I’ve seen a lot of great fan engagement around the world, participated in some great global fan experiences and met some creative sports business people over the years but tonight at Sporting Kansas I witnessed next level fan experience. It is incredible here and the fans love it. I have never met such passionate fans in all my travels. The fan engagement was outstanding. From the MySKC photo, their SKC app, the healthy food options to the TV’s in the toilets and local Kansas craft beer and coffee collabs, the fan zone and the way they let their fans pass a recent winning trophy around the whole stadium resulted in an epic fan experience.
Backtracking slightly and it’s 1am in NYC and I’m up and roaring to go for a 3am flight first to Chicago with a two hour stop over and then another two hour flight into Kansas City for today’s MLS game. I’ve heard a lot about the SKC fan experience at Sporting Park so I’m running on excitement as I navigate La Guardia, Chicago O’Hare and Kansas City airports on this gorgeous Wednesday morning in America.
This was one of the pictures I snapped of the landscape from up high.
I caught an uber from my Kansas airport hotel to Sporting Park around 4pm and I could not have had a more knowledgable driver on Kansas and it’s sporting teams. Having talked to my driver, Abdi on the half hour highway journey out to the stadium, it sounds like theres a real community spirit here amongst SKC, Chiefs and Royals fans.
Listen to our chat about Kansas and its sporting teams here:
After being dropped off at Sporting Park, I picked up my pass and started to soak up the atmosphere as fans were streaming in for this MLS fixture against the Colorado Rapids.
It was really nice to see that the stadium was supportive of their local teams as they played the Royals MLB game on the big screen before the game got underway. Its something I’ve seen a bit more of on this trip with teams throwing their support behind other local teams like Mr Met’s appearance at the Devils game.
The SKC App
The SKC app is one of the best around from a sporting team or stadium. Why? Developed by Sporting Innovations just down the road here in Kansas, the app has some very cool functions.
Fans can access 360 degree view game replays for key moments, view play by play details and view a heat map of the team. As well as this, the app allows fans to take their personalised picture with the MySKC function that has a new pre-loaded background template in the app which then when accessed by the club enables fans to have their pictures shown on the big screens. Fans also have access to buy food, drinks and tickets through the app as well so the convenience is there for all fans to utilise.
I was instantly impressed with the fan zone around the stadium that featured inflatable jumping castle type kids activities, a smaller football pitch and free giveaways from a local hospital. The wall feature is also a good photo opportunity for fans.
Walking around at half time I also found a sports bar which was one of the biggest I’ve seen in a stadium before. Complete with scarves, big screen TV’s and comfy seating you’d think you were in an actual bar and not a stadium.
One of the really neat things about Sporting Park is that SKC has a few exciting local collaborations with coffee company The Roasteries producing their special ‘Sporting Blend’ and Boulevard Brewing’s Boulevard beer which was delicious! (Is the worst thing about travel being that you can’t really lug around a 6 pack? I’d be buying cartons of these if it was easier)
There are plenty of tasty options here from healthy vegetarian, gluten free and vegan options like salad wraps and carrots and hummus packs to endless BBQ fare varieties, gourmet hot dogs and even meat pies!
The Fan Experience
While at Sporting Park, I was able to talk to SKC’s Digital and Comms manager, Jonathan Kaplan who talked extensively at half time with me about the fan experience here. It’s the little things that make the fan experience at SKC so special as for instance before the game started fans had been encouraged to arrive early for a special pregame ceremony where the club owner addressed fans thanking them for their support. It wasn’t one of those generic thanks though, fans seemed to really love this owner and the way he genuinely speaks to them as here it’s obvious that everyone is apart of one big soccer family. Jonathan explained that at Sporting KC they really try hard to cater for every fan’s needs and that it’s all about the kids and getting them hooked from an early age.
The team do these great pre-game videos as well which informs fans about all the key info ahead of the game
I was also very fortunate to chat with Andy from Boulevard Brewing who shared his story about what the term fan experience means to him. It’s a great story so I encourage you to listen in here:
I loved how all the way finder signs and toilet signs had little soccer men and women figures kicking soccer balls around as their image. The little touches go a long way for fans. They also have HD TV’s and surround sound in the toilets so you don’t miss any of the action!
In game Fan Engagement
The crowd at MLS needed no extra fan engagement fun as they were one of the most rocking vocal crowds I’d witnessed across my sport travels. Hear the SKC fans now:
The SKC team did a few of the same things that I’d witnessed at other US games like ‘guess which ball or where the ball is’ and trivia on the big screen however they took it a step further with the wiener race that saw fans race 50m then try to kick a goal while holding a hot dog. It sounds ridiculous and odd but I swear this had the most laughs and was strangely hilarious to watch. That’s the thing about fan engagement though as it can be free to set up, fun for fans, random to watch yet all it needs is creativity.
While other activations also included a photo booth, face painting, commemorative scarf giveaways and autograph signings, the best fan engagement activation on the night wasn’t from a sponsor but was when the US Open Cup trophy which SKC had recently won, was passed around the whole stadium. Every fan in every stand got to touch it and take a photo as the game went on as a SKC rep kept a close eye on the cup from a distance. This was truly a great idea but having talked to Jonathan later on in the night he informed me that they also let select fans take home another trophy for a day each and allowed them to do a trophy takeover style bit of fun on the clubs social media whereby some fans took the trophy out to dinner. It’s really obvious that the fans here love soccer and this club such is the devotion they have but also as the club listens to them and goes out of its way to be creative and supportive of fans needs and ideas.
The stadium is serviced by free high speed WiFi which was very fast throughout the game even though they were having some issues on the night where it was dropping out, but it sounded like this was a one off. Again it was good to see another club and stadium with an impressive interactive and integrated app.
SKC Fan Engagement
- MySKC in app function allowing fans to take a picture and have it personalised with a foreground overlay shot. This game featured the two team jerseys.
- Local collaborations with a coffee company and beer brewery to produce two SKC styles of beer and coffee. Sporting Blend from The Roasterie and Sporting Boulevard from Boulevard Brewing. Both nice drops!
- Experience upgrade offers in the SKC app for fans to score upgrades
- Ability to add credit in the app to make purchases inside the stadium for food, ticketing, merch.
- Skills tests for kids. Inflatable soccer field as well as smaller fields for football fun
- Free zip bag giveaways from a local hospital for Breast Cancer Awareness month
- TV’s in the loos so you don’t miss any of the action
- Loo’s all have funky soccer type pics on them which is a nice fan touch
- Healthy options including vegan food. The stand and food looked fresh and healthy.
- Salute to service and hero’s of the game. Defence veteran respect
- Trivia on the big screens for fans
- ‘Weiner Race’ where fans had to run with a hot dog and kick a football into the net. Was random but strangely fun to watch.
- Raffles for prizes
- ‘Where’s The Winner’ fans have to guess which ball on the big screen is the winning ball. Bit of fun for kids.
- Freebies deals for fans post match if team hits a certain target like 2 goals or a win.
- Fans were able to pass the US Open Cup around the stadium so every fan was able to get a picture and see the cup up close. This was one of the best ideas I’d seen.
- Face painting
- Autograph signing
- Photo booth
- Commemorative scarf celebration and giveaways
The SKC fan experience is one of the best I’ve seen in the MLS as not only are the club continuing to do some exciting things and set the benchmarks for world class fan engagement but the fans here are very loud and passionate and they want to and do get to have their say on club matters. While the NYRB and LA Galaxy stadiums both have great set up’s for fan engagement and those teams provide a really fun day out however Sporting Park for a SKC game feels like you’re apart of a big family who are all passionate about not only the team (which every team does) but also apart of contributing to the stadium experience for fellow fans. It feels like every fan here (with female fans making up a larger than normal presence for a teams membership base) has greatly invested into this fan experience for the betterment of soccer in Kansas and the US. The culture here is one of support and respect for fans and where fans are able to access smart fan first technology which greatly adds to the fan experience.