For Las Vegas soccer investors, there’s a perfectly good role model out there as they pursue an expansion MLS franchise: Sporting Kansas City, where the franchise was totally made over when new ownership took the reins in 2008.
Kansas City has some pretty interesting bloodlines when it comes to pro soccer: the franchise was owned by the late Lamar Hunt, an MLS founder. The team began as the Kansas City Wizards, and its early history wasn’t good: its first home, Arrowhead Stadium, was mostly empty for most games, and a move to a minor-league ballpark didn’t necessarily move things along. The key to Sporting Kansas City’s success, according to the Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger, was a total rebranding effort:
Local men who made their billions in medical technology bought the team in 2008, built a gorgeous soccer-specific facility in a growing part of town, rebranded the franchise as Sporting Kansas City, and have basically been flawless in building a successful team and strong relationship with fans.
Their most relatable triumph is in the brand building. Where the franchise was constantly confused about what it wanted to be, the new ownership group was clear. They wanted a young fan base that could grow with the brand. Win the hearts and minds of young professionals today, and you’ll have them as they grow older and have more disposable income tomorrow.
They did this in a few specific ways. First, they went hard after passionate soccer fans. This might sound intuitive, but the old regime sometimes took the hardcore fans for granted, and in return, some hardcore fans didn’t take the franchise seriously. They followed European leagues instead.
Not a bad role model for any MLS franchise.