When COVID-19 shut down organized sports across the city, Luke and Katy Wade went back to the basics to keep KC Crew active — putting a virtual spin on classic entertainment options.
“Who would have thought bingo you know?” Luke Wade said, referencing his first experiment in finding an alternative diversion for a newly online-only audience. Later iterations expanded into trivia, murder mysteries and scavenger hunts, he added.
Click here to check out KC Crew’s virtual offerings and its newly started summer lineup.
KC Crew first made its mark on Kansas City as an in-person downtown-area sports operation, offering such ongoing adult leagues as softball, volleyball, kickball, cornhole and pickleball since 2012. Summer leagues typically draw about 4,000 players each week, Wade said.
But not in 2020.
“On March 15 — when they declared that no one was allowed to gather in groups larger than 10 — we had to cut our pickleball league season short. The next day, we had to let everyone go, so it was just my wife and I left running the company,” he said of the Hy-Vee Arena-based operation. “Once everything got shut down, even my software that runs leagues wasn’t making money — because no one was running leagues — so all of my businesses were kind of just tanked.”
The ‘bingo!’ moment
With a background as a web developer, Wade quickly pivoted to the virtual world, hoping to capitalize on workers strewn across home offices in Kansas City and beyond, he said.
“My main focus was ‘How do we recreate our experience and also maintain that community?’” Wade explained. “One, we wanted to save our business, but also to give people something to do because this is a horrible time and they’re going to need fun and breaks and activity.”
Within a week, virtual bingo launched.
“Everyone knows bingo and kids can play it too, so we created the digital cards and we went live on Facebook and had 20 people play and it was a hit,” he said.
Eventually, companies began reaching out for corporate events — hoping to offer games for their at-home employees — and individuals booked KC Crew for experiences like birthday scavenger hunts, Wade continued.
“And then everyone was like ‘What else do you have?’” he said, noting the need to rapidly expand virtual products like trivia games. “ … People kept demanding more and now we have murder mystery parties.”
The virtual mysteries engage all participants with no actors, he said, noting an emphasis on keeping the offerings as personal as possible.
“That is kind of the niche — we focus on engagement and interaction,” Wade said. “On bingo with 150 people, we make sure to go through and talk to every single person with their video on. We say their name and [engage with] what they say in the chat … it makes them have such an amazing experience and they feel included and involved.”
“You know, some of these people may not talk to people for weeks, so that is why it has been so cool because no events are engaged like this,” he added.
Crew for the people
KC Crew’s virtual menu now has events booked into November with activities scheduled sometimes two or three times each day, Wade said.
“I don’t know what we would have done without this virtual success. It’s insane, we did not expect this at all,” he said. “I hope we can expand outside of Kansas City virtually — I mean, I see it as another side of the business now. We can reach more people in the community than ever before because you now don’t have to play a sport to be involved with KC Crew.”
It’s now about more than survival, Wade said.
“In the beginning, we were trying to keep my wife and I alive, but we look at it as ‘How do we keep KC Crew around for the people and not for us?’ That is what this is for. It is for my friends and the community,” Wade explains. “Yes, we are a business and yes, we want to make money, but we help a lot of people and do a lot for charity and people look at us as their way to get out of their daily life, you know? KC Crew has to be around for people when this is over.”
With the city gradually reopening, Wade is among those eager to get numbers back to normal — but realizes progress will take time. The in-person summer season began Sunday with 1,500 people signed up — well below the typical 4,000.
“There are people who are transitioning to all online events in the future and aren’t going back to the office, so we are going keep moving forward with both,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are going to need this for a long time, even as we start in person events again.”