aside the “buyer beware” questions, at least for now.

*Heineman said that, if this is case, that game will be "popped out" of the season-ticket price and the team “will try to figure out a discount-ticket package” to get the fans to the game.

Of course, all of this scheduling talk is merely theoretical at this point. Major League Soccer Vice President of Club Services, Brad Pursel, is still working on the rough draft of the 2011 schedule. (Each club’s opening game should be released before the MLS Cup.)

The process is pretty complex. Teams submit their wish-list of preferred dates and stadium blackout dates. Then outside tournaments such as CONCACAF Champions League and SuperLiga are factored in. The MLS broadcast partners then step in and it gets even more complicated.

By November, Pursel should have all of the information he needs to begin the final draft of next year’s schedule. They have three priorities: maximizing attendance, creating a TV schedule to maximize ratings and creating a balanced competitive schedule.

It’s a complicated thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle and we -- fans and media members alike -- only have a few pieces right now. It's frustrating, but that's how puzzles work.

Some other notes of interest from my conversation with Robb Heineman

• How close is the team to having a name for the new stadium?

“Relatively close,” he said. “We want it to be something meaningful (for us and our corporate sponsors) that makes sense for the brand.”

Stay tuned.

• About the brand... what’s the status of the “rebranding” effort? Is it something the team is still exploring?

“(We are) constantly looking at rebranding. We want to build a regional and national brand. To us, Kansas City Wizards, we’re not sure if that’s (a name) that can be a regional or national brand.”

Stay tuned, take 2.

• What are your thoughts on the progress of the team this year?

“I feel that today we are now the team I thought we could be. I’m disappointed that we are close to the edge (of not making the playoffs). There’s a good energy with this team. They believe they can win four more games. Obviously, they’ll need some help.”

• How about your expectations for next year?

“Going into the offseason with some of the cap space we are going to have, I feel pretty good. ... We want to win the MLS Cup this year. But the crescendo for me is to win the Cup in the first year of the new stadium. That would be spectacular.”

• Here’s an update on construction posted yesterday with Heineman at the stadium.

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