Big-time women's sports is booming, and Kansas City is at the heart of the action
The Kansas City Current have demonstrated that women's professional sports can turn a profit. Will a new volleyball franchise add to the momentum in 2025?
The trajectory of women’s sports is on the rise. Viewership is increasing, revenue numbers are kicking down records, and investment continues to soar.
In 2024, revenue from major women’s sports is projected to surpass $1 billion for the first time, according to a report from accounting firm Deloitte. This total is at least 300% higher than women’s sports revenue in 2021.
Kansas City is poised to play a prominent part in the growth of women’s pro sports in 2024 and beyond. It is one of just 12 markets with franchises in two of three big women's team sports leagues — the WNBA, the National Women's Soccer League and the Pro Volleyball Federation.
The NWSL's Kansas City Current will debut a new stadium in the spring, and Kansas City’s new Pro Volleyball Federation team will prepare throughout the year for its debut in 2025.
A stadium milestone
Kansas City will become the first city to have a stadium built specifically for a professional women’s sports team when the Current kicks off at CPKC Stadium along the Missouri River in March. The new stadium will hold 11,500 at capacity.
The organization announced in December it had sold out of season tickets.
“We just got to announce that for the first time in history a women's stadium has sold out of season tickets for 2024,” said Dani Welniak, vice president of communications for the Current. “And everything that we're doing at the Current is the first.”
The organization believes its efforts are helping elevate the standard for women's sports and bringing female athletes deserved respect.
“I think Kansas City Current is doing it differently by creating a different fan and player experience, and putting a priority on how we take care of our female athletes,” Welniak said.
That caliber of care requires a level of investment in facilities that is uncommon in women’s pro sports. The Current stadium cost about $117 million, and the team’s training facility cost an additional $18 million.
“I think one of the greatest things for me is seeing those athletes come into work every day and have their own weight room, locker room and cafeteria,” Welniak said.
She said investment in women’s sports has to come in order for the revenue to follow.
“We are proof that women's sports is not just a charity,” Welniak said. “They can make money.”
Indeed, the Current were third in a recent ranking of NWSL franchise valuations at $75 million, according to an analysis by sports business publication Sportico.
'Volleyball is on fire'
The new year will bring the debut of the Pro Volleyball Federation, a new women’s professional volleyball league. Kansas City will have a team in the league starting in 2025.
The league will have seven teams in its first season and add three more next year.
Kansas City’s volleyball team, which does not have a name yet, will be led by a familiar figure in area women’s sports. Lori Thomas, a former pro volleyball player and the first female commissioner of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ Heart of America Conference, was recently named president of the Kansas City volleyball team.
“The league is brand new, and every franchise is brand new,” Thomas said. “So we are going to watch and learn and be really creative on strategizing the entertainment front of how people come to watch Kansas City pro players.”
Thomas said bringing a volleyball team to Kansas City is long overdue, but that the timing right now is ideal. In August, the University of Nebraska women’s volleyball team hosted a game in a football stadium and set an attendance record for a women's sports event, topping 92,000.
“Volleyball is on fire,” Thomas said. “You're starting to see the viewership numbers and the support of volleyball increase, like in Nebraska. Most recently, there were 1.7 million viewers for the NCAA championship game.”
With a lot of stepping stones and building to go, the team’s primary goal is to engage with the youth volleyball community and attract overseas players looking to play in the U.S.
“One of the special things about Kansas City is there's so much love in the community, and that's where it makes me feel like our first goal is community engagement,” Thomas said.
Both franchises are making it a point to use Kansas City and its dedicated fans to their advantage.
“Kansas City is a sports community,” Thomas said. “It's a sports city, and we feel like it's perfect timing to bring women's professional sports more to light.”
Welniak said the Current’s efforts are increasing representation for female athletes and strengthening Kansas City’s sports culture.
“You're lifting athletes who haven't had that chance before, and therefore you're empowering your fans and you're empowering your community to not only get behind it but be a part of it,” Welniak said.
While the Current's riverfront home will be the first stadium built for a women’s pro sports team, Welniak hopes it won't be the last.
“We’re setting that expectation and that belief that women deserve the same as their male counterparts," Welniak said, "which is powerful.”