Soccer executive tells of successful rebranding effort

by Murrel Bland

Greg Cotton suddenly realized the new name of the soccer team would be accepted when he overhead a couple of 20-somethings in a bar praising “Sporting Kansas City.”

“That was the demographic that we wanted to reach,” Cotton said. Cotton was the featured speaker Friday, Aug. 1, at a Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce membership meeting at the new City View at St. Margaret’s loft apartments.

Cotton, who is the chief operating officer and legal counsel for the soccer team, said that the rebranding changed from the Wizards when the team moved in 2011 to the new state-of-the-art stadium in Village West. The name change has been quite successful, despite initial criticism from sports commentators including Jack Harry of KSHB-TV 41. Cotton is also chairman-elect of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

The team can trace its history to 1996 when it began as “The Wiz.” That name didn’t last very long as those who owned the copyrighted “Wiz” musical name threatened legal action. Owner Lamar Hunt changed the name to The Wizards in 1997.

Hunt sold the team in 2006 to the On Goal group; the principals included Neal Patterson and Cliff Illig, two of the founders of the Cerner company, a medical software firm that is fast becoming one of the largest private employers in the Kansas City Area.

In 2008, the team moved to Community America Ballpark as a temporary location until its new stadium could be built.

Cotton said that Jeff Lind, who was then manager of Nebraska Furniture Mart, called him and said the store owned 14 acres that might be a location for a soccer stadium. The $180 million venue was completed in 2011, thanks to sales tax bonds issued by the state of Kansas that paid for infrastructure.

Cotton said the club looked at other locations including those in Johnson County and the Bannister Mall area in Kansas City, Mo., but decided on the Village West location. Part of the consideration for issuing the bonds was Cerner’s commitment to building two office buildings that will employee more than 4,000.

Cotton talked briefly about the national training center for soccer coaches and referees that will use some of the property that Schitterbahn owns and several acres just to the east. The center is expected to attract more than 30,000 room nights annually for hotels. It will have 17 soccer fields covering more than 100,000 square feet, Cotton said. It is expected to be open in 2016.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is executive director of Business West.

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