Every year, Sports Illustrated releases their annual MLS Ambition Rankings. This year is no different with Sporting Kansas City coming in at the number seven spot in 2019. That’s up one spot from 2018 and it’s quite the achievement for a small market team like Kansas City.
One interesting story that comes out along the Ambition Rankings are complete answers directly from Sporting KC that SI uses to come up with those rankings. The Blue Testament highly recommends reading all the answers but we wanted to highlight some interesting info that jumped out at us.
Johnny Russell Isn’t a DP?
The questions and story from Sports Illustrated came out before the 2019 SKC salaries were released. Now we know that Johnny Russell is the highest paid player on the Sporting KC roster (and in club history) coming in at $1.7 million in guaranteed compensation. At the time of the story, Felipe Gutierrez was listed as the highest ever paid player (the question was just asked from 2016-2018, so that’s still true).
In a continuation of their answer about money spent on Designated Players (DP) and transfer fees, SKC said:
“[The club] also strategically built a roster with impact players whose salaries are above maximum budget charge but are bought down with allocation money and are not considered Designated Players (i.e. Johnny Russell...)”
Even in 2018 Russell was the team’s second highest paid player in the late season salary release which showed he made $1,331,578.92. It seems odd that he wouldn’t be a DP since it would be more expensive to buy down his deal than someone paid less (unless they have a large transfer fee which gets spread out over the duration of the deal). The league lists him as a DP on their official site and have since prior to the salary release.
One final bit from that answer that’s pretty telling about Sporting KC’s willingness to spend.
“Sporting KC leads the league in the total number of TAM/DP players and in 2019, it will spend eight figures on on its roster—double what the club spent as recently as 2017.”
How Much Did SKC Get for Nemeth?
In a question about transfer fees for outgoing players the answer given to SI indicated that Nemeth was sold “for a reported fee of $3 million in January 2016.” That’s a number we’ve heard over and over but the KC Star reported he was sold for just $1.5 million. Let’s choose to believe it’s the higher number and then they got him back for a fraction of that amount. Oh, and if you hadn’t heard, he has 11 goals in all competitions in 2019. Trader Pete wins again.
One thing that has become quite clear over the last few years is that SKC are invested in their pipeline.
“All six Sporting Kansas City Academy teams (U12 through U19) are fully funded [read: free] as part of a youth development investment that amounts to more than $1 million annually.”
The story goes on to talk about Sporting KC’s “Centers for Excellence” for age groups below the SKC Academy. The story mentions quite a bit of other investments but one of the jewels is the “ $20 million, 12-field, 52-acre youth complex that opened in 2017.” In a recent interview, Brian Bliss indicated he wants the SKC Academy to start at the U-9 level instead of just U-12.
Let’s Talk Scouting
The answer about scouting is so promising, let’s hear the whole thing.
“Sporting Kansas City has significantly expanded its domestic and international scouting operations in 2019 with the addition of four full-time talent identification directors to the technical staff. Each will oversee scouting in specified regions across the globe while reporting to Manager/Sporting Director Peter Vermes, Technical Director/VP-Player Personnel Brian Bliss, and Assistant Director of Player Personnel Meghan Cameron. Combined with the team’s handful of part-time domestic scouts, there are now a dozen individuals at the club collaboratively focused on scouting.”
With four full-time scouts starting in 2019 that means we haven’t even seen the team reap the benefits of that investment as all their previous international moves were from part-time scouts. Now it doesn’t ensure success as scouts are still likely to miss on certain signings, but it would seem to increase the odds that the team finds a good fit when signing new players.
The domestic scouting is already well known for bringing in players who were outside SKC’s Homegrown territory. Think future stars like Gianluca Busio and Jaylin Lindsey.
Season Ticket Information
At the time of the answer to SI, SKC was still on it’s sell-out streak stretching back to April 2012 which has since been broken. The team indicated that they’ve capped season tickets at 12,000 and there is still a waiting list. As someone who is on that list in case I get to move home in the next year or two, I get a call every year for tickets so I wonder if the number is true or if they are just trying to sell to the waitlisted people as well. It’s possible it was true and since this answer was given before the season things have since changed as well.
The team indicated they made a “multi-million dollar investment in and around the field of play” at CMP this past offseason. Upgrades include the well publicized electric field heating system to the grow lights to grow the grass when the sun just doesn’t want to shine in KC.
They also indicated they added synthetic turf around the perimeter of the field, that the grass itself is new (Cliff Illig has a farm to grow grass for Sporting KC and other teams), new video board extensions were added and lots of upgrades in the premium spaces around the stadium.
Swope Park Rangers Pay
When talking about their USL Championship club the Swope Park Rangers, they indicated they are “spending half a million dollars on USL contracts (currently 13 players under USL contracts).” That answer was given to SI before the season clearly as the team now has 25 players under contract, though a great deal of those players are on academy contracts and I suspect (but don’t know for sure) that they are amateurs and not paid. If we divide the $500K among the 13 players that means they pay an average of $38,461.53. That’s not great money, but MLS’ minimum salary was $11,500 just over a decade ago, so progress is being made.
Overall, the Sports Illustrated story is well worth your time to read. Lots of good info and no matter how poorly this season is going, SKC are still being quite ambitious.