KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- We were asked to vote on a new arena here in Kansas City a few years ago. The plan -- no, the promise -- was to lure a pro franchise to play in it.
That's how 72 suites were sold in a matter of months. That's what the president of arena giant, AEG, said. You can look it up. Tim Leiweke said we'd have our own franchise (NBA, NHL) when the doors opened in October 2007.
I thought about that watching a thoroughly entertaining preseason NHL game Tuesday night at that arena -- the Sprint Center here in Kansas City. The game was sold out. The hockey was fantastic, Pittsburgh over L.A. 3-2 in an eight-round shootout.
"Kansas City," he told the Kansas City Star, "can take its time."
Whoa, wait a minute. Who is Tim Leiweke telling us what to do when his politicking and false promises got us to this point?
Why not just admit, Tim, that you duped us? Admit that the Sprint Center was built four years ago to become the world's largest concert hall in the first place?
Take our time? How dare you? AEG has taken out full-page ads to proclaim that it is one of the most successful music and entertainment venues in the world. Those 100 nights of Taylor Swift and Lil Wayne and Guns N Roses, may be fun but that's not why we voted $250 million for the Sprint Center.
It was for the promise of attracting a pro franchise and to keep the Big 12 basketball tournament. That second item looks kind of shaky because the Big 12 has almost broken up twice in the last 16 months. I'm sure AEG didn't count on that, but it probably didn't have a four-day, college basketball tournament at the top of its list for building for building Sprint either.
The arena was built to house acts it could funnel through Kansas City. Nothing wrong with that, but I’m trying to come up with a list of cities this size with an arena this new that don't have a pro franchise. Please, someone help me here.
I just wish they'd told us that up front. I would have had a harder time voting for a car rental and entertainment tax to watch Enrique Iglesias and the pro rodeo tour.
“Right now there is not an urgency [to get an anchor tenant],” Leiweke told the Star. “This building is doing phenomenal."
And to that I proclaim B. -- freakin' -- S. Ask the merchants across the street at the Power and Light (entertainment) District who are doing OK, but could be doing so much better with a guaranteed 41 home dates for an NBA or NHL franchise.
One of the biggest days in the P&L's short history was a crowd that gathered to watch a U.S. World Cup game there in 2010. That had nothing to do with the glittering jewel across the street, Sprint just happened to be there.
I get that there has been an economic downturn since the building opened. I get that teams aren't moving and leagues aren't expanding. That's why I feel doubly duped. Leiweke should have never made those claims when he needed our tax dollars to fund his concert hall. I feel doubly duped because Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins ownership group toured the construction site. It turned out to be leverage for the Penguins to get their new building.
We are a college town. Check that, we are a Chiefs and Jayhawks town. You wonder how an NHL or NBA franchise would do on nights when Kansas, Kansas State or Missouri are playing basketball. I still wonder that. I also wonder why I voted for Sprint when the plan all along was to fill it with exhibition games and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Full disclosure: I loved the Paul McCartney show in 2010. At age 68, he rocked the house. Best show I ever saw. But, again, I wouldn't have helped vote $250 million for Paul McCartney either. Meanwhile, the Sonics are now the Thunder in Oklahoma City. Atlanta's Thrashers are now the Winnipeg Jets. Wait, we got scooped by OKC and Winnipeg?
"We're fine without one [anchor tenant]," Leiweke repeated, "and we probably make more money without one."
If that isn't an indication of AEG's true intentions, I don't know what is. Make money, sure? Just don't lie to us how you're going to make it. We're no closer to being a better major-league town than we were when the first shovel was stuck in the ground for Sprint. Well, unless you can't wait to see Jeff Dunham, Monster Jam and something called Nuclear Cowboyz.
It was a great night for the Kansas City hockey community on Tuesday. They got out there and sold a lot of tickets. The announced attendance of 17,779 was the most ever to watch hockey in our town.
However, it was a horrible night for the Sprint Center. When the puck dropped there were still thousands of people outside waiting to get in. Sprint/AEG apparently hasn't figured out that it needs to open more doors when there are a lot of people outside. There was literally more room marked off for smokers outside than there were for people with tickets waiting to get in.
Also, at a sold out event it might be a good idea to open all the concession stands. I missed half the game waiting in line with my son for food. At least the game presentation was good. The first period intermission featured a commercial for the 2012 Camry. One was driven on the ice, in case you didn't get that Toyota was a sponsor.
A wing-eating contest was being shown on the big screen during a face-off. The public address announcer didn't know the names of players as he was announcing goals.
I still would say the Kansas City deserves the NHL or NBA. But after the frustration of these four years, the question has changed. Does Kansas City deserve AEG?