Can Kansas City’s Sprint Center Attract a Major Sports Tenant?

The Sprint Center in Kansas City was built partly to attract either an NBA or NHL franchise.  Three years on, the gleaming arena has no major sports tenant.  The Kansas City Star has an article on the lack of a major sports tenant and what some would like to do, or not do, about it.

Is sufficient demand to warrant having an NBA or NHL team in KC?  I’ve always  sensed that Kansas City is very good city for sports.  But the market already is served by three major college basketball and football programs.  The University of Kansas Jayhawks play their home games in Lawrence, KS, roughly 40 or so miles from downtown Kansas City.  The Missouri Tigers play their home games in Columbia, about 120 miles away from Kansas City and the Kansas State Wildcats play their games in Manhattan, KS, also about 120 miles from Kansas City.  All three schools have a large alumni presence in the city and the city often hosts Big XII championship events.

Then there are the very popular Chiefs, the struggling Royals, and the MLS’s Wizards.  Do all these sports teams serve the market inefficiently in some sense to make it worthwhile to have another sports team?

Basic economics tells us that if a potential owner could generate profits by locating a team in KC, then someone would try to do so.  But the reality is more complicated because of the closed nature of American sports leagues.  To get a team in a new city in the NBA, whether by expansion of moving an existing team, the rest of the league’s members have to vote on it.  The same goes for the NHL.  Club theory tells us that if a sufficient number of the league’s members aren’t made better off by having a team in KC, regardless of whether it is profitable to its ownership, then a team won’t be placed in KC.  Of course it has to be profitable to its ownership, but it has to be profitable to the other league members as well.

The article also raises the point that there are opportunity costs with having a sports anchor at the Sprint Center:  playing sports events there takes dates away from other events which also provide value to the good folks in Kansas City.  What’s more valuable: a Rush concert or an NBA game?

This brings me to a point that isn’t usually made about facility subsidies in sports, at least not directly.  Who can better decide how to allocate resources:  politicians or the citizens?  Ignoring whether the arena should have been built in the first place, should politicians determine who plays in the arena or should it be left to “the market” to decide?  Are our elected officials benevolent social planners – all-knowing, all-powerful, and well-intentioned – that will “do the right thing”?  If not, then why trust them with fiddling with the market for entertainment in KC?

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Author: Phil Miller

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4 thoughts on “Can Kansas City’s Sprint Center Attract a Major Sports Tenant?”

  1. I just met with the Sprint Center people here at a Sport Venue Management meeting that was held at the University of Missouri. They didn’t mention anything about going after a sports team, but it has been the talk of the office the last few days about whether they would be getting an NBA team in Kansas City. Some people I have talked to have said that KC should get an NBA team just because of the presence of the Sprint Center, but I don’t think the NBA would be popular enough.

    Though IHL hockey was once pretty popular in KC as was the MISL, so you never know…

  2. Well, if they’d share the Kings with Omaha, I bet that’d work.

    Seriously, though, the arena situation in Sacramento is looking very bleak. It’s not impossible the Maloofs would prefer this new arena in KC to the highly uncertain situation in Sacramento.

  3. KC already lost an NBA team as well as an NHL team. It is tougher for a city that has already shown they can’t support a team to get another one. It’s not like KC is being used as a bargaining chip by every franchise that wants a better deal from their current city the way Los Angeles is being used by NFL teams.

    It’s hard to separate the issue of whether the stadium should be built from whether the politicians should be involved in getting a team to play in it. If the politicians didn’t spend taxpayers’ money to build the stadium in the first place, they wouldn’t go looking to steal a team from another city (by giving the teams our tax money). They should not be involved but the lure of campaigning on bringing a team to town is too juicy for any politician to ignore.

    In St. Louis we built a new stadium to attract an NFL team. After Jacksonville got the franchise, they lured the Rams and the politicians were involved in every step. From getting taxpayers to pay for the dome to giving the Rams a sweetheart lease, the politicians were up to their necks in getting a team to play in their white elephant. And the new owner of the Rams is likely to extort a new stadium (LA needs a team) before the old one is even paid for and the politicians will bend over and give him anything he wants. It’s not their money they are spending.

  4. Sorry, but the fact that KC lost an NHL team more than 30 years ago and an NBA team more than 20 years ago is completely irrelevant. Would anyone say that Denver or the Twin Cities should not have received a second chance? Professional sports teams are run and marketed in very different ways than they were in the 1970s and 1980s.

    Plus, why is it Kansas City’s fault that both ownership groups were AWFUL? The now New Jersey Devils franchise didn’t start to flourish until they were sold to the group that moved them to East Rutherford.

    While Sprint Center is a great thing for our city, I have suspected all along that AEG’s pitch that KC would get an NHL or NBA team was a ruse. KC was a market AEG didn’t serve in any way. When looking at the US map and the markets they serve, the Midwest was a giant gaping hole.

    Now, based on the link you posted, many city officials don’t care whether KC ever gets an anchor tenant for Sprint Center. It was never going to happen in the first place. It was just an empty campaign promise to get the hotel/rental car tax passed because, well, you can’t run a campaign on “We’ll get really great concerts and a few more NCAA tournament games.”
    KC city officials blase attitude toward the campaign promise AEG once made is just proving me right.

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