The KC Current’s new stadium is scheduled to open in 2024.Courtesy of Shive Hattery
KC Current co-owner Angie Long would occasionally jog at Kansas City’s Berkley Riverfront Park. As she ran along the banks of the languid Missouri River, Long envisioned a soccer stadium bookending the quiet park. She could almost hear the supporters’ drums and chants.
that took some imagination, because the riverfront had long been overlooked and was even a dumping ground for many years. The city cleaned up the area, built the park and considerable development is following, including the soccer stadium that Long imagined for her NWSL team. Ground will be broken on an 11,500-seat venue in October, with a planned opening of 2024.
Like Kansas City’s riverfront, women’s sports have long been overlooked and deemed less valuable, despite little to no effort made to properly develop facilities for them.
that is changing, though, and venues built specifically for women’s sports teams — like the Current’s future $120 million stadium, the country’s first specifically designed and built for only a women’s team — are starting to follow. The Current opened an $18 million training facility this summer, the first such facility built for a pro women’s team. And other pro women’s sports organizations — like the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, which has commenced design and planning work on a more than $60 million, 50,000-square-foot training facility scheduled to open in 2024 — are putting down similar roots.
venues designed intentionally for women’s teams give organizations the total control over their destiny that they’ve historically lacked, whether in terms of revenue, scheduling, or dictating the vibe and feel of the space. An increasingly assertive group of team owners is making owned real estate a priority.
“The good news for us is that with every passing day there are more of them,” said NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman. “This concept of what I describe as early adopters, it’s feeding this massive shift and transformational moment for women’s sports. It’s no longer a question about whether this is going to be sustainable. It’s a question of how quickly will we grow, and how quickly do we want to grow?”
The Storm’s 50,000-square-foot training facility opens in 2024.Courtesy of ZGF Architects
there are no urinals in the proposed Storm training facility, but otherwise there aren’t noticeable differences between that facility and one designed for a men’s team. The same is true in Kansas City. The architects working on the separate projects both quickly removed gender from their thinking.
“We didn’t look at any of the decisions we made on either project starting from, ‘Oh, this is for women, what do women need?’” said Generator Studio Senior Project Designer Jill Monagahan, who is spearheading work on the training facility and stadium in Kansas City. “We started with ‘these are professional soccer players.’ That’s a little bit of a mindset shift that happened in our office.”
Both Ownership groups feature former athletes, so keeping their experience front of mind was central. That’s another aspect that’s long been lacking in women’s sports—facilities geared toward not just women, but female athletes. ZGF partners Katy Bergthe lead designer on the Storm practice facility, pointed to research that asserts women haven’t yet begun to reach their athletic performance potential because so much of physical training, and training spaces, have historically been geared toward men.
how can we ask them to be as good of athletes as is their potential if they don’t have a proper place to train?” said KC’s Long. “I think eleven players see it’s possible, you can’t unsee that. If you want to be your own best player, you need to be part of an organization that has proper facilities.”
Kansas City and Seattle are rare in that their facilities aren’t shared in any way with men’s organizations. But other teams are adding their own specific women’s facilities into men’s settings, like the Phoenix Mercury (and Suns) and Louisville City FC and Racing Louisville FC of the USL.
Women’s sports projects are making an impact on the design and building industries, too. Berg said that 85% of the Storm project team are women, while Monarch Builda Kansas City-based, woman-owned construction firm, is involved in both Current projects, raising its profile significantly.
Importance for the teams
Seattle Storm co-owner Ginny Gildersa former Olympian who came of age during the early years of Title IX, said she’s been thinking about a practice facility for the four-time WNBA champs for at least a decade.
Controlling your destiny is really important,” she said. “To have your own place where you control the feel, the experience, and you can be yourselves authentically … isn’t that why you want to own your own car, your own house, so that you have a safe place?”
Both projects have, or will, receive substantial financing, a process complicated by a lack of precedent. “It’s very difficult to evaluate a business model that’s changing literally as you speak, based on historicals,” said Gilder. “It requires a level of entrepreneurship that I don’t think banks are known for.”
Finance are awakening to the women’s sports opportunity, but Berman and others think financing is being secured because of more assertive ownership groups that are thinking beyond just survival.
“It’s not so much getting lending as who is the equity investor? Who is driving the process? said Long, whose club got financing for its training facility from Academy Bank. “We’re looking to build and invest in something and fortunate enough to have the wherewithal to do that, but if you look among many of the new ownership groups in the NWSL, we all share that in common.”
Team-owned-and-operated real estate is a starting point for taking women’s sports teams, and leagues, to the next level of stability and success. Beyond naming rights and sponsorship opportunities, the Current plans to build more soccer fields on the 75 acres it owns surrounding its training facility for hosting youth soccer tournaments.
“Desde a revenue perspective you control so many layers of levers that you otherwise wouldn’t,” said Chris Longwho co-founded the KC Current with his wife, Angie.
the Storm’s ownership was open about its investment, Gilder said, because they wanted the public, the sports industry, to know that it wasn’t the Seattle Kraken or the NBA paying for the training facility project.
“We’re taking on the financial risk because we believe it’s a great investment,” she said. “We’re investing in a legacy, not a dream.”
Bret McCormick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.