1981-82: Kings—6,644; Comets—11,508 (2nd-highest in the MISL)
1982-83: Kings—8,076; Comets—14,962 (2nd-highest in the MISL)
1983-84: Kings—9,030; Comets—15,786 (Highest in the MISL)
1984-85: Kings—6,411; Comets—12,917 (2nd-highest in the MISL)
[NOTE: These numbers are from team media guides and in the Kings’ case, aren’t official because I did not count the Kings “home” games played in St. Louis as part of their average.]
That 15,786 average for the Comets in ’83-’84 was only about 500 short of Kemper Arena’s full capacity, to wit, they practically sold out every game that season! 15 out of their 24 home dates that season were indeed sellouts, and the team was a hot commodity, with many players doing endorsements for local retailers. The attendance spike for the Kings in 1982-83 was a residual effect from their unexpected 1981 playoff run during which they just missed advancing to the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics, but they failed to fully take advantage of the bounce they got from it, even though the early-‘80s Kings were a fairly competitive squad with the likes of Phil Ford, Joe C. Meriwether, Eddie Johnson, Larry Drew and Reggie King, et al. You can easily make the case that the Comets’ success at the gate was as responsible as anything for running the Kings right out of this town. That, and bonehead general manager "Clueless Joe" Axelson, who capriciously traded away star players/fan favorites like Ford, Otis Birdsong and Scott Wedman and got bupkis in return for them. Also, from what I remember, the Kings and Comets had a fairly acrimonious coexistence in their respective offices in the bowels of Kemper Arena during that four-year stretch, clearly a case of sour grapes coming from the bassit-ball side. Not too many Kansas Citians were crying in their beer over the departure of the Kings, and they really haven’t been terribly missed in the quarter century since they left here, as the University of Kansas men’s team virtually supplanted them as K.C.’s local "pro" basketball franchise anyway. The Comets were only too glad to see the Kings leave too—their departure made the soccer team the primary sports tenant at Kemper and freed up those coveted prime Friday and Saturday night slots on the schedule.
The Comets continued to draw well until the late ‘80s when the MISL fell on hard times after the novelty of indoor soccer wore off. It’s tough to pinpoint exactly when the wheels started coming off, but unfortunately, the league got a little too ambitious and tried to expand too rapidly without first making sure its existing franchises were healthy. Salaries spiraled out of control as the MISL fought to keep big-name players from jumping to rival leagues and/or lure star players from outdoor leagues to play indoors, thus flagship teams that were once stalwarts of the league like the St. Louis Steamers and Cleveland Force were suddenly hemorrhaging money and both folded in the summer of ’88, replaced (to much lesser impact) by the Storm and Crunch, respectively, in 1989-90. By that time, the league’s coast-to-coast presence had morphed back into a more regional footprint as those 3:00AM tape-delayed game telecasts on ESPN somehow failed to generate national interest, for some reason. I wonder why...
The MISL’s original commissioner from 1978-85 was a man named Earl Foreman, who once presided over the infamous American Basketball Association in the early ‘70s, and he was brought back to try to rescue the league in 1989. The MISL experienced tremendous growth for during his first tenure, with none of the shenanigans that took place in the ABA (secret drafts, ambush player signings, hand-me-down team uniforms, sub-standard venues, rinky-dink game promotions, et al), but in his second stint, the damage was already done and Foreman was unable to stabilize the situation, thus the Major Indoor Soccer League—or Major Soccer League, as it was known toward the end—was doomed. Merger attempts failed with the rival (and somewhat small-time) American Indoor Soccer Association, which later changed its name to the National Professional Soccer League (are youse all confused yet?), and the MISL/MSL limped along on life support with seven teams in its final season and folded for good in the summer of ’92. Ironically, three franchises wound up joining the NPSL anyway—the Wichita Wings, Cleveland Crunch and Baltimore Blast. The latter was renamed the Baltimore Spirit, but the name eventually reverted back to Blast again, and they are the only franchise from the original MISL still in existence today in the modern-day MISL, Mach III. In 1992, the Dallas Sidekicks and San Diego Sockers joined the new Continental Indoor Soccer League, which was partially subsidized by some NBA owners. Ironically, the erstwhile-dominant Sockers failed to win a championship in that league, for some reason. Meantime, the St. Louis Storm and Tacoma Stars simply ceased to be when the “Missle” disbanded, with St. Louis joining the NSPL in 1992-93 as the Ambush (transferred from Tulsa) and the Stars were in effect replaced later by the Seattle franchise in the CISL.
Uncertainty reigned about the team’s future during the 1990-91 postseason as both the Comets and the Major Soccer League were teetering on the brink. Schoenstadt sold the club in the summer of ‘87 to a group of local investors headed by Chris Clouser, but as the league struggled to keep teams afloat, the Comets’ ship was taking on water, and by March of ’91, Clouser publicly asked for three more investors for the ownership group or the team would fold after the season, plus there was no guarantee the league would survive anyway, as Dallas, San Diego and Tacoma were threatening to fly the coup too. No one knew it for sure at the time, but the last game in Comets history took place on May 4, 1991 in Game 7 of the Eastern Division Finals against the Cleveland Crunch at Richfield Coliseum, and I was there to witness it in person. The final goal in Comets history was scored by Kevin Hundelt, a sixth-attacker goal at 11:55 of the 4th quarter to bring the Comets within one point, but Cleveland held on to win the game 7-6 and the series four games to three. In spite of the loss, the players and we fans were buoyed by some hopeful news from the day before the last game that the team’s future had been secured after all, as local business entrepreneur Delbert Dunmire had stepped forward to pursue those three ownership units in the team. It proved to be false hope, however…
I liken the Comets situation to what I/we went through during my radio daze at the “Mighty 1030”, KKJC-AM in Blue Springs in late ‘87/early ’88 when we didn’t know from day-to-day whether the station would be sold to new owners or go out of business (or in broadcasting parlance, “go dark”). One of my co-horts there had a brilliant analogy for the situation—he stood by a light switch and said, “This is KKJC,” then flipped the lights off (pregnant pause). “Oh, wait—there’s still a glimmer of hope after all!” and he flipped the lights back on, repeating the scenario several times. This is pretty much what went on for the Comets in the ensuing weeks after the season ended. The team reduced ticket prices and tried to sell 4,000 season tickets for 1991-92, so my friend Tom and I did our part by putting a deposit down on a pair, but they never came close to reaching their goal, and just like The Mighty 1030 before it, the Kansas City Comets went dark two months after the ’91 playoffs. The ownership group sounded (on paper at least) like a very doable deal, but it started to unravel when two investors got cold feet and backed out at the last minute—namely Clouser and Schoenstadt themselves, of all people. This was eerily similar to what happened with the radio station, oddly enough, as it looked like we had a done deal in place at one point, until one horse's ass decided he wanted a bigger piece of the pie for himself and the whole thing fell apart. It also didn’t help matters that Clouser had already taken an executive gig with Northwest Airlines during the team’s dying days. It’s also just as well Schoenstadt got out—he died of cancer five months later on December 15, 1991.
At 11:00AM CDT on July 16, 1991, the original Kansas City Comets officially ceased to be, as the ownership group gave up the fight. Team VP Robert Hagens said, “Our heads won’t let us proceed, no matter how much our hearts want us to.” The real shame about it is they were only about $200,000 away from having the necessary working capital to move forward. Even after the team was euthanized, there were numerous attempts to revive it over the next few weeks, but all proved to be futile. The league had granted an expansion franchise to Pittsburgh, but their ownership group balked when the league started wobbling, and withdrew their interest. The MSL players union also agreed to lower the salary cap and such, but it was too little, too late to save the Comets, and the league carried on for that one last season. Oddly enough in 1991-92, MSL attendance actually rose by 15-20% league-wide over the previous season (depending on who you believed), with St. Louis experiencing an increase of 31% more fans, and there was talk of expansion teams in Phoenix, Buffalo and San Antonio for 1992-93 and possible franchises in San Jose and Anaheim in 1993-94, plus an eventual return to K.C. somewhere down the road, as well. I attended games in St. Louis and Wichita during that final season after the Comets folded, and the atmosphere at both arenas was certainly still electric. The St. Louis-Tacoma game I went to was particularly fun because it was played in front of a huge crowd—almost 13,000—and it featured nine former Comets playing between the Storm and Stars, including a match-up of the Comets’ former goalie tandem of Jim Gorsek (St. Louis) and Mike Dowler (Tacoma). The old barn on Oakland Avenue was still rockin’, and the fans’ enthusiasm there as well as in Wichita a few weeks later gave me hope that K.C. could have a new MSL team soon and that the league might thrive again. I truly believe if the Comets had fielded a team in that final 1991-92 MSL season, they would’ve survived and joined the lower-budget/lower-overhead NPSL along with Wichita, Cleveland and Baltimore in 1992-93 and the original franchise/organization might even still exist today in the current MISL. But sadly, it was not to be.