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Kansas City will have the first stadium specifically for women's professional sports

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Women's professional soccer is drawing record attendance. It is spawning expansion teams. But despite the growing popularity, no U.S. team plays in a stadium of its own. As Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, a new stadium going up in Kansas City will change that, maybe launch a new era in women's sports.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Kansas City has a painful history with women's soccer. It had a team, FC KC, that won two national championships before owners pulled the plug. The new team is the Kansas City Current.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Make some noise for your Kansas City Current.

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MORRIS: But like all U.S. women's soccer clubs, the Current plays in a stadium built for another team.

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MORRIS: But that's changing, and fans like Marybeth Thompson (ph) and Erin Atherton are stoked.

MARYBETH THOMPSON: Women get their own stadium, and we get to be put on the map.

ERIN ATHERTON: It's incredible to happen to live in this city that's building the first stadium for a women's professional team. Like, I can't believe our luck. So, like, we can't wait for it to open and to go to that first game.

MORRIS: But there's a lot of work to do between now and the home opener.

SCOTT JENKINS: So it's hurry up time. We're getting close to the finish line, got to be ready to play soccer in March. And as you can see, it's still a construction site.

MORRIS: Scott Jenkins, vice president of facilities development for the Kansas City Current, is walking past heavy equipment, big holes in the ground toward the swooping white steel frame of a budding new stadium.

JENKINS: You know, this is everything a world-class stadium is going to be. I would say it's intimate, and it's purpose built for women's sports.

MORRIS: For one thing, it's going to be relatively small. Arrowhead Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs play football, holds more than 76,000 people. The new KC Current stadium will top out initially at 11,500.

KATRINA HAWKINS: I'm looking forward to seeing it packed.

MORRIS: Katrina Hawkins, who runs the team's fan club, says all the seats will be close to the action. Players won't see empty stands, and the stadium's engineered to be extra loud. It'll be decked in teal and red, the KC Current's team colors. But the fan club is called KC Blue Crew. That name honors the team's earlier women's soccer team, the one abandoned by ownership. Hawkins says the new $125 million stadium is a concrete commitment to the future of women's soccer.

HAWKINS: Here, when you invest money in something, it shows that you respect people, and I think that's something that women's sports have long needed and deserved.

MORRIS: Part of the money for the new stadium comes from Brittany Mahomes, who played college soccer before marrying Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The KC Current's other co-owners are professional investors.

CHRIS LONG: Chris Long. I'm the CEO and founder of Palmer Square Capital Management.

MORRIS: Long's enthusiastic about women's soccer, same with his daughter and wife. He says the new stadium is making a statement, but mainly it's about making money.

LONG: We think this has multiples of growth in it, and we've spent a lot of time around the financial modeling. We did a ton of due diligence.

MORRIS: Long says the new stadium is close to being sold out for next year, and season tickets are steep - upwards of $600. The stadium is going up in a long-neglected section of riverfront, fueling a marketing buzz around the team. The Current's not all that successful, and yet its flags and T-shirts are all over town. Game attendance regularly breaks records, and the club is already worth more than all but two other National Women's Soccer League teams.

LONG: Which brings in more and more investors, brings in more and more corporate sponsors, brings a higher level of media. There's very much a momentum-begets-momentum approach to showing what facilities can do for professional women's sports.

MORRIS: Long says that showing the potential of building a new women's soccer stadium in a smaller city, smack in the middle of the country, could help other teams move out of men's arenas, get stadiums of their own and start closing the huge financial gap between men's and women's sports. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.