This weekend is the last time you’ll see the Kansas City Wizards play in CommunityAmerica Ballpark. It’s also likely the it’s the last time you’ll see the “Kansas City Wizards” take the field. That’s because I think there’s a really strong change (I’d go so far as to call it a “very likely probability”) that OnGoal will re-brand the franchise this off-season as they prepare to call the new stadium at The Legends in Kansas City, Kansas home.
That means a new name. It’s already causing consternation.
Skepticism has run rampant, especially amongst some of the passionate fans at Big Soccer. This is to be expected -- especially if the team opts to re-name the franchise something that they consider a “Euro-poseur” name like Sporting Kansas City (a name mentioned once by OnGoal president Robb Heineman). A lot of the arguments are very well reasoned -- most feel that, on some level, changing the team’s name is flushing a bit of history down the toilet.
I don’t think changing the team’s name is a particularly awesome development -- but I’m not against it.
I’m actually for it.* Mostly because I think that I understand (and agree) with the thought process. Oh, the timing is also once-in-a-franchise’s-lifetime right.*Though, I'm not exactly pleased with Sporting KC. I understand the process of giving the team a "soccer" name, but that's not the one I like. I prefer the option that Pete Grathoff and I though of: Kansas City '96 or 1996 Kansas City. “You always say, if you don't like what they're saying about you, change the conversation.” -- Peggy Olsen, “Mad Men.”
(Mild Spoilers ahead.)
If you know “Mad Men”, you know that its lead character, Don Draper, and the agency he works for where in the midst of an identity crisis this season after a very important client withdrew their business and left the agency struggling to attract new clients while also keeping the clients it had left.
Don Draper made a very controversial and a very public decision. I won’t spoil it for anyone, but he took Peggy Olsen’s advice. (Which was actually his own advice, he just needed her to tell him.)
Now, OnGoal isn’t in a position of business life and death like Draper was in “Mad Men.” But they do have a similar problem: The need to attract new clients if they want their business to survive and thrive.
For 15 years, a bit of an inferiority complex has shrouded the Kansas City Wizards, brought on by four factors:
a) they’re asoccer
b) they are part of a second-tier soccer league that is viewed as slightly above minor-league baseball by the mass media,
c) they exist in the same region as the Kansas City Chiefs and
d) they’ve had to be the second banana in a non-soccer stadium for their entire existence.
There is nothing they can individually do about any of the first three issues -- which are part of the fabric of brand recognition. But they can fix the last one.
Whether rightly or wrongly, there is a stigma that’s attached to the name “Kansas City Wizards.” There are many in KC who think of “Kansas City Wizards” and picture a half-empty Arrowhead (that image seared into my retinas and made me one of these people for a while) or the time-share at CommunityAmerica.
Ask anyone in the non-soccer media their thoughts. Ask your neighbor. They may know about the team, but they probably don’t know much more than that.
The ownership group behind Kansas City’s soccer franchise has a dream of making their club a regional (and possibly a national) brand. They want the non-soccer media and your neighbors to know as much as possible about the team and to talk about the team not just when Manchester United comes to town, but when D.C. United comes to town.
Next year, the franchise moves to it’s own stadium -- it’s ownsoccer-specific
stadium. OnGoal, who bought the team in 2007 and have made many strides to grow the popularity of the sport in the region, sees the construction of this stadium as a rebranding effort in its own right.**Calling the project the “the first Authentic American Soccer Stadium” was phase one. They want to create an experience that many Kansas Citians have never felt: Watching a soccer game in an building constructed to maximize the enjoyment of watching a soccer game.
When I asked Heineman about rebranding the team next year in conjunction with the stadium, he told me, rather bluntly:
“To us, we’re not sure if [the Kansas City Wizards] is something that can be a regional or national brand.”
The implied thought process: A little more (or less depending on your interpretation of a CAB sell-out) than 10,000 folks plop down money to come see the team play right now. To fill their new 18,500-seat investment/stadium every single game, they have to ensure -- not hope -- that there are a lot more than 10,000 or so that want tickets.
You don’t have to have a degree in economics to see this is the next stage of a larger business strategy or the supply/demand dynamics in play here.
Being a Wizards fan in Kansas City means you a subset of a subset. Not only are you likely a soccer fan, but you’re a soccer fan who is willing to ignore the fact that your team plays in a minor-league baseball stadium. (The whole stigma thing.)
There are more than 1.5 million people in the Kansas City metro area. (”http://www.city-data.com/us-cities/The-Midwest/Kansas-City-Population-Profile.html” target=”_blank”>The number in 2000 was 1,776,062.