For about 15 years now, the new property group in Sporting Kansas City has thought of a location for a soccer field, making Lamar Hunt’s visionary tell them it would be essential to staying in this city.
The first two options, which were as bright as the offerings were glowing on paper, fell without the bucket hitting the dirt. As they checked out a third, spot near the Kansas Motorcycle Highway, lead owner Cliff Elleg armed with pretty pictures.
“I want to start with a list of who will be in the building,” he said that day. “We will design the building around them.”
The end product was a stadium that would win an international design award before even hosting a match, a multi-tiered tower constructed with locations for its busiest fans, pavilion holders, season ticket members, and everyone in between installation within the 18,500-seat venue. . It was unique, and that was the point – first-time sports owners, even those who admitted they knew little about the sport, decided they didn’t want to be like the rest.
Fifteen years later, Illig is sitting in a fourth-floor suite inside what is now Mercy Park for Children on a weeknight before Sporting KC plays in the US Open quarter-finals. He’s sharing that story – about his early days in sports ownership – while my question is actually about the 2026 World Cup in Kansas.
It is the subject that I Think It was completely different.
But on second thought…
“I think that tells you who we are — that we step in and say, ‘Let’s go and take this World Cup opportunity’ was not that far off from how we do things,” Elleg says.
“You can look at something as an opportunity to do something someone hasn’t done before. Go and find out.”
A brief pause.
“Just don’t screw it up.”
He held on to landing on that last sentence, letting her breathe for a moment before moving on. While the story is initially told to provide an example of a group willing to take risks, in the end its morals are the group that took advantage Features of opportunity.
And no chance, not for this city, will be greater than the one that will arrive in 2026. Elijah cannot stress that enough. The scale of what’s to come – the world’s largest sporting event – is the idea behind this conversation. Illige and Clark Hunt, president and co-owner of the Kansas City Show, were co-chairs of the Kansas City Show, an effort that was also led by Show Director Kathryn Holland and Kansas City Sports Commission Chair Kathy Nelson. The names of those who contributed are inclusive, as they should be.
It’s safe to say, though, that hundreds of Kansasans wouldn’t have gathered inside the Power & Light District a week ago to celebrate its status as a 2026 host city without those plans for a dedicated soccer field two decades ago. or without the redesign and refurbishment of Sporting KC and its world-class supplementary training facilities. Or, therefore, without seeing the big picture of its principal owner who, hours after Kansas City learned it would be included, opened a notebook and began writing.
“I’m not a big believer in the field of dreams — all you have to do is build it and great things will magically happen,” says Elig. “I basically think you have to figure it out. You have to work through it. And I am fully committed to that here in Kansas City. We are going to be the best example of how to host and deliver the World Cup.”
Illig doesn’t yet know how much freedom Kansas City will have in the experience it offers World Cup participants. This is a FIFA tournament, after all. But the Kavkaz Center show is going as if it will be given a long leash, because, well, why not?
Some of these finer details are in development as they are being developed, at least for the time being, before FIFA gives the green light. But most of it is pretty straightforward – consider watching the partying on steroids and festival events all over town. They have to put on a show for thousands that, in the words of Elleg, would be watched by billions.
There is a lot to consider, and frankly, there are a lot of people who can’t wait to look at it.
“Kansas City has an opportunity to show the world what Kansas City really is, what we are all about, what kind of people we have, what kind of lifestyle we have, what kind of economy we have,” says Elig. again – or on that scale.”
This tournament – this Chance It is very personal to Illig, who contributes significant financial resources to help make all of this happen, as well as Hunt, Chairman and CEO of The Royals, John Sherman and others.
We may have gotten to the World Cup by selling FIFA in Kansas City over the past half decade. We may see the Games as an opportunity to sell the rest of the world in Kansas City in 2026.
Elleg sees in the margins.
“Kansas City cannot miss the opportunity to dramatically amplify our long-term potential,” he says.
This piece, he says, is not waiting for the 2026 matches. The moment has come when the name of this city appears in this selection show. If used correctly, the World Cup could have residual effects in ways that have nothing to do with football itself.
It is now a recruitment tool that the business world has not yet enjoyed on its scale. The civic pride is strong enough here to believe that this is a destination, not a highland country, and this is a slightly easier case when this is the company you keep now – New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Houston.
“The potential of the World Cup helps us show Kansas City as a more attractive place to get a job, and grow your family,” Elleg says. So one of the questions is what we should do from a communications strategy standpoint in the coming year. I’m going to suggest that maybe one of the things we should focus on is making sure that everyone in Kansas City, and everyone in our region understands the importance of the World Cup.”
Part of the next several months will involve Illig and Hunt selling corporate sponsors exactly here. This is the way forward in immediacy, although the more I talk to those involved, it is also the way to how we got here.
Kansas City bid officials acknowledged the vast nature of the World Cup and its long-term potential. They’ve shown FIFA that they’re ready to make big dreams come true – but never lose sight of any small details.
When FIFA officials arrived from different parts of the world, the bid organizers had scheduled a time to welcome them at the airport to make sure it wasn’t empty. When FIFA officials arrived at their hotels in Kansas City, they probably couldn’t help but notice the children playing soccer in the grass across the street.
“I research very well the things we are missing, and can’t find anything we haven’t covered,” Elleg said. “And I didn’t find anything I thought we could have done better. And I saw a whole bunch of things out there that I wasn’t really expecting.”
A week ago, I was shocked when Sporting KC chief Jake Reid said FIFA officials had consistently told those involved in the Kansas City bid that no one wanted it more than they did. Since then Illig has spoken with those in the know, and it wasn’t just the energy, but the little details that made a big impression.
Certainly, KC does not become a World Cup host without a new airport on the way. Undoubtedly, the financial components had to be present. The unification of local and state governments would likely be another requirement. The city has marked the boxes that need to be checked.
But this place had to do more than check the boxes. It ranked 34th in terms of market size last year, and every other US city fell into the top 12 list.
We are outside. But while some discounted us because of the size, KC show officials turned the perceived drawback into an advantage. They treated her as the biggest thing to come to this city because he is The biggest thing will come to this city.
FIFA felt it.
Elijah, too. He has experience with this kind of thing. In 1979, he founded Cerner along with Neal Patterson (another former major owner of Sporting KC until his death in 2017) and Paul Gorup. Only the three of them have Cerner grown to 30,000 employees, the largest workforce in the city.
There are lessons still stuck with Illig. Yes, even those who translate to the World Cup show.
“If you participate in that journey — that journey — you get to the point where you appreciate the need to anticipate potential,” says Elig. “How big can this be? What else can we do? This is what drives your plans.”