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Official Review by Dennis Morrell, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
For the first twelve years of their existence, the Kansas City MLS franchise spent their time on a pitch reserved for the NFL's Chiefs in the cavernous Arrowhead Stadium. The next three years were spent sharing land with the lower minor league baseball T-Bones in a playing field more resembling a triangle than a rectangle. Now, however, all of that has been forgotten, except for a championship in 2000.
After being known as the Wiz the first year before adding a vowel and three consonants to become the Wizards in 1997, the team enters the 2011 season as Sporting Kansas City and have brought with them new team colors, a new identity and new life. Add to these changes the newest venue in Major League Soccer, LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, and you have an opportunity to build success through a remarkable game experience.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Fans can indulge in basic food and drink at stands in the main concourse near sections 101, 114, 117, 119, 123, 126, 128 and 134. There are rolling concession stands featuring cotton candy, popcorn, Corona and Budweiser products. Nothing special, but you won't have trouble finding a place to get nourished while watching the action on the pitch!
LIVESTRONG Sporting Park is built where the seating areas are connected by one singular, wide concourse. You walk down to your seat from this concourse. Above the seating area is an aesthetically-pleasing rim that uniquely keeps noise inside the seating areas and pitch.
The north end is reserved for the team's supporters known as BLUE HELL. If your ticket indicates your seat is somewhere between sections M4-M9, you will be standing, cheering loudly and chanting songs the entire game with your new friends. Although I cannot recommend this area for children as the behavior and language bordered on salty, it is a great place to view a match where the fans are right on top of the end line.
If your ticket designates you as having a "standing-room only" spot, head right to the east end of the stadium beneath the smaller of the two scoreboards. There you will be perched above the team's most ardent supporters and able to provide a little more volume to their roar.
As with most soccer-specific MLS venues, fans are treated to an intimate setting, one that leaves you feeling you are a part of the match and in many cases with seating that puts you right on top of the field. I sat in section 133, fifth row from the top and with a satisfying view of the one goal, but still near enough to midfield to be able to see open-play closely.
It's almost overdone, but LIVESTRONG Sporting Park is certainly nestled in a diverse collection of stores, restaurants, hotels, a minor league baseball stadium and a motor speedway. The development is known as Village West and is eleven miles west of downtown Kansas City and just north of where I-435 and I-70 meet.
You can spend a full day in this area and some visitors will do just that in hopes of finding a free parking spot by skipping the designated parking areas. More on this later.
Perhaps it was because the night I attended marked opening night for Sporting Kansas City after a league-record eleven-game road trip to start the season. The 19,000 plus fans including the Blue Hell behind the North goal were everything you would expect. They chanted, sang and propelled banners overhead across multiple sections throughout the game. The supporters group is known as The Cauldron, and they are about as good as it gets when it comes to MLS or sports fans in general.
The entire stadium was involved in the game thanks to a robust and engaged crowd. Even with a crowd filled with die-hard fans and those just wanting to be part of an opening of a new facility, it was clear the capacity-crowd was heard as one and fully involved in the energy generated for the home team.
Parking is available throughout the surrounding area, but it comes with a risk. Because LIVESTRONG Sporting Park is situated within a shopping and restaurant district, parking is available, but be careful, it is not close or free even though it might seem to be.
To the west of the stadium, parking is available and depending upon whether you have a pass or not determines how far the walk. Most importantly, parking is free the lots that are part of the stadium. But please know, designated parking for soccer fans extends west and only in that direction.
The stadium is surrounded on the other three other sides by parking for restaurant patrons and shoppers. There are security guards making sure those who park around the eateries and shops do business and stay there a while and are not headed to the soccer game. Choose to wear team attire and head in the direction of the game and you will find a souvenir in the form of a fine for illegal parking.
My advice is to pay the $10 and walk a ways. You will enjoy the game better knowing the parking will not increase to $40 or $60 by the time you return to your car.
The venue has an appropriate amount of restrooms for both men and women.
Tickets are appropriately priced for a new venue. After years of playing in a cavernous venue and then for a few years in one where the rectangular pitch was jammed into a triangular seating area, everything about the atmosphere fit into all you would want in an MLS venue.
There are some over priced areas such as midfield and down low near the benches. Avoid these areas as you will be left with a sense of being cheated.
Best Value Ticket "" the best ticket for the money is a $25 ticket in the high rows of sections 127, 128, 131 or 132. In these seats, you face the action on the benches and have balance between midfield and goal action. The high row seats provide a better perspective of the field and are fewer steps from the main concourse, the only way to get to any seat.
If you like facing the team benches so you can get a great view of the activity, you will want to sit in sections 125 through 134 on the south side of the field as the benches are on the north side.
Ticket "" for those who like the decorative ticket usually reserved for printed tickets belonging to season ticket holders, you will be pleased. Each ticket has a unique graphic on it.
Program "" like most MLS clubs, the program is included in the price of the ticket and you get it on the way into the venue Also, Free Kick is the official MLS publication and it features league stories as well as details of several upcoming games. I like the size of the League program as it is about 5" x 7" and is easy to hold and thumb through unlike the larger, traditional-sized programs.
Merchandise "" the typical merchandise you would expect to find at an MLS match, but not much variety. I realize this might have been due to the team having its first game, but it would seem with such a golden opportunity for their opening night there would have been more to choose from in their two stores.
Scoreboard "" two main scoreboards, the largest of the two is behind the West goal. The video screen dominates this end of the field with the East end possessing a similarly dominating, but slightly smaller scoreboard.
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