Sprint Center Celebrates 10 Years in Kansas City
A look back at the makings of Kansas City's crown jewel.
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MEET THE PEOPLE
Mariner Kemper, Chairman and CEO of UMB Financial, has worked with many visionaries who have helped bring great ideas to life. And he says Sprint Center General Manager, Brenda Tinnen, is one who painted a bright picture for him several years ago. It was a trip to the Los Angeles’ Staples Center, almost 15 years ago, that showed Kemper just how important a new venue could be for Kansas City.
“Brenda Tinnen is sneaky. She invited me on a trip to L.A. where the idea was to see what possibilities could come to fruition in Kansas City. I received a really wonderful tour of Staples Center which culminated in a visit to the locker room and a personalized jersey with my name embroidered on the back – it was even accompanied by crowd-cheering sounds. She is really good at helping someone see the vision of what could be.”
Kemper, one of Kansas City’s biggest cheerleaders, said even without the tour, he knew the importance of bringing a new venue to the city. “I knew there was an existing opportunity and an appetite to be satisfied,” the banker shares, “It was easy for me, as someone who loves Kansas City, to see how Sprint Center could be a centerpiece of the total redevelopment of downtown.”
A decade later, Kemper is not surprised by the impact Sprint Center has had on the local community and on downtown. “It is hard to not draw lines from this building being built, to One Light and Two Light, to Cosentinos, to the light rail and the development around it, and the Freight District. It really accelerated everything.” He adds, “It’s downtown. It’s urban. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture. It’s easy to access, easy to use. It anchors the city in a really nice way.”
Kemper is also keen about the shared values of AEG (the company that manages and operates, Sprint Center) and UMB.
“The AEG family’s practices and beliefs are very similar to the way UMB looks at the world. We are both committed to the communities, and AEG is a great corporate citizen. I can tell you first hand that when I’m involved in something very important, AEG is one of the first organizations to step up and support the things I’m trying to make happen here in town. It means a lot to me.”
UMB’s Sprint Center support is also a huge plus for their customers with the “Count on more Lounge” inside Sprint Center. It’s the first concept of its kind in the country and functions as a welcoming space for UMB customers to socialize prior to a concert or sporting event.
Kemper says Sprint Center is all about making memories, and he’s had some wow moments. The ones he most fondly looks back on are the times spent at Sprint Center with his family. His favorite recollection is the evening he took his daughter to see Miley Cyrus during her Hannah Montana days. “We were able to meet her, take pictures, and see her show. It was a night I’ll never forget.”
The University of Kansas Health System’s decision to partner with Sprint Center was initially met with some skepticism. A not-for-profit organization with an entertainment venue? Does this really fit?
“But if you strip all that away, you think about, what are we trying to accomplish here? And that’s what the right thing is for the community. It made perfect sense,” says Bob Page, President and CEO of University of Kansas Health System. “You have a leader in Sprint, but then you now have Sprint Center and AEG, and then oh, by the way, you’ve got this fledgling University of Kansas Health System. And we were nine years into our transformation at that time. We were on the right track, and this was a great opportunity for us to show our commitment to the community in a different way than we’ve typically done. A partnership for something that Kansas City needed. I think now, 10 years later, people don’t even question why we’re a founding partner. They look at the success of Sprint Center and everybody’s just wowed.”
Page vividly remembers flying out to Denver with Greg Graves, UKH’s board chair at the time, to meet with Philip Anschutz of Anschutz Entertainment Group, the company that operates Sprint Center. Page and Graves pitched the idea of a clinic within the confines of Sprint Center, something that hadn’t been incorporated into any AEG building. Anschutz, ever the creative thinker, jumped at the opportunity to make Sprint Center a trendsetter for this particular model with Sprint Center Urgent Care, located next to the College Basketball Experience.
“Sure, that’s there for Sprint Center employees, but it’s also there for the community, so we’ve got all these corporate headquarters downtown, plus we have new migration into downtown with people moving in,” Page says. “That doesn’t happen with everybody. But Sprint Center saw that partnership possibility and they said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”
For Page, two special Sprint Center events come to mind: opening night, with its red-carpet spectacle; and Garth Brooks’ nine shows in November 2007. Page was at the first, third, and eighth concerts, and by that eighth show Brooks was bent over from exhaustion on stage. But it was a testament to how much everyone wanted Sprint Center to get off to a great start.
“Cities around the country are trying to rejuvenate downtown. Sprint Center became an anchor for that rejuvenation, and I think that has been a great story,” Page says. “What’s more important is the sustainability of that, because some cities have done it and then it’s a flash in the pan and it’s gone. Sprint Center as an anchor has stayed, has attracted local, regional, national, international talent and audiences. So that by itself, with everything that’s been able to build around it, has been phenomenal. It’s no different than what you see at our campus. We build here and now everybody wants to be around us. It’s the same thing at Sprint Center. Downtown, anchored by Sprint Center, who knows what can be next?”
Before Sprint Center’s 10th anniversary, there was H&R Block’s 10th anniversary in its downtown headquarters on One H&R Block Way in October 2016.
“Most people don’t even realize that H&R Block was here in the downtown area before Sprint Center was,” says Kathy Collins, H&R Block’s Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer who is starting her 12th year with the company. “And yet we knew what was coming, and we knew at the time that it would be a great partnership, because Sprint Center would allow us to attract even higher-quality talent. And the hope was that H&R Block, with our national headquarters being right next door, would help Sprint Center attract better acts. So it really worked out. It’s mutually beneficial, to say the least.”
The only other partnership that H&R Block currently has outside the city limits is with the New York Mets. The others are with the biggest names in sports and entertainment in Kansas City. The tax company also enjoys associations with the Chiefs, Royals, and Sporting Kansas City, and its relationship with Sprint Center further signifies a deep loyalty to the community.
“The fact that we have a partnership that is as strong and has lasted so long, and will continue to last, is very, very important to us,” Collins says. “There is an energy around Sprint Center that really extends beyond downtown. People want to be a part of it.”
H&R Block’s connection with Sprint Center is huge for its associates to take advantage of concerts and games, and with more than 1,000 people in its headquarters, Collins says the excitement spreads throughout the building on the day of an event.
“I have so many amazing memories of concerts from Sprint Center: Probably my favorites would be Bruno Mars both times, because I’ve never seen an entertainer quite like him,” Collins says. “But then I’ll tell you the one that surprised me the most was Eric Church. When he opened for George Strait, it was the first time I had seen him and he blew me away. I have been so amazed by the acts that Sprint Center has been able to bring in, in terms of musical acts.”
When an iconic Kansas City brand meshes this well with Sprint Center, another 10 years looks like a sure thing.
“They are the most accommodating people I’ve worked with across all of our partnerships,” Collins says, “and they do everything they can to make sure every event is a memorable and great experience for us.
Rick Frazier, the President of Heartland Coca-Cola bottling company (owned by former NBA star Junior Bridgeman) is relatively new to Kansas City, and he confesses that at the top of his To Do list was to partner with Sprint Center.
“That was one of my first objectives was to get Sprint Center. They didn’t know that, but it was because with Coca-Cola, our consumers are really excited about two things – music and sports – and where best to do it in? Not just one of the best venues in North America, but in the world.”
Frazier admits he was wowed by Sprint Center and its employees. “First of all, just knowing the reputation of Sprint Center really attracted me to come here, from the musical performers to the athletics. Then, the quality of people – in terms of the ticket takers to the people behind the counters – was a real selling point.”
He calls this an exciting time to partner with Sprint Center and be a part of downtown Kansas City. “We’re really happy to be here and really see it as a great opportunity of growth and to be part of the community. We have three pillars we operate on. One is to be invested in our people, and our people are important. The other thing is being part of the community.”
This business leader says he feels that Kansas City is poised for great things and he’s excited to be a part of it, calling the next decade one of unprecedented growth for Sprint Center and KC.
“We want to have lasting relationships, and that’s what we believe we’re going to have with Sprint Center and the city and the community. I think the investment and the growth is only picking up.”
Frazier’s first Sprint Center concert was Garth Brooks, and he admits to being so blown away by the total Sprint Center experience that it might have turned him into a Garth Brooks fan. “It didn’t start out that way, but I left being a big Garth Brooks enthusiast. He was a remarkable entertainer in a remarkable venue.”