New venues for KC Current, Seattle Storm are at the forefront of the women’s sports facility trend
KC Current’s new stadium is scheduled to open in 2024.Courtesy of Shive Hattery
KC Current co-owner Angie Lang occasionally jogged in Berkley Riverfront Park in Kansas City. As she walked along the banks of the lazy Missouri River, Long imagined a football stadium lining the tranquil park. She could almost hear the drums and chants from the fans.
That needed some imagination as the river bank has been overlooked for a long time and was even a dumping ground for many years. The city has cleared the area, built the park and considerable development has ensued, including the football stadium Long envisioned for their NWSL team. Groundbreaking for an 11,500-seat venue will take place in October, with opening planned for 2024.
As On the Kansas City riverfront, women’s sports have long been overlooked and considered less valuable, although little to no effort has been made to develop proper facilities for them.
That That’s changing, however, and venues built specifically for women’s sports teams — like The Current’s future $120 million stadium, the first designed and built specifically for just a women’s team –– are beginning to follow. The Current opened an $18 million training facility this summer, the first such facility built for a women’s professional team. And other women’s professional sports organizations — like the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, which has begun design and planning work for a 50,000-square-foot, $60 million training facility due to open in 2024 — are putting down similar roots.
Venues Purposely designed for women’s teams, organizations give organizations total control over their destiny that they have lacked in the past, be it in terms of revenue, scheduling or dictating the atmosphere and feel of the space. An increasingly assertive group of team owners are making their own properties a priority.
“That Good news for us is that there are more of them every day,” said the NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman. “This concept, which I am describing as an early adopter, is feeding this massive shift and transformational moment for women’s sport. Whether this is sustainable is no longer a question. It’s about how fast we’re growing and how fast we want to grow?”
The Storm’s 50,000-square-foot training facility will open in 2024.Courtesy of FZS Architects
there There are no urinals at the proposed Storm training facility, but otherwise there are no noticeable differences between this facility and a facility designed for a men’s team. The same goes for Kansas City. The architects who worked on each project were both quick to remove gender from their thinking.
“We We didn’t look at any of the decisions that we made on either project based on ‘Oh this is for women, what do women need?’” he said Generator Studio Lead project designer Jill Monaghan, who oversees work on the Kansas City training facility and stadium. “We started with ‘These are professional soccer players.’ It’s a small mindset change that has taken place in our office.”
Both Ownership groups are made up of former athletes, so keeping track of their experiences was key. This is another aspect that has long been lacking in women’s sport – facilities that cater not just to women but to female athletes. FZS partner Kathy Bergthe lead designer of the Storm exercise facility, pointed to research claiming that because so much physical training and workout spaces have historically been geared towards men, women have not yet begun to realize their athletic potential.
“As Can we ask them to be the best athletes they can be if they don’t have a convenient place to train?” said KC’s Long. “I think once the players see it’s possible, they can’t ignore it. If you want to be your own best player, you have to be part of an organization that has the proper facilities.”
Kansas City and Seattle are rare in that their facilities are in no way shared with men’s organizations. But other teams are adding their own specific women’s facilities to the men’s settings, such as Phoenix Mercury (and Suns) and USL’s Louisville City FC and Racing Louisville FC.
ladies Sports Projects also impact the design and construction industries. Berg said that 85% of the Storm project team are women Monarch builda Kansas City-based, women-owned construction company, has interests in both Current projects, significantly raising its profile.
importance for the teams
Seattle Storm co-owner Ginny Gildera former Olympian who came of age in the early years of Title IX said she had been considering a practice facility for the four-time WNBA champions for at least a decade.
“Check Their destiny is really important,” she said. “Having your own place where you can control the feel and the experience and be authentically yourself…isn’t that why you want to own your own car, your own house, so you have a safe place?”
Both Projects have or will receive significant funding, a process complicated by the lack of precedent. “It is It’s very difficult to evaluate a business model that’s literally changing as you speak, based on historical data,” Gilder said. “It takes a level of entrepreneurship that I don’t think banks are known for.”
financiers recognize the sports opportunities for women, but Berman and others believe funding is secured because more assertive ownership groups are thinking beyond just survival.
“It is not so much lending, but who is the equity investor? Who is driving the process?” said Long, whose club received funding for its training facility from Academy Bank. “We want to build something and invest in something and are fortunate to have the wherewithal to do so, but if you look at a lot of the new ownership groups in the NWSL we all have 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. Aside from naming rights and sponsorship opportunities, The Current plans to build additional soccer fields on the 75 hectares it owns around its training facility to host youth soccer tournaments.
“Out of In terms of sales, you control so many levels of leverage that you wouldn’t otherwise have,” he said Chris Langwho founded the KC Current together with his wife Angie.
That Storm’s ownership has been open about his investment, Gilder said, because they wanted the public, the sports industry, to know it wasn’t the Seattle Kraken or the NBA that paid for the training facility project.
“was we take the financial risk because we think it’s a great investment,” she said. “We invest in a legacy, not a dream.”
Bret McCormick can be reached at [email protected].