Could Kansas City Host Huge Sports Events Like The Super Bowl? The Answer's Not 'No' | KCUR

Could Kansas City Host Huge Sports Events Like The Super Bowl? The Answer's Not 'No'

Aug 11, 2019

Some of the country's best gymnasts, along with their coaches, families and fans, have been in Kansas City this weekend for the U.S. Gymnastics Championships. USA Gymnastics estimates the event will have a $5.6 million economic impact on the region, not including what visitors spend eating out or shopping for gifts to take home.

The competition is just one high-profile athletic event that Kansas City has recently snagged. The city will also host the 2023 NFL Draft, and is among the 17 United States finalists to host World Cup soccer games in 2026.

Given that record, it's not crazy to wonder whether Kansas City could be the site of a not-too-distant Super Bowl or NCAA Final Four tournament.

"We're not quite there yet," says Kathy Nelson, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission, but things are moving in the right direction.

"In the last decade we've definitely grown and had more opportunities," Nelson says. "The growth downtown makes that door much more open for us to go after different events."

Nelson and others in her industry can spend years honing bids, planning venues, budgeting and building relationships to bring such events to town.

"We have to figure out how we stand out and what's different about us because there are dozens and dozens of cities that want these events," she notes.

That's not to mention the infrastructure that must be in place to support such massive operations.

Stefanie Korepin of USA Gymnastics says her organization generally picks cities that can offer venues for a variety of functions, are close to a major airport and have plenty of hotel rooms within walking distance.

Girls work on gymnastics skills at Camp WIN in Kansas City, Missouri. The national gymnastics championships is being held at Sprint Center this weekend, and USA Gymnastics is mulling whether to bring a training site to the area.
Credit Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3

That's why Visit KC President Jason Fulvi says a downtown convention center hotel, an extended streetcar line and a single-terminal airport will be game changers for the city.

"When you're bringing in a large convention or an event to a destination, they want to work with the smallest footprint possible," he says.

Even when those projects are finished and operating, though, Nelson says Kansas City lacks one specific requirement for the NCAA men's Final Four: An indoor arena that can hold 60,000 fans. Sprint Center's capacity is just under 19,000.

When it comes to prospects for a Super Bowl, Nelson says, "we're not missing anything. It's up to the NFL to decide if they're ready to go back to a cold-weather city."

The last time a Super Bowl was held at an outdoor stadium in cold weather was 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. After the event, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hinted that the league wasn't interested in doing it again.

"We want the game to be held in perfect conditions," he told football fans in 2017.

Even after all the physical pieces are in place, Kansas City will need to overcome an image problem, says Fulvi.

"When I told all of my friends on the East Coast that I was moving to Kansas City they said, 'Oh, there's like cows walking down Main Street and cornfields, right?'" he says.

The stereotype might be hackneyed, but "perception is reality," Fulvi says.

"You change that by getting high-profile events like USA Gymnastics and the NFL Draft," he says, "and you get people here to kick the tires, and then they go back with a different perception."

And, Nelson says, as organizations like the Kansas City Sports Commission bid for more of these events, they get better at meeting expectations and overcoming obstacles.

Fair or not, it's also often a personal or working relationship with someone at the NFL or NCAA that can make the difference.

Groups like that "need to know when they come to our city that (we) are right here with our staff ... (ready) to jump in," Nelson says. "It may not be the absolute perfect fit, but we know these people, we like these people, and we're willing to take a chance on that."

Kathy Nelson and Jason Fulvi spoke with Steve Kraske on a recent episode of KCUR's Up To Date. Listen to their entire conversation here.

Luke X. Martin is associate producer of KCUR's Up To Date. Contact him at luke@kcur.org or on Twitter, @lukexmartin.