Sprint Center Celebrates 10 Years in Kansas City
A look back at the makings of Kansas City's crown jewel.
(page 1 of 4)
Euphoria accompanies moments big and small. Most of us probably experienced it for the first time when we tried chocolate, or when we kissed our high school crush, or maybe when we became parents.
There’s another kind of euphoria – one that’s more universal and accessible. It’s the kind that swells up when our team scores the game-winning point. We feel it when we see a legendary artist performing live for the first time – a name we’ve grown up with, whose songs we know by heart. It’s a joy that is simultaneously shared by thousands of others, people we might not have anything in common with except the profound experience of being wholly entertained.
Sprint Center delivers that feeling, over and over, hundreds of times a year to countless guests and fans. And after the entertainment is over – after we’ve worn our voices raw cheering and singing and screaming – that feeling stays with us.
It’s hard to imagine the downtown Kansas City skyline without the iconic Sprint Center in all its luminosity. The immense circular arena – on 8.5 acres – is one of the city’s most spectacular centerpieces and one of the greatest reasons for the booming downtown economy. How many sold-out concerts have been hosted there? How many thousands of fans have filled the seats for sporting games and events? How many of us have been a part of the jubilant crowd that has poured out into the streets following a performance that shook us to our core?
This year, Sprint Center celebrates its 10-year anniversary. Time is a funny thing: The arena feels like a natural element in Kansas City’s energy, but the structure is only in its adolescence.
For Brenda Tinnen, opening day feels like yesterday.
Tinnen is the senior vice president and general manager for Sprint Center and a Gladstone native. In 1988, she left Kansas City for a job as the director of ticket sales for Target Center in Minneapolis; her career took her to Houston, Phoenix and, finally, Los Angeles, where she helped open Staples Center.
“When I left Kansas City in 1988, it was always in the back of my mind that I did want to come back home,” Tinnen says. “I’m a midwestern girl, and I love it here. It’s just a great place to be.”
With every city Tinnen moved to, whether she was working with a team or opening a new venue, she soaked in every kernel of information she could. “What could we have done better? Where could we be more efficient? What didn’t work?” – all questions, Tinnen says, that played through her head as she fell asleep at night. This drive toward excellence – and a desire to be back on her home turf – is what eventually drew Tinnen into conversations about Sprint Center in the early aughts.
Or perhaps it was those qualities that led Kay Barnes, Kansas City’s mayor from 1999 to 2007, to seek Tinnen out as Sprint Center was in its planning phase. In fact, Barnes is credited as one of the primary forces behind the revitalization of downtown Kansas City and the push for a new arena.
“The discussion about whether or not to have an arena began in the mid-1990s,” Barnes says. Kemper Arena had become dated, and increasing numbers of concert performers were declining to bring their tours through Kansas City. The Sports Commission authorized a study to determine the feasibility of a new arena – particularly whether or not such a venture could be successful without a professional indoor sporting franchise, such as the NHL or NBA, attached to it. The study showed a new arena would indeed be viable without a franchise – and that was jumping-off point for Barnes and her team to forge ahead.
“When I came into office in 1999, it was clear that there were some very significant challenges in the downtown area,” Barnes says. “Where Sprint Center is now, there were primarily surface parking lots. There was a lot of decay.”
If the arena was going to happen, it would take a massive infrastructure push to replacing power lines and rebuilding underground sewage routes. The redevelopment effort encompassed approximately 12 to 14 blocks downtown – all of which would need to be worked on simultaneously.
Barnes chuckles when she recalls the undertaking. “I believe that a bold vision can be easier to sell than a medium-sized one,” she says, “because a bold vision captures the imagination and passion of many people – to the point where they’re willing to come together to make everything happen.”
In Kansas City, that included the support of the City Council, the Civic Council, the Sports Commission, the Downtown Council, the city manager, the private sector and more. And there was one key player that ultimately made Sprint Center a reality: AEG, an entertainment presenter that invested $53.2 million in return for a 35-year contract to operate the arena. Without a private sector partner, Barnes says, the arena wouldn’t have moved forward. And that just wasn’t an option.
“Building Sprint Center wasn’t just about revitalizing downtown Kansas City,” Tinnen says. “It was also about bringing some of that ‘wow!’ factor back to Kansas City.”
THROUGHOUT THE YEARS
Sprint Center is Kansas City’s home for live entertainment and sporting events. Anchor to more than $6 billion of reinvestment in a revitalized downtown Kansas City, the award winning venue has welcomed more than 10 million guests attending over 950 events. Having exceeded attendance and financial projections in each year since opening in 2007, Sprint Center is a unique public/private partnership between AEG and the city of Kansas City, Mo.
2007 | Oct. 13-Elton John performs his inaugural concert that sold out in less than 90 minutes.
2008 | Oct. 1- Tina Turner launches North American Tour and first concert in 8 years.
2012 | Oct 30- Madonna plays first ever show in Kansas City, which was sold out.
2014 | July 16- Paul McCartney gets arena record grossing over $2.4 million.
2016 | Jan. 28- AC/DC perform final show with Brian Johnson in Sprint Center.
2017 | Nov. 15- Lady Gaga marks fourth visit to Sprint Center on her Joanne World Tour.
Here’s a big, resounding “wow!” moment: In the first five years following Sprint Center’s 2007 ribbon-cutting ceremony, the arena contributed a combined $643.1 million to the city, metropolitan and Missouri state economies. Today, the total economic activity attributed to Sprint Center is over $1.01 billion.
Those are some big numbers, Barnes agrees, but the real indicator of Sprint Center’s economic impact is the ripple effect it’s had on downtown, the surrounding neighborhoods and the metropolitan area as a whole.
In terms of jobs, Sprint Center employs approximately 966 full-time and part-time employees. Those numbers don’t take into consideration the number of jobs generated by the downtown businesses that have sprung up to support the influx of activity and tourism.
“Sprint Center has been an enormous catalyst for additional development,” she says. “There is no doubt in my mind that much of the development in the Crossroads area, the Midtown, Plaza and Riverfront areas and even north of the river – Briarcliff and further out from there – is all related to the core of our downtown. Things like the streetcar, the new KCI terminal – Sprint Center laid the groundwork for those efforts.”
All this has been accomplished without an anchor tenant like a pro NBA or NHL team. But, Barnes adds, college basketball has done enormously well at Sprint Center, with the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship scheduled there through 2020. In 2017, there were over 140 events at the arena – an impressively packed schedule that included the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the NCAA basketball tournaments, the NCAA volleyball championship and the Showdown for Relief Basketball Game between Missouri and Kansas that raised more than $2.1 million.
Not to mention, Tinnen says, the slew of artists that came to Sprint Center for the first time in the last year, including Amy Schumer, the Lumineers, the Chainsmokers and the Gorillaz. Then there was Garth Brooks, who returned to Sprint Center to deliver a sold-out seven-show marathon for some 164,000 fans. Thanks to the arena, Radiohead selected Kansas City as one of only five stops in North America in 2017.
Without 41 guaranteed event dates from an anchor tenant, Sprint Center’s calendar is far from suffering – and the diversity of events is something Tinnen is proud of. Since it opened, the arena has been consistently named as one of the busiest venues in the United States and one of the premiere sites worldwide. In Pollstar Magazine’s 2017 third-quarter issue, it was recognized as the eighth busiest arena in the country. Not bad for a venue that hasn’t hit puberty yet.
“The increased attraction to Kansas City from a regional tourism perspective and even beyond has been incredible,” Barnes says. “There’s no reason for that not to continue in the future. What we’re seeing is Sprint Center’s mushroom effect: Downtown is the heart of the region, and the heart has to be healthy to survive. We’re seeing that the heart of the region is now healthy.”