Barely a month after playing in MLS Cup 2004, the Kansas City Wizards are up for sale.
Citing a necessary focus on the interests of his NFL franchise, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the lack of success in building a soccer-specific stadium in the Kansas City metropolitan area, Wizards investor-operator Lamar Hunt said Thursday he has reluctantly decided to let go one of his three teams in Major League Soccer.
Hunt expressed concern about the competitive future of the Chiefs in relation to the condition of Arrowhead Stadium and stated that the Wizards franchise was a burden.
"The Wizards have been, to a degree, a financial drain on the Chiefs," he said.
The news was not all negative for Wizards fans as the team's presence in Kansas City seems guaranteed for at least a year, as Hunt said the Hunt Sports Group is prepared to run the team in the city for the 2005 season. But he did not rule out the possibility of an owner buying the team and moving it out of Kansas City in time for the 2005 season.
"It's feasible but I don't think it's probable. Our preference would be that a prospective owner come forward [from the Kansas City area]," Hunt said.
At this point, there is no prospective owner. Said Hunt: "We have not stated openly that the team was available for sale and no one's contacted me prior."
Hunt would not speculate on a price for the franchise, preferring that information to come out in talks with any interested parties. One stipulation will be that a "doable" plan for a soccer-specific stadium must be a part of any purchase - something that Hunt said he believed was necessary to the future of any MLS team and the sport itself in the USA.
Hunt has been unsuccessful in garnering any movement on a new stadium in Kansas City past the stage of talks. The defeat of a referendum which would have provided for partial funding of modernizing Arrowhead Stadium made that a priority, making construction of a soccer-specific stadium an even more difficult step.
"There have been discussions [regarding a stadium] and I think some of them have been reported in the news media, others may not have been," Hunt said. "There have been discussions, but not in the last three or four months, maybe even longer than that."
When asked if a new owner would be allowed to house the team at Arrowhead, Hunt gave a qualified response.
"They could. It would be my personal opinion that they should not, in the long run, operate here because I think the sport needs and deserves [its own stadium]," he said. Hunt is also the current investor-operator for both the Columbus Crew and FC Dallas. FC Dallas has begun construction of a stadium in the suburb of Frisco that will be operable in the 2005 season. That stadium and Columbus Crew Stadium, opened in 1999, have been financed mostly by Hunt. And although Hunt mentioned that MLS wants to move into situation where one owner runs only one team, Columbus and FC Dallas are in no danger of being sold.
"In both the Columbus and FC Dallas situation we have a direct interest in the context of building the stadium in Columbus and being a substantial partner in building the stadium in Frisco. That's a long-range goal in the league to get to that point," Hunt said. "And in Columbus's case we have some 11 or 12 minority owners who have been in the ownership group from day one. They're not active in the team, but they do have an ownership stake already."
Hunt believes that the Wizards sale will be "a fast-moving subject" and he stated that the Wizards main selling point is the success on the field the team has recently enjoyed.
"I think we have a heck of a team, a very fine coach, Bob Gansler, an excellent general manager in Curt Johnson," he said. "Of course, that's based on the 2004 season. They have done more than their part in helping sell the sport in Kansas City."
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.