Soccer

Sporting Kansas City Leading The Way In Progressive Franchises

Major League Soccer continues to make inroads into the psyche of the casual sports fan and the business community across North America, and one of the smartest ways is by being an industry leader in fan engagement and technology. One of their “best in class” is Sporting Kansas City, which has gone above and beyond in making their home field one of the most technologically advanced stadia anywhere in the world. With that work also comes a deep passion for both the sport and the community, and Sporting KC has found their way into the hearts and minds of people in their area like few other clubs.

The drive for that innovative spirit comes from the top, and we caught up with club CEO Robb Heineman to discuss innovation, soccer and business success in America’s heartland.

Livestrong or no Livestrong, Sporting Park remains cutting edge in its way fans can experience the game of soccer. What are the achievements you are most proud of?

The achievements that we are most proud of really have to do with how the fans experience the stadium and what those fans have meant to the environment within the stadium itself. I think it’s remarkable that our fans went from Arrowhead to CommunityAmerica Ballpark and stuck with us. Now that they’ve got their own home and the way that they experience the game within that home is really the thing that we’re most proud of. The atmosphere and supporters is fundamentally who and what we are about.

The club itself is known for its unique culture among its employees, how did you come up with the plan for having such a unique workplace?

I’m not sure we had a real explicit plan on how we came up with it. What we try to do is make people feel like they don’t necessarily work here; they live it. Hopefully they like working here. We try to empower a lot of people, whether they are a brand new person on staff or a junior or senior still in college or whatever it may be. We want to make sure that all the ideas are thought through and given consideration. And we try to then implement a lot of those ideas. The example that I always give is the new logo creation, which was basically done by a guy named Chad Reynolds who at the time was a 23/24 year-old kid. He basically sketched out the first Sporting Kansas City logo and that’s the same logo that you see today and I think that is a great example. I trust Chad’s opinion on design, I listen to him all the time and we try to collaborate on ideas. I think that’s the culture that we’ve tried to create – no matter what level of the organization that you’re in, you’re very valuable and your ideas will be thought through.

The 49ers have talked about their new stadium being the ultimate in terms of technology…did you speak with them about all the innovations you have built, or are there other new stadia that fans will benefit from what you have done?

We have just started speaking with the 49ers and teams in leagues all over the world about the technologies we are creating with Sporting Innovations and we fundamentally think that the Fan360 platform, which is a fan experience management platform, is something that can completely change sports; so yes we’re talking with teams all over the world.

How much does onfield success factor now into growing you fan base, since the experience at matches is so sublime?

It’s humongous because at the end of the day all we care about in sports is winning. That’s really the most important thing, that’s why we go to the games. The experience is awesome at Sporting Park but a lot of that has to do with the players on the field and what they’ve been doing. That’s the thing that we will focus on most. It’s the philosophy that’s most important to the club and that’s winning championships. We’re going to do everything we can to keep supporting that.

Do people still look to call the club the Wizards or is that well in the past now?

A lot of people still call the club the Wizards. I think that will happen forever. We’re supportive of it; it’s not a huge deal for us. We want people to connect to the club in the best that they see fit. If they want to call the club the Wizards then that’s fine with us.

Who are the brand partners who have taken the most to the type of innovation the club has brought in?

A lot of our local partners are being very innovative with us and will be going forward. Ivy Funds and Boulevard Beer are two that come to mind. Sprint, obviously we have an innovation plan with Sprint going forward that I think will be great. H&R Block is a partner that we’re talking to about a bunch of innovative things. And then there are national partners as well, Budweiser’s been talking to us about a national digital program that we’re going to try and sell them into. I think the sorts of the things that you see in Sporting Park, which really is the most technologically advanced stadium in the world, are things that brand partners will over time adopt in a big way.

Where do you think MLS ranks in terms of fan engagement…who are some of the non-soccer clubs you think do a good job?

The Supporters’ culture is the definitive difference that we have between some of the other leagues. The supporters’ sections within places like Portland and Seattle and here are some of the greatest fan environments in all of sports. Some of the models out there that you look at are people like the Green Bay Packers and then just down the road at places like Kansas in Allen Field house is an incredible place and we try to take a lot of cues from them. But, MLS has a real opportunity over the next 10 years to really be a leader in fan engagement because of the supporters’ culture that we have to leverage.

What initiatives are top of mind for your club to implement this season?

Continuing to expand on and improve the experience in general. We’re experience disciples and we’re going to do everything we can that when people walk in and walk out of the stadium they’ll say “That’s the best experience in sports.” We’ll continue to try and refine and improve that to the best that we can. On the technology side, within Sporting Innovations we will launch a number of different mobile applications within the stadium this season that we are excited to get fan feed back and feel like they will be additive to that fan experience.

Kansas City is pretty much in the heartland of America, while the growing demo for soccer is more ethnic…how do you balance the multinational demand in the middle of the US?

Not sure we approach our fans from an ethnicity perspective. What we try to do is think about the different types of people that may be in the stadium but role out an experience that’s awesome for all of them. If you look at particularly our supporters’ section, you’ll see people of varying ages, varying races, varying everything. I think right now, the way that they feel at a Sporting game is they’re all one. So, that’s what we’re trying to do at the end of the day is create the perfect union between the organization, the team and the fans every Saturday night here in Kansas City and I think we’re off to a decent start. But, that’s the thing that we’re going to try and do, make you feel that when you’re at a Sporting game, you’re not necessarily at an event, it’s just part of your life. So, that’s our agenda.

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