KANSAS CITY, Kan. – In less than two decades, Major League Soccer has gone from a lightly regarded start-up with an uncertain future to a league that commands international attention. And the way one of the world's leading sports-venue experts sees it, things are only going to get better in the coming years.
“Every time I come back to the States, every year, there is growth in all aspects of MLS – from the quality of the field of play, to the quality of the fan experience, to the quality of customer service, the broadcasts,” Stadia magazine founder Ian Nuttall told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “Everything keeps moving. I think that's part of the great American tradition: You're not prepared to sit still. You want to move. You're competing against established, big team sports – and you're fighting above your weight at the moment.”
Nuttall, whose company Xperiology honored Sporting Kansas City with four Stadium Business Awards earlier this year in Turin, Italy, was at Livestrong Sporting Park to watch the club's 2-1 victory over Philadelphia.
His assessment of the facility?
“Stunning. Stunning,” he said. “I think it's a very, very special MLS stadium, but I also think it's a very, very special soccer stadium around the world.”
And, he said, one that clubs worldwide can study.
“The investment here in technology, in match-day experience, in customer service, that's taking it to another level,” he said. “ Having seen this, it's only two years here in operation. Compare that with a football club in Europe that's 100 years in operation, you guys are moving so fast that there are going to be teams all around the world looking here to see what's going to be next.”
It was Nuttall's first visit to LSP, which opened in 2011 and has fueled an explosion in Sporting's local popularity and national visibility.
“If you'd asked me 20 years ago, 'Would I ever come to Kansas City to watch a soccer game?' I would say, 'Where is Kansas City?'” he said. “So, Sporting KC have put this city on the map for all the right reasons.”
But parks such as Livestrong owe a debt to the soccer-specific stadiums which came before them, Nuttall said.
“I was lucky enough to be with [the late MLS pioneer] Lamar Hunt in 1999 when Columbus Crew Stadium opened,” Nuttall said, “And he said, 'This is the start of something special, getting soccer teams their own stadiums.' Coming here 13 years later and seeing that progression of stadiums, and the development around the plan experience, it's really exhilarating. It's very exciting.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.