The Chiefs will hold their first full-squad practice on Friday, officially kicking off their eighth training camp at Missouri Western.
But will it be the last camp in St. Joseph? The Chiefs are entering the final year of their agreement with the school, with mutual-option years for 2018 and 2019 remaining.
Based on how both sides sounded during a news conference on Thursday, the chances of an extension appear good.
“Our intention is to come back,” team president Mark Donovan said. “It has been a great experience for us.”
Missouri Western president Dr. Robert Vartabedian agreed.
“We don’t do anything else that can attract 250,000 people to this community, but the Chiefs can — so that’s a big plus for us,” Vartabedian said. “It’s a major claim to fame, saying, ‘This is the summer home of the Kansas City Chiefs.’”
The option years remaining on the contract dictate that some degree of negotiation will follow sometime after the current camp.
Donovan said he was pleased with the result of their last negotiation, which resulted in the current three-year pact that was signed in January 2015.
“We had a couple of things we wanted to change a couple years ago,” Donovan said, “and the university overdelivered on that.”
Donovan praised the school’s willingness to do little things behind the scenes to make the Chiefs’ yearly three-week stay in St. Joseph a comfortable one for the team and fans alike.
For instance, the school convinced the Missouri Department of Transportation to postpone some bridge work along I-29 that could have affected traffic flow this summer.
“We talked to them and said, ‘Listen, this relationship is important to us, camp is too important to us,’ and they postponed it for three weeks, which is unheard of,” Vartabedian said. “That’s how important the camp is to the community here, that MoDOT — which can’t be very flexible on some of those things — did that. It tells you how much the camp is supported.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has repeatedly stated his happiness with the school’s facilities.
“Andy loves it — I have talked directly to him about it,” Donovan said. “(General manager) Brett (Veach) likes it. He likes the fact that we get away and get together. It means a lot to the players.”
In recent years, more NFL teams have decided to hold training camp at their own facilities. Donovan said the Chiefs have looked into that, but while they could accomodate such a move by housing players in hotels, Missouri Western’s infrastructure best serves Reid’s goal for a team-bonding “getaway” experience.
“One of the big advantages of this setup is that you are in a pre-existing dorm setup with a cafeteria,” Donovan said. “The services we need to operate 24/7 are here. When you leave that environment, that structural environment, then you are dealing with, ‘OK, what if you house guys in a hotel for two weeks, what challenges does that create? What opportunities does that create? What costs does that create? How do you feed them in a hotel versus a cafeteria?’ All of those things factor in.”
Donovan said the Chiefs have looked at other sites, too, but he made it clear they prefer Missouri Western, which is only an hour away from Kansas City — close to their core fan base.
“We like the relationship, we like the efficiency, we like the familiarity and consistency,” Donovan said. “So I think it would be tough for somebody to come in and wow us and take it away from here.”
One potential impediment to the ramping-up of talks is Missouri Western’s vacant athletic director position.
However, Vartabedian said the school’s board of directors agrees that keeping the Chiefs in the fold is a priority; whoever they hire for the job will be charged with doing just that.
“Just today Mark Donovan and I were saying as soon as this is over, we need to talk,” Vartabedian said with a laugh. “We’re both coming from the perspective with the assumption this is a very positive thing for both of us and we’d like to continue this relationship.”
Donovan doesn’t expect the process of finalizing where the Chiefs will hold camp in 2018 to take very long, either.
“We will know what we are doing for next year within three weeks after camp this year,” he said.