(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — As the Women’s World Cup shines a global spotlight on women’s soccer, Kansas City, Missouri, is paying more permanent tribute to the sport. The first stadium in the world built for a women’s professional sports team is under construction there.
The Kansas City Current of the National Women’s Soccer League will train and play in the $120 million facility starting next spring. It will seat 11,500 fans when it opens but can expand to 22,000 in the future.
A venue being purpose built for a women’s team represents a “breakout moment” in women’s sports, says USA Today columnist and ABC News contributor Christine Brennan. She adds that being located in Kansas City amplifies its significance since such a project might be more expected on the East or West Coast.
“To have it be happening in Kansas City really is a wakeup call for the rest of the nation,” Brennan said. “Where are you? Why aren’t you doing this also?”
One reason the stadium is happening there is that Brittany Mahomes, a founding partner of the KC Current, and local hero husband Patrick Mahomes, MVP quarterback for the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, are among the team’s co-owners and financial backers of the project. They join a growing list of celebrities investing in and drawing attention to women’s soccer.
Natalie Portman is a founder of LA’s Angel City Football Club, which also counts A-Listers Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain among its investors. Tennis star Naomi Osaka is part owner of the North Carolina Courage, while former first daughters Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager are helping bankroll the Washington Spirit.
Brennan thinks this trend is enhancing interest in the sport for fans and potential investors.
“The idea that you’re going to a game and the owners are not these unknown old guys sitting somewhere in a box, but they’re people that you’re watching on TV or in a movie theater, I think that is a wonderful development,” Brennan said. “It is now cool and fashionable to be around women’s sports.”
But while the Mahomes’ backing is instrumental, Mayor Quinton Lucas asserts that when Kansas Citians talk about the Current and the stadium, “they aren’t really saying ‘Mahomes.’ They are just saying there’s this cool soccer team. We’re getting to know the players. We’re getting to know the team. We’re learning more about women’s soccer.”
The mayor said the commercial and retail development planned around the stadium, located alongside the Missouri River, will mean economic growth of about $1 billion in the area.
“I think what we’re seeing on the riverfront is not just the stadium, but it is a mecca for women’s sports, certainly for other economic activity in Kansas City,” Lucas told ABC News. “We believe in women’s soccer as an anchor for something substantial.”
Other cities apparently share Lucas’ vision. According to Dani Welniak, Kansas City current vice president for communications, the project has spurred national and international interest.
“I can’t tell you how much feedback we get from not only Kansas City fans, but people across the globe who want to know how we’re doing this, who want to bring a team to another state or even build upon the women’s teams that they have overseas,” Welniak told ABC News. “And so I know from the conversations that I’ve had, bigger picture, people are inspired.”
Heightened interest in the new stadium coincides with record interest in the Women’s World Cup. Last week’s U.S. vs. Netherlands match drew an average of 6.43 million viewers, according to Fox Network, the largest TV audience ever on U.S. television for a group stage Women’s World Cup game. Fox said the audience peaked at 8.45 million viewers.
While Brennan doubts that NWSL games will ever achieve such an audience, noting that national teams in big tournaments always draw more viewers, she does think the huge interest will mean growing investment in women’s sports, as exemplified by the stadium in Kansas City.
“As a business leader, you take one look at the numbers of the Women’s World Cup, you look at the untapped potential of women’s sports,” Brennan said. “And if you’re a businessperson, you go, ‘That is the market I want to get into. We’ve maxed out on the men.'”
Optimism surrounding the future of women’s soccer in the U.S. surges with the national team’s performance in the quadrennial World Cup, especially after its victories in 1999, and again in 2015 and 2019. The hope in Kansas City is that this project means a lasting forecast for success.
“Every four years I think we get this new sentiment,” Lucas said. “But this stadium says this is permanent. This interest in women’s professional sports, our respect for them, our love for them, our investment is something that’s permanent.”
The Kansas City Current came close to winning the NWSL championship last year, losing to the Portland Thorns in the title game. This season the team has stumbled, falling to last place in the league. Yet the stadium project seems to represent much more than the team, regardless of its record.
Welniak feels its broader significance is stirring.
“I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter,” she said. “And to know that she is growing up in a world where she will know nothing different than women having their own training facilities and their own stadiums is something that makes me incredibly emotional.”
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