Exclusive: The CEO of AEG, Tim Leiweke, says anchor tenant could 'kill' Sprint Center

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Where does Kansas City stand on landing an NHL or NBA anchor tenant for the Sprint Center?

41 Action News Sports Director Jack Harry sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with AEG CEO Tim Leiweke on Thursday, and the AEG chief openly discussed the topic. Leiweke's company operates the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City, Mo.

Jack found out Leiweke has changed his tune. When Sprint Center opened on Oct. 10, 2007, Leiweke said the plan was to bring an anchor tenant. But that has changed.

"Even I've been converted," Leiweke said. "Now, I'm looking at it going, ‘be careful.' I still think a team is coming. But, I think it's going to take some time."

Leiweke told Jack he came to Kansas City for a private dinner with business leaders. They discussed at that meeting whether they should make another effort to go after an anchor tenant. Leiweke said that Sprint Center is succeeding because of the diversity of events it attracts. That includes music events, college basketball games and other sporting events. He said an anchor tenant would mean there would be 40 nights fewer for those diverse events.

"So instead of last night and the Miami Heat playing here or Taylor Swift playing two or three nights at Sprint Center, we probably lose a lot of that," Leiweke said. "What everyone in the business community believes is the diversity of those events is far more appealing than trying to go compete with the Royals and the Chiefs and the soccer team and trying to pull more money out of season tickets. So if there's a team that is moving, we're engaged. We actually have a pretty good group of people here that are interested in buying a team, probably hockey more than basketball because it's a great college basketball marketplace.

"That said I think the brilliance of Sprint Center is I think the business community and the community as a whole loves the diversity of the 140 events a year that we're doing here. We're making more money than anyone ever thought we would make. We're giving a lot of money back to the city. And whether it will be the Mayor or the business community, what everyone is saying now is ‘you know what? Stay the course. This is pretty good what's going on here.'"

Leiweke added he wasn't sure an NBA team could survive in Kansas City because of high ticket prices. His big point about remaining patient for a team was due to the success of the Sprint Center.

Leiweke said the Sprint Center is the most successful building in the country without an anchor tenant. He also mentioned the success of Livestrong Sporting Park, which wasn't open when the Sprint Center first came to town. Leiweke, who also owns the LA Galaxy, thinks Sporting Kansas City will win the MLS Cup.

"You don't need to go get a team in order to prove how great a community it is," Leiweke said about Kansas City. "I think you take a deep breath and say, ‘Under the right terms, move a team here. If it's about writing them a check and subsidizing them, is that really the definition of what the community is? I don't think so. We'll be patient.'"

The AEG CEO also made it clear he thinks NHL would survive in Kansas City over NBA. The Phoenix Coyotes have been mentioned as possible NHL team that could move to Kansas City.

"And I always have to be careful because I'm on the executive committee of the NHL, so I don't want to pick a fight with the commissioner," Leiweke said. "But If I had a choice between Phoenix or Kansas City, I'm in Kansas City all day long. But they need to come to that realization, because otherwise they're going to put a gun to your head and hold you hostage."

Jack Harry asked Leiweke if that is what the Pittsburgh Penguins did to Kansas City when they were trying to get a new arena deal in Pittsburgh. Nine months before the Sprint Center opened, Leiweke and AEG offered the Penguins a deal to move to Kansas City. The deal would allow the Penguins to play rent-free and be equal managing partners in the Sprint Center if they left for Kansas City.

"Well Pittsburgh used Kansas City well," Leiweke said. "But they were ready to move and if they didn't get that deal done at the 24th hour with Governor Rendell, they were moving here. And the Penguins would have been playing here. If Kansas City wants a team, be patient. They'll get one. But the key is, do it on your terms and don't do it on their terms because you're not going to like their terms."
 

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