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K.C.’s facilities commitment shows foundational respect

By Shira Springer

Last September, when the Kansas City Current announced plans for a privately funded, $15 million training facility, the NWSL franchise knew the investment would make a statement. But that wasn’t what motivated ownership. After all, as Current co-founder and co-owner Angie Long asked in a recent conversation, “Why should having proper training facilities be a statement?”

Good question. It shouldn’t be. But anyone heavily invested in women’s sports, financially or otherwise, knows that money rarely gets poured into purpose-built, elite-level facilities. It’s not a landscape populated by expensive, taxpayer-funded stadiums. But when money does go to facilities, it’s always about more than the facilities, especially for a training complex like the one under construction for the Current. The complex will feature two grass soccer fields, weight and cardio training areas and a locker room. Out of 17,600 square feet, 11,400 will be dedicated to player training spaces.

“I see facilities as being a no-brainer,” said Chris Long, Angie’s husband and fellow co-founder and co-owner of the Current. “You have these amazing elite athletes and to really do it right you need amazing elite facilities. That’s the first part of it. It’s just a player-first mentality.”

Still, even as a no-brainer, elite-level facilities make a statement.

Breaking ground for a new training site is distinctly different from money spent on sponsorships or advertisements or broadcast deals. Investment in facilities speaks to a much longer-term vision, a commitment to a city and a fan base, a belief in the growth potential of women’s sports, a desire to prioritize player needs, a determination to build something lasting.

A place to feel at home is a big selling point for teams as they put down roots in a community.generator studio

So, here we are. The Current ownership group — the Longs and Brittany Mahomes — find themselves signing off on blueprints and setting a new statement-making standard. That became doubly true when the club followed the training complex announcement with a second big reveal: plans to build a $70 million riverfront stadium and sign a 50-year lease for the facility. Talk about long-term vision and commitment. Or, as the Longs prefer to see it: good ownership and smart business practices.

“It was entirely about what’s the need for a team if you want that team to be best in class,” Angie Long said. Also, a strong, obvious business case exists. If you invest in facilities, then you control more revenue streams. “It becomes a one plus one equals three type equation,” said Chris Long. 

Across the NWSL landscape, the Longs see a growing recognition that building elite-level facilities is increasingly a must-do. State-of-the-art facilities appeal to the elite players the league wants to attract and keep. They also showcase the best-in-the-world competition the league produces.

“I do know of several other teams that are working on building their own facilities for training,” said Angie Long. “It’s not necessarily stadiums yet, but I would hope that piece would come. There’s also a significantly high level of interest in expansion teams. All these expansion teams that are talking about coming in are talking about facilities. It’s becoming something you have to do.”

That perspective extends beyond the NWSL. Last month, the Premier Hockey Federation announced that real estate executive Bryan Koop will head the league’s new facilities advisory committee. The committee’s goals: review the facilities where each of the league’s six teams train and compete, identify new facilities-based opportunities in existing markets and across North America, and determine how facilities can help improve the PHF experience.

“The ultimate goal is to see a shift in the sports landscape towards more equitable and sustainable models for facilities that support professional women’s sports,” said Johanna Boynton, a member of the PHF board of governors and founding chair of the Toronto Six, via email. “One day seeing the development of facilities primarily devoted to benefit professional women’s sports is also something we hope the future entails. For now, our vision through this advisory group is to continue enhancing the PHF and the professional environment and experience for our athletes, staff, partners, and fans.” 

Investment in facilities speaks to athletes, staff, partners and fans in a way other cash outlays cannot. Again, it’s about long-term vision and commitment and growth. It’s also about something much bigger for the players.

“It’s all very much about creating the right culture, having training be a place where you just want to be,” said Angie Long of the Current training site scheduled to open in late June. “It’s where you can come in the morning and have your breakfast. You get ready for your training day. You have practice. You have your recovery. You have your lunch. It’s really meant to be a home, a place where they want to be and stay.”

Attention to culture is also the reason the entire Current organization — players, technical staff, front office executives — will call the new training facility home. “We are one organization,” she said. 

That mindset coupled with the new facilities make Kansas City an attractive place to play. The Longs hear that from their rostered players, as well as other elite players from around the world. “One of the reasons they have such high interest in playing for the Current at some point in the future is our facilities investment,” said Chris Long. “It’s something that is absolutely a big asset for us.”

When so much of women’s pro sports has involved pushing for recognition and respect, muscling into spaces where you’re more tolerated than accepted, included and prioritized, it’s impossible to underestimate the value of being welcomed into a training complex and a stadium you can call your own.

Shira Springer writes about the intersection of sports and culture and teaches leadership communication at MIT Sloan and journalism at Boston University, including the course “Sports, Gender & Justice.”

Questions about OPED guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at jkyler@sportsbusinessjournal.com

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