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The first stadium built for professional women’s sport – with the help of Patrick Mahomes

CPKC Stadium - The first stadium built for professional women's sport – with the help of Patrick Mahomes
CPKC Stadium is the world's first purpose-built women's professional sports stadium - Getty Images/Jamie Squire

The fans’ banner, unfurled as kick-off approached, read “There’s no place like home” and the words of fictional Kansas-based character Dorothy could scarcely have been more apt. This was the day Kansas City Current opened their new stadium and in doing so ensured that they stand out for more than the fact that Super Bowl winner Patrick Mahomes is a co-owner.

Only three and a half years old, the National Women’s Soccer League team now have their own $117 million (£92 million) home ground – the CPKC Stadium, on the banks of the Missouri river – and it was constructed specifically for women’s football. It is the first time a professional women’s team have built their own dedicated home venue, making it a landmark moment for the NWSL and the wider game.

A general view of CPKC Stadium - The first stadium built for professional women's sport – with the help of Patrick Mahomes
The team has already sold out of season tickets for the 2024 regular season - Getty Images/Jamie Squire

And in front of a sold-out, 11,500-strong crowd, Kansas City Current could hardly have dreamt of a more dramatic opening, as they won 5-4 against Portland Thorns in a thriller befitting the significance of this stadium’s unveiling.

Angie and Chris Long, the couple who co-own the club together with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his wife Brittany, say they founded the team in 2020 because of the “power of female role models” and the “great investment opportunity”. It is that commercial focus which has driven them to build a bespoke stadium for women.

Kansas City Current players - The first stadium built for professional women's sport – with the help of Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Current's match against Portland Thorns marked the first time the ABC network broadcasted a NWSL game - Getty Images/Jamie Squire

“People asked us, ‘Why do you guys need your own stadium, can’t you just play in someone else’s stadium?’ and I’d like to know what major, successful sport franchise in the world is just happy to be a tenant?” Angie Long says, explaining their motives ahead of the stadium’s official opening.

“It’s because it’s your own, it’s designed for you, the home locker room is yours, it’s branded with your brand and that means something. Financially it’s completely justified as well because you’re not paying someone else to rent and you’re generating a tremendous amount more revenue opportunities. It’s also to drive long-term fandom, in a way that isn’t possible when you’re renting someone else’s facilities. You’re always the second priority when you share someone else’s facility. Your hands are tied a little bit if you don’t control the facilities.”

The Longs also point to the benefits of having priority over kick-off times, of having assets to sell such as stadium naming rights and of stocking out an entire club shop with the women’s team’s replica shirts. But what other advantages are there which are specific to housing a women’s team and its fans?

“There are certain details around how you would design a bathroom in a locker room,” Angie explains. “That’s just more women-friendly than men-friendly, and everything for us was about creating the right culture and the right environment.”

Messaging has been installed as such. For example, the words of the landmark Title IX civil rights law of 1972, which prohibited sex-based discrimination and is widely regarded as having contributed to vast increases in female participation in school and college-level sports in the US, are printed on the walls of one of the stadium’s VIP areas.

Commercially, the stadium lists an urban winery among its list of local hospitality partners for food and drinks – understood to be a nod to research-led choices of beverages being sold based on what the team’s fans like (beer is available too). You enter the ground using your smartphone, seemingly recognising the youthful demographic of the crowd, and there is also more than a nod to the environment, with no single-use plastic bottles or cups sold at the venue and a zero waste policy.

Extensive efforts have been made to make the venue feel completely inclusive, whether through its sign language interpretation of the big-screen announcements, or its sensory rooms, and all 9,500 season tickets sold out pre-season, leaving 2,000 further seats available on a match-by-match basis. Those were all packed for the season opener for the team coached by Vlatko Andonovski, the former US women’s national team coach.

The media area – the Grant Wahl Memorial Press Box – has been named in memory of the legendary American sports writer Wahl, born in Kansas, who died while covering the 2022 men’s World Cup in Qatar and had helped to design the press areas for the stadium.

Wahl played a huge part in the growth of the sport – for men and women – in the US, but as it looks to grow even further, could more clubs follow Kansas City Current’s lead and build their own venues?

“We were the first and we won’t be the last,” Angie adds. “It’s just getting started. The players deserve this. It’s not a ridiculous expectation but this begins to feel like the new norm. For too long, many female athletes were used to the norm of being ‘second’ and we can set the model that they aren’t and we change the perspective. Hopefully what we’ve been able to accomplish will give people the courage but also the educational knowledge that, financially, it makes sense to do this.”

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