Born: May 5, 1981 – The San Francisco Fog relocate to Kansas City.
Died: July 16, 1991 – The Comets cease operations.
Arena: Kemper Arena (15,800)
Team Colors: Fiery Orange & Strato Blue
Imagine if some upstart sport – a junk sport as some of the old cranks in the sporting press would call it – went into an big city arena next fall and outdrew the local NBA team. Not just outdrew the basketball club, but nearly doubled their average gate for each game and eventually drove them out of town. It’s inconceivable that a sport like indoor lacrosse or arena football could blindside a city like this today, but this is exactly what happened in Kansas City in the early 1980′s with the arrival of the Major Indoor Soccer League.
The MISL was three years old when Dr. David Schoenstadt arrived in Kansas City in the summer of 1981. Schoenstadt owned a sad sack two-year old franchise most recently known as the San Francisco Fog. The club had already failed in Michigan (as the Detroit Lightning) and the Bay Area, lasting only a single winter in each city. In Missouri, the Fog became the Kansas City Comets. They would split dates at the 16,000-seat Kemper Arena with the NBA’s Kansas City Kings.
Schoenstadt entrusted the management of the Comets to the young brothers Tracey and Tim Lieweke. Tracey was President, Tim General Manager and a third brother, Tod, ran the Comets’ community relations programs. The Liewekes promoted Comets games as all-around entertainment events, augmented by light shows, lasers and pyrotechnics. These production values are taken for granted today by NBA and NHL fans, but in the early 1980′s they were innovations still percolating upwards from leagues like the MISL (and often decried by old guard sportswriters of the era).
During the 1981-82 season, the Comets drew an announced average of 11,508 to the Kemper Arena for 22 home dates. This was 2nd best in the 12-team MISL and, more importantly, the Comets popularity dwarfed that of the Kansas City Kings, who averaged a paltry 6,644 fans that winter. Former Comets season ticket holder Brian Holland writes frequently about the Comets on his blog Holland’s Comet and compares Comets/Kings attendance for the four winters that the NBA and MISL went head-to-head in Kansas City from 1981 to 1985. It was no contest, with the Comets reaching their peak of popularity in their third season of 1983-84, averaging a near capacity 15,786 while selling out 15 of 24 home dates. According to Holland, the Comets even outdrew the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs head-to-head during one weekend in December 1983.
By 1985, the Kansas City Kings season ticket base had eroded to just 3,200 seats. In January, the Kings announced a relocation to Sacramento, California. Their departure was attributed by some, including former Kings Head Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons, to simply being out-marketed by the Comets:
“Here’s something that’s not even a game,” said Fitzsimmons, quoted in The Houston Chronicle in April 1985. “They make up the rules as they go along. But they’ve marketed aggressively and they’ve taken Kansas City by storm.”
With the Kings gone, the Comets became the primary tenant at Kemper Arena for the first time in the winter of 1985-86 and gained a stranglehold on prime dates. Ironically, the fortunes of the Comets and the Major Indoor Soccer League had already started to decline. The Lieweke brothers left Kansas City in 1984 at the zenith of the team’s popularity. Younger brother Tim returned for two seasons as team President from 1986 to 1988, but by then the MISL was in contraction mode, as were the turnstile figures for the Comets. The league nearly folded in the summer of 1988 after four teams folded.
David Schoenstadt, the rumpled anesthesiologist who brought the Comets to Kansas City in 1981, sold the club to an unwieldy group of 23 local investors in September 1987. By the dawn of the 1990′s, announced attendance fell to an average of 7,103 per match, a decline or more than 50% from the club’s Reagan-era day. The Comets folded after ten seasons on July 1991. The MISL followed the Comets into the dustbin of history exactly one year later.
==Comets Matches on Fun While It Lasted==
|1981-82||11/28/1981||vs. Wichita Wings||W 5-4 (OT)||Video|
|1981-82||3/6/1982||@ Buffalo Stallions||L 9-5||Program|
|1982-83||11/13/1982||@ Chicago Sting||L 6-4||Program|
|1983-84||12/23/1983||@ Wichita Wings||L 4-2||Program|
|1983-84||3/4/1984||@ Wichita Wings||W 5-4||Program|
|1983-84||3/16/1984||@ Wichita Wings||L 5-4||Program|
|1984-85||1/12/1985||@ Wichita Wings||L 5-4||Program|
|1985-86||11/15/1985||@ Chicago Sting||W 8-7||Program|
|1985-86||12/13/1985||@ Wichita Wings||L 7-2||Program|
|1985-86||1/3/1986||@ Dallas Sidekicks||W 2-1||Program|
|1985-86||1/7/1986||@ Wichita Wings||L 4-3 (OT)||Program|
|1986||7/19/1986||@ Wichita Wings||??||Program||Outdoor Exhibition|
|1986-87||4/21/1987||@ Wichita Wings||L 7-3||Program|
|1989-90||10/27/1989||@ St. Louis Storm||W 3-2||Program|
- Enzo DiPede
- David Doyle
- Jan Goossens
- Alan Mayer
- Gino Schiraldi
Original Comets owner David Schoenstadt died of cancer in December 1991.
1991 Booster Club Highlight Video
1981 TV feature on the marketing of the Kansas City Comets.