by Pat McSparin // Spring 2013
Have you always been a soccer fan?
Always. I started playing soccer at Brookside Soccer in Kansas City when I was six or seven years old. I have memories of my dad and me going to the old Marco Polo’s Italian Market down on Wornall Road to watch Italian soccer on fuzzy satellite dish.
Did you always plan on a career in sports?
Never. I was going to follow my father in medicine. But almost on a whim, I took the LSAT. I chose UMKC over four other schools because I really wanted to come back home, and UMKC had the highest bar pass rate in the state.
Rebranding the club from the Wizards to Sporting KC was risky. How’d you pull it off?
We are blessed to have owners who take risks. With our owners, if you show your work and your process, and you’re thoughtful and smart, they’ll let you try stuff that most companies would kill in committee. To me, that’s the biggest strength of this organization: Our owners’ sense of risk taking; they believe in us as executives, and then support us financially.
In 2011, Sporting averaged 17,000 fans per game—almost twice what the Wizards averaged in their best season. What’s the difference?
I think it’s the coming together of all the arms of the plan. Back in 2007, (present CEO and co-owner) Robb Heineman and I, in conjunction with our ownership group, proposed an audacious plan to rebrand the team, build a stadium and create a membership model around our fan base instead of just season ticket holders. So a lot of the success you’re seeing is our plans coming together with the opening of Sporting Park. You can never underestimate the power of having a true soccer-specific stadium.
What’s your favorite thing about Sporting Park?
That it was designed differently from any other stadium in the world. By that, I mean it was designed from an experience perspective first. Sporting Park was designed with every single constituent who was going to occupy those spaces in mind. The experience that we want them to have was mapped out and the architects designed off of it.
Do you ever sit in The Cauldron, Sporting Park’s famed fan section?
Heineman and I start every game in The Cauldron. We have a beer, hang out with the fans for the first 10 or 15 minutes, then we’ll make our way because we have other duties. But I can’t remember a game that I haven’t started in The Cauldron.
Will soccer in America catch up with the rest of the world?
Yes. I think the United States is going to be a soccer world power.