Sam Mellinger has a fantastic profile of Cliff Illig in the Kansas City Star. Seriously, go read it. And if you haven’t already, you should subscribe to the Star. It’s important to support local news and we at The Blue Testament want to continue to bring attention to their good work, especially as it pertains to Sporting Kansas City.
If you aren’t familiar with Illig, he’s one of the billionaires behind Sporting KC. He along with his former business partner, the late Neal Patterson, started Cerner, the largest employer in KC. They (along with Robb Heinemann, Greg Maday and Pat Curran) bought the then Kansas City Wizards from Lamar Hunt in 2006 and rebranded the club into Sporting Kansas City in late 2010.
Illig claims to have known nothing about soccer before purchasing SKC. It’s actually a story that mirrors his starting of Cerner since he apparently knew nothing about healthcare. For Illig, it was all about his love of Kansas City. He and Patterson would go on to be intimately involved in the building of SKC’s soccer specific stadium but in recent years he’s turned control over to his son Mike Illig.
But Cliff didn’t stop with just the stadium. He now owns a farm that grows grass for both Children’s Mercy Park and other fields. Concessions aren’t outsourced any longer but handled in house. And they started Fan Three Sixty, “a fan-data company considered to be among the best in the country.”
Illig literally turned Sporting KC from a team that was potentially going to be relocated to a model franchise. “They’re the model,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “There isn’t a new expansion owner who’s not spending time talking with Cliff and going to Kansas City and seeing the facility.”
Again, you should go read the profile to gain a deeper understanding of Illig.
Here are a few of the many interesting facts about Illig from the story:
- According to Mellinger, Illig recently had a National Hockey League (NHL) team call about moving a team to Kansas City (though, “he didn’t take it seriously.”).
- Plus, you’ll all remember the rumors that the ownership group was looking into purchasing Everton in the English Premier League.
- He has $250 million in venture capital invested in KC area businesses
- He’s stupid rich (164-foot yacht, houses in Arizona and Vail, Gulfstream G450)
- He’s friends with George Brett (sweet!)
- He wants Kansas City to be the “Silicon Valley of agriculture”