THE EMPTY ARENA
June 4, 2009
Since Kansas City's Sprint Center opened in October 2007, exactly one hockey game has been played there. And while college basketball, the circus, a motivational seminar and a number of concerts have passed through, the arena still lacks a big-league franchise, says Bruce Schoenfeld, author of "The Match: Althea Gibson and Angela Buxton."
At one time, Kansas City was able to support four sports teams. But while big crowds still turn out for baseball's Royals and football's Chiefs, the city hasn't had major indoor sports for more than two decades. Increasingly, the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) are avoiding towns like Kansas City in favor of minor-league markets where they don't have to compete with baseball and football for fan interest, corporate dollars and media attention, says Schoenfeld. That's why Kansas City's decision, in 2004, to earmark $222 million from hotel and car-rental taxes for an arena is so baffling:
- The Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which operates arenas that are home to 11 NBA or NHL franchises and owns hockey's Los Angeles Kings, has partnered with the city, contributing an additional $54 million to construction costs in exchange for a 35-year contract; still, AEG's connections have not helped bring in a team.
- The arena, built on the edge of a revitalized downtown neighborhood called the Power & Light District, is undoubtedly big-league; sheathed in glass and designed in a glossy but unfinished style, it holds as many as 18,500 seats, features amenities such as 42-inch HDTV screens in the suites and an MRI machine for injured athletes.
For now, Kansas City remains cautiously optimistic that the decision to build was an enlightened one. The taxes that fund it are largely being paid by visitors, and the concerts and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) games it has already attracted would have bypassed the old arena, says Schoenfeld.
Source: Bruce Schoenfeld, "The Empty Arena," The Atlantic, May 2009.
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