Gateway Village brings one-of-a-kind adventure to families

Gateway Village Greg Cotton

The youth sports marketing revolution continues at Gateway Sports Village in Grandview. With technology and innovative ideas learned with Sporting Kansas City, the developers of Gateway Village will deliver a one-of-a-kind adventure for its customers.

For Greg Cotton, president and partner of PG, LLC, some of the most valuable lessons were learned when he was trying to figure out how to increase attendance for an MLS franchise.

“It started out with the fact that we weren’t selling many tickets,” Cotton said of the Wizards franchise which was playing their matches at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. “The crowds weren’t quite what we needed them to be.”

He called together the ticket sales reps to find out how they were approaching the youth soccer market.

“Basically, it was a very old, traditional model where we would approach team administrators and coaches,” said Cotton, who was a Wizards executive vice president at the time. “It was a very one-way conversation.  We processed a few orders like that but it was a very staid, traditional, 1990s model.  It wasn’t a great leap to realize we needed to change something and change it pretty quickly.”

They hit upon the idea of using giveaways to increase interest and develop a loyal fan base.  Cotton created the Sporting Club Network.

“We said ‘why don’t we do something that’s completely counter to the current set of expectations in youth soccer?’” he said. “We’re going to give them a bunch of stuff for free and we’re not going to require you to buy one thing.”

With a modest budget the club gave away stickers, tchotchkes and ticket discounts, and opened up clinics for players and coaches, as well as developed referee clinics and soccer education programs.

“We started developing an affinity based upon giving them a bunch of free stuff,” Cotton said.  “The only thing we asked for in return was we wanted to know who you were.  So, we got the data.”

In a year’s time, the club collected contact information from thousands of youth soccer players, coaches and parents.

“Gradually, over time, we’re getting bigger and bigger and the demand for tickets rose,” he said.  “And all of a sudden we were sitting on (data for) 80,000 youth soccer players and other sports.  All sorts of people wanted to associate themselves with the club. With all that data came the opportunity to mine it and start to do selective offers to certain groups of people that we thought made sense and were a real benefit and value to the participants.  It started out very small and has grown to over 200,000 members. That has grown into a model for Sporting Kansas City and generates quite a bit of revenue for them.”

Changing the relationship between the team and the largely youth fan base paid huge dividends.

“The point was it started out by developing trust,” Cotton said.  “And it completely changes the way that clubs and individual participants interacted with the team.”

The concept made use of “freemium” models in place with companies like American Express, Costco and Marriott.

“The people who were doing it well were basically giving away a bunch of stuff for free to develop customer affinity and loyalty,” he said. “I think the thought was if it works for American Express, why wouldn’t it work for us? Why couldn’t we do that for soccer? That’s what we did and we built the IT infrastructure around it and it worked.”

Cotton hopes to put some of that customer affinity experience to work as he develops the Gateway Village project.

“We will deliver a lot of the same kind of thought and rigor to customer experience and fan experience that I did when I was with Sporting,” he said. “It’s applying the same set of experience design measurements at the complex that I’ve done with Sporting for ten years.”

The concept behind Gateway Village is unique – a destination for every kind of customer activity with a youth sports venue as the anchor, offering a multitude of retail, housing, entertainment and commercial opportunities.

What will make it even better is the way the businesses will be able to interact with customers to enhance their experience.

“The whole idea out at Gateway Village is that it truly is a one-of-a-kind complex in that it’s a fully integrated athletic complex, along with multi-family, single-family housing, along with retail and places to work,” Cotton said. “This is a true mixed-use complex. The key will be creating an experience in every single one of those discrete neighborhoods within the complex. Each one will feel and look different, but it will all be tied together with one kind of over-arching common theme of really high quality.”

The high-quality theme extends to each of the retailers and entertainment venues.

“We’re giving people, as well as our retailers, opportunities to participate throughout the entire complex,” he said.  “A great way of thinking about that is to think of our concessions environment. It’s not just signing up a sandwich vendor. I want to make sure that they have the opportunity to sell sandwiches to everybody in that park. Everybody knows they don’t have to drive over to there to get it. There will be a mechanism where they can receive those concessions anywhere in the park. Not only is that great for our retailers, it gives our customers a different level fan experience.  It’s high quality and it’s high touch and it’ll be utilizing the technology for our visitors to our site.”

One unique experience will involve the site’s theater.

“Our movie theater partner will be able to capture events, a tournament final or something like that,” he said. “We’ll capture the event, the content, and stream it to the movie theater partner. Then, as the kids are having their ice cream or pizza, they’ll be able to watch their game on a theater screen inside the movie complex.”

Cotton has similar ideas to enhance the customer experience with each vendor they are bringing to Gateway.

“With things like that, you’re leveraging every single partner that’s out there to make the experience of everybody better,” he said. “That’s really the differentiator for this complex.”

They have signed up about 15 retail partners and are bringing in others.

“We’re signing them up every day,” he said. “Phone calls are coming fast and furious and we’ve got some good partners that are signing up.”

Not every vendor would be ideal for the project, however.

“It has to be the right mix,” he said. “It can’t be just any retailer. It has to be a retailer that fits the plan for the entire complex and it has to be a value added to our customers or it just doesn’t make sense for us or for them.”

The best fits are food service vendors and what Cotton calls “alt-entertainment.”

“The zip-line people and the sand volleyball people and the bowling people,” he said. “All of those folks and the movie theater.  Restaurants, sports bars probably make sense. The ideal partner for us would be complementary to the athletic activity that’s going on out there as well as the people that will be dropping off and picking up and wanting to stay on site.

Overall, the project is going to be a unique destination for soccer families, but also for everyone else.

“The great thing about Gateway Village is mom and dad bring little Johnny out to the game, to the practice and he gets to run around for an hour and a half,” he said. “But, there’s opportunities to shop right there, to go to the store, or to the spa, get a workout in. Whatever you want to do will be right there on the site. That’s a game changer.

“There’s nothing like that in this area or, really, around the country that integrates all of the components, the retail, the athletic, the commercial and the places to live, all in one place. There’s no other complex like this in the United States.”

Phase I of Gateway Village is underway and will produce the first seven fields in time for the fall soccer season. Four additional phases will bring in the retail, housing, hotels and other entertainment options.

For more information about Gateway Village, visit gatewaysportsvillage.com

For more information about Heartland Soccer Association, visit heartlandsoccer.net

For more youth soccer coverage visit http://kcsportspaper.com/category/youth-sports/youth-soccer/

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Article by Marc Bowman

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