During the 1980’s Kansas City, Missouri was a hotspot for the growing sport of indoor soccer. The local Major Indoor Soccer League franchise, the Kansas City Comets, was so popular in the early part of the decade that they helped to drive the NBA’s Kansas City Kings out of town in 1985. The departure of the Kings and the lack of an NHL franchise made the Comets the only wintertime pro sports ticket in town starting in 1985, but the fortunes of the Major Indoor Soccer League started to fade by the late 1980’s. The MISL nearly folded in 1988 and by 1991 Comets attendance had fallen more than 50% from its peak of nearly 16,000 fans per game in 1984.
The Comets went out of business in July of 1991. Sensing an opportunity, a pair of novice sports investors from Rochester, New York, Chris Economides and Louis Gitsis, purchased the Atlanta Attack of the lower-budget National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) and quickly shifted the team to Kansas City in September 1991, two months after the collapse of the Comets. They retained the Attack name in Kansas City, but signed popular for Comets stars Gino Schiraldi and Jim Schwab to try and lure back disheartened Comets fans.
The Kansas City Attack spent their first season in the winter of 1991-92 at the smaller, cheaper Municipal Auditorium. The team was strong (26-14) and made it to the playoff semi-finals, but attendance languished at 3,050 fans per game, which was a far cry from the Comets days, and beneath the NPSL’s modest league-wide average of 3,600.
In 1992-93 the Attack returned to Kemper Arena and saw a 50% surge in attendance, but still nothing like the Comets’ days of the 80’s. Nevertheless, the team was terrific and advanced to 1993 NPSL Championship Series against the Cleveland Crunch. Fairweather Kansas City fans jumped on the bandwagon and a crowd of 12,134 turned out at Kemper Arena on April 30, 1993 to watch Kansas City claim its first indoor soccer title with a 19-7 victory over Cleveland in Game 5 of the 1993 NPSL Championship Series.
The Attack won a second championship following the 1996-97 NPSL season.
In the summer of 2001, the National Professional Soccer League disbanded and the surviving teams re-organized under the nostalgic Major Indoor Soccer League brand name. Attack owner Don Kincaid chose to play the 1980’s nostalgia card as well, dropping the Attack identity in favor of a revived Kansas City Comets name. The former Attack franchise played four more seasons under the Comets name before folding in September 2005. Kincaid lost a reported $15 million on the franchise between 1993 and 2005 according to The Kansas City Star.
==Kansas City Attack Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
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:
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 heyday. The Comets folded after ten seasons on July 1991. The MISL followed the Comets into the dustbin of history exactly one year later.
==Kansas City Comets Programs on Fun While It Lasted==