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Published in Economic Development
Kingdom Sports’ 60,000-square-foot King Indoor Center in Portage has seen revenue streams dry up from a lack of indoor sports activity during the pandemic. Kingdom Sports’ 60,000-square-foot King Indoor Center in Portage has seen revenue streams dry up from a lack of indoor sports activity during the pandemic. COURTESY PHOTO

Indoor sports facilities, organizations remain at a standstill throughout West Michigan

BY Sunday, August 16, 2020 01:27pm

Husband and wife duo Chris and Stephanie Keenan have spent more than two decades building a sports business outfitted with multiple revenue streams.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent statewide shutdown of certain industries, all of those streams have run dry.

“We closed on March 13 and the only thing we’ve been able to do since then is run summer camps, but the numbers were way down for them because parents were concerned about COVID,” Stephanie Keenan said. “Right now, we are looking at maybe doing one or two sessions of classes and then we probably won’t be able to do anything else for the year.”

The Keenans own Kingdom Sports in Portage, a business with three primary revenue streams. 

Kingdom Sports organizes two large outdoor soccer tournaments each year and also operates the Kingdom Soccer Club, tailored to high-level male and female soccer players that range in age from nine to 18.

King Indoor Center (KIC), a 60,000-square-foot facility located at 8151 Merchant Place in Portage, forms the other crucial component of the company’s business model. KIC features two boarded fields and one non-boarded field, complete with 2.5-inch, grass-like fibers. This makes it a primary destination for everything from soccer and baseball to softball and lacrosse.

The Keenans utilize KIC in a variety of ways, from holding camps and classes to renting out the space. Chris Keenan said that the facility is in heavy demand and generally quite busy from October through March.

However, these diverse revenue streams have been all for naught during the pandemic, as the state-mandated shutdown of certain businesses including indoor sports facilities persists. 

“Kingdom Indoor Center is closed,” Chris Keenan explained. “We’ve been waiting to see what the state is going to allow, if gyms and indoor sports facilities can open, but at this point, they have not. There has been nothing that has run at Kingdom Indoor Center since March 15. We’re staring down the barrel of potentially, if they don’t change some things around, we could potentially not be open during the winter, either.”

On top of that shutdown order, competitive soccer is still not permitted, ensuring that Kingdom Soccer Club cannot move forward with scrimmages or games, only limited training. Kingdom’s two yearly soccer tournaments also hang in the balance.

The limitations are understandably confusing for the Keenans, who routinely see public parks filled with adults playing pick-up soccer games and high schools around the state firing up boys soccer tryouts and practices for the season. Meanwhile, the Keenans can’t hold any of those same activities inside the walls of their facility.

“The consistency of the (governor’s) strategy is one that kind of gets me,” Chris Keenan said. “I want to help; this is a public health crisis and an economic crisis. When I look at the strategy out there, some of these strategies I don’t believe are going to work because it’s so inconsistent across the board. If you have an inconsistent strategy across the board with something like a virus, and if it’s not going to work, then what are we doing? Are we shutting everything down or are we letting everything run?”

Luckily for the Keenans, Kingdom Sports is an established business, increasing its chances that it will be able to weather this storm, but not without its share of sacrifices, like having to let go all five of its staff members.

“We have a long-standing relationship with our bank, which is Comerica. They have been great partners and really good to work with,” Chris Keenan said. “And also, too, we have a lot of equity in the building. For us, if this had happened to us in the fifth year of the business, it would have been absolutely devastating. But where we sit right now, we can take a holding pattern with the building and the bank is working with us.”

The Keenans have found a lifeline of sorts by opening up KidFit Daycare next to KIC. They broke ground in February on the facility, which will eventually accept more than 80 kids, and just finished it off despite construction delays due to COVID-19. The Keenans will operate that business separately and are planning to open it at the end of this month. 

Indoor sports complexes mum

The Keenans were one of the very few exceptions among West Michigan indoor sports facility owners, who mainly were uninterested in talking to MiBiz about their businesses.

From sports-specific training facilities to ice rinks, more than a half dozen facility operators refused to comment to MiBiz for this report. Their concerns ranged from not feeling confident enough to speak on their industry’s restrictions to the fact that many are holding activities that do not comply with the Governor’s orders.

For clarification on what sort of indoor training, activity or competition was allowed at indoor sports facilities, MiBiz reached out to the governor’s office and received the following response from press secretary Tiffany Brown: “Guidelines for athletics and other activities are detailed in accordance with which phase of the MI Safe Start Plan that area is in. Per Executive Order 2020-160 Section 4(e), indoor services or facilities, or outdoor services or facilities involving close contact of persons, for amusement or other recreational or entertainment purposes, such as amusement parks, arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, indoor climbing facilities, indoor dance areas, skating rinks, trampoline parks, carnival or amusement rides as defined by MCL 408.652(2), water parks, and other similar recreational or entertainment facilities are closed to entry, use and occupancy by members of the public.”

“The mandate is out there so you should be following it,” said Manoj Shah, co-owner of Tri-City Sports Complex located in Auburn, near Saginaw. “Whether facilities are following it or not, I can’t answer that. I can only tell you what we’re doing.”

Shah faces the same dilemma as West Michigan facilities with his 73,500-square-foot multi-use sports complex. Shah has been shut down since March with little reason for him to be optimistic.

“We heard from the Governor that (we might be able to reopen) close to August 12, and that’s here and we haven’t heard much since then. We’re kind of in a holding pattern right now.”

Shah also stated that, under the order, he could potentially host groups of 10 or fewer patrons at a time, but has not had any requests or desires to do so.

“We’re trying to follow the rules,” he said. “We want our patrons to be healthy. We’re doing the best we can to make it work.”

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