Sporting KC: Where the Fan Comes First

The Sporting KC ownership team is one of the best in Major League Soccer (MLS). The Sporting Club mission statement says it all, including phrases like “high performance” and “experiences” brought to life within “world-class facilities.”

Cliff Illig, Cerner Corporation co-founder, is the intellectual force behind what many believe is the best fan experience in any of the four major professional sports leagues.  When I told Cerner CEO Neal Patterson once how much I loved the SKC experience, he said, “It is all Cliff.”  Illlig’s son Michael drives the experience side and Alan Dietrich brings further operating expertise to the Illig sports fan algorithm. 

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Importantly, Patterson, Illig and the ownership group (Pat Curran, Robb Heineman, Greg Maday) leave the on-the-field personnel decisions to Peter Vermes.  He isn’t dealing with Jerry Jones.  Vermes has the vision, personnel calls and, ultimately, the on-field accountability.  When we think about the upward march of this franchise (including the 2013 MLS championship), a big piece of the credit goes to Vermes. 

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If you want to build a durable sports brand, you need a media strategy.  Sporting KC has one.  Every regular season game is shown live on 38 the Spot.  It includes pre-game and post-game shows.  In addition, WHB 810 AM broadcasts the games on the radio giving the team reach into Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma.  Finally, fans also can listen on Spanish radio on D 1340 AM, one of the reasons for SKC popularity with the soccer-loving Latino community.       

There have been some changes to the broadcast team in recent years.  While many people loved Callum Williams and Diego Gutierrez, they were given their walking papers at the end of the 2014 season.  You won’t hear Callum affixing obscure European countries to a player’s name or hometown commentary devoid of objectivity (Yes, Rex, I am taking a subtle shot at you).    

Now, it is Nate Bukaty, Andy Gruenebaum, Jake Yadrich and Kacie McDonnell.  Bukaty is the lead play-by-play announcer, a role he has held since the 2015 season.  Bukaty also is the co-host of the Boarder Patrol on 810AM.  He brings strong sports knowledge to the microphone.  

This reporter will have the chance for a behind-the-scenes look at this talented broadcast team as Sporting KC takes on Western Conference rival Real Salt Lake in a head-to-head that always carries a punch dating back to at least the 2013 MLS Final.  It is a key game for an SKC team that at the moment may not have a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

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There is no doubt in my mind that all of the SKC diehards will be tuned in this evening.  Mr Illig, for his part, also will be watching, critiquing every fan experience detail just like iconic sports entrepreneur Lamar Hunt.  Welcome to the (5-star) Blue Hell, Real Salt Lake.    

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3 comments on “Sporting KC: Where the Fan Comes First
  1. TDD says:

    We need to get a professional team into the Sprint Center. It is tragic that we don’t have NHL or NBA down there.

    If the Cerner boys would step up and buy an NHL franchise, I think they would crush it. They know how to run a business. They now know what it takes in the world of professional sports. I would love to see that happen.

  2. Sturges says:

    Nate Bukaty and Jake Yardich do a nice job. It is impressive that Nate can do SKC games and do sports talk. They are two different skill sets and he handles it like a pro. Impressive…

  3. DT says:

    Great article. I enjoyed your comment about Lamar Hunt. He shared the same passion as Cliff for the “fan experience.” There is nothing better than SKC in the MLS –and it probably stack up pretty well again elite teams in the EPL.

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