Now rising beside the Missouri River, the Kansas City Current's soccer stadium shows 'respect'
Anyone who’s driven into Kansas City from the north has probably seen the swooping white steel fame of the Kansas City Current's new stadium going up. The team's new owners believe it can change women's soccer.
The Kansas City Current played its last game at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday night, beating the Chicago Red Stars 6-3 with a record 15,671 people in attendance.
The National Women's Soccer League team has spent its three seasons in Kansas City playing in stadiums built for other teams: first at Legends Field where the Kansas City Monarchs play baseball, and then at the home of Sporting Kansas City, the men’s professional soccer team.
That changes with the Current's first home match next April, in the first stadium built specifically for women’s soccer anywhere in the world.
“It’s incredible to happen to live in the city that’s building the first stadium for a women’s professional team. I can’t believe our luck,” said Erin Atherton, a recent soccer fan who enjoys taking her teenage daughter to games. “We can’t wait for it to open and to go to that first game.”
Women’s professional soccer is drawing record attendance and spawning expansion teams next year. But despite its growing popularity, no women’s team in the U.S. plays in a stadium of its own — yet.
“I'm looking forward to seeing it packed,” said Katrina Hawkins, who runs the Current’s fan club.
Though the stadium will be decked in the KC Current’s teal and red, the fan club is called KC Blue Crew. That name honors the color of Kansas City’s earlier women’s soccer team, FC Kansas City, which was founded when the NWSL started in 2012 but dissolved by owners five years later.
Hawkins says the new $125 million stadium is a concrete commitment to the future of women’s soccer here.
“When you invest money in something, it shows that you respect people,” said Hawkins. “And I think that's something that women's sports have long needed and deserved.”
The stadium is going up in a long-neglected and highly visible section of the Missouri riverfront, anchoring new development at the foot of the Kit Bond Bridge. It’s hard to miss coming into downtown from the north on I-35.
A few things will distinguish it from other area stadiums. For one thing, it’s small for a professional sports stadium. Arrowhead holds more than 76,000 people on game days. Children’s Mercy Park holds 18,500. The new KC Current stadium will top out initially at 11,500, which is more than 4,000 shy of the team’s record attendance at its last home game of this season.
All the seats will be close to the action, none of them much farther than 100 feet from the pitch, according to the team. Players won’t see empty stands as they sometimes do in larger venues. And the new stadium will be extra loud, by design.
“The roof is built with a curvature that keeps the noise in,” said KC Current co-founder and co-owner Chris Long. “With all the seats and the way they're set up, it's a very intimate setting. So you have a very cool kind of game day experience.”
Long and his wife Angie Long are professional investors and big women’s soccer fans — Angie played in college. Most of the rest of the money for the stadium comes from Brittany Mahomes, who played college soccer before marrying Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
While the members of the ownership group say they are committed to women’s soccer, that’s not their primary motivation for founding a team and building a stadium. Chris Long sees dollar signs in women’s professional sports.
“We think this has multiples of growth in it, and we've spent a lot of time around the financial modeling. We did a ton of due diligence,” said Long.
The new stadium's prominent location and first-of-its-kind narrative are fueling a marketing buzz around the team. Long said tickets are close to being sold out for next year. And season tickets are steep, upwards of $600.
The Current hasn’t been that successful on the field this season, yet the team’s flags and T-shirts are all over town.
Long said the new stadium, along with the new $18 million training facility in Riverside, help the team recruit talent.
The club is already worth more than all but two other NWSL teams, according to an analysis by Sportico, which looked at team revenue from ticket sales and other sources.
“Which brings in more and more investors, brings in more and more corporate sponsors, brings a higher level of media,” said Long.
Long figures that showing the potential of building a new women’s soccer stadium in a smaller city, smack in the middle of the country, could help other women’s teams move out of men’s arenas, get stadiums of their own, and start closing the huge financial gap between men’s and women’s sports.
“There's very much a momentum-begets-momentum approach,” he said, “to showing what facilities can do for professional women's sports.”
KCUR editor Madeline Fox contributed reporting for this story.