The Chiefs will play overseas for the first time in their history next season, a controversial move that strips a home game off their 2015 schedule but the team says is in the best interest of the NFL.
The Detroit Lions will be the Chiefs’ opponent on Nov. 1, 2015 at London’s Wembley Stadium — one of three games in the United Kingdom next year as part of the NFL’s International Series. The Chiefs game will be televised locally and nationally on Fox.
“The International Series is a priority for the league,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said. “It puts us on a global stage. Our players, our fans and the whole region should benefit from it.”
But the Chiefs will only play seven regular-season games in 2015 at Arrowhead Stadium, which recently underwent a renovation in which Jackson County taxpayers contributed $250 million. While fans will pay for one fewer game in their 2015 season-ticket packages, reaction was mostly negative to the move.
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“I don’t care if the NFL grows their brand. I’m not responsible for seeing Roger Goodell make another $24 million,” said Steven Wood of Camdenton, Mo., who has been a season-ticket holder since 2005. “Right now I’m paying for 10 games, and two of them are preseason games that are basically worthless. So next year I’ll be paying for nine games, but a bigger percentage of those nine games is for preseason.”
While the Chiefs will be compensated by the league for their travel expenses, they will lose one-eighth of their regular-season game revenue.
“This is going to be expensive,” Donovan said. “It’s going to cost the Chiefs money to go.”
Lions president Tom Lewand said Thursday that his team “would not have given up a home game in Detroit.” But Donovan said it was the Chiefs’ turn in the rotation, though there is currently no requirement for every NFL team to play a home game in London.
He noted that the popularity of the London games — the league sells out the 80,000-seat Wembley Stadium in hours, he said — is the primary reason playing there is good for the NFL.
“We knew there’d be — and there should be — fans upset giving up a home game,” Donovan said.
“As a fan, you don’t want give up a game — period. We get that, we understand it. If you look at the history of this franchise, specificially Lamar (Hunt) and what he did and the way he approached the National Football League and importance of the greater good, this is another example of this game following that tact and that approach.
“We pride ourselves in leading by example … as a member of this league you’re going to be called on to do things and we happily accept that.”
Still, the move is unusual in the sense that most of the teams that have played host to overseas games thus far have attendance or stadium problems, which is not an issue for the Chiefs, who ranked seventh in attendance last season.
Jacksonville and Tampa Bay have been the home team twice, for instance, while Miami, St. Louis, Oakland and Minnesota have also been a “home” team in London. All ranked 21st or below in attendance last season.
On the other end of the spectrum, New Orleans — which ranked ninth in attendance last season — Atlanta (13th) and San Francisco (14th) have all played host to home games in London.
It should be noted that the Saints agreed to the game while the Superdome was still undergoing a significant renovation following Hurricane Katrina, while the 49ers agreed to the game while playing at 54-year-old Candlestick Park, which was replaced by Levi’s Stadium this year. Meanwhile, the Falcons made their London appearance this season before they move into a new stadium, which is currently under construction.
“Obviously, some teams that have had advantages to give up home games have done that,” Donovan said.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, completed a $375 million renovation to Arrowhead in 2010. But Donovan said he had “good” and “positive” conversations with a number of city and state officials on Thursday morning, after the team got word Wednesday night the announcement was coming, and Jackson County executive Mike Sanders was supportive of the decision.
“Now the world will see the best fans and best franchise in the NFL! What an exciting time to be a sports fan in Kansas City,” Sanders said in a release. “Between the World Series run by the Royals and the upcoming Chiefs game in London, we are proud to showcase our Jackson County spirit on the international stage.”
Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt has served as the chairman of the international committee — which is in charge of expanding the NFL’s footprint overseas — since 2011. A team spokesman said Hunt would not take questions Thursday, but he told The Star in 2011 that the Chiefs may one day be interested in playing host to an overseas game but that losing home-field advantage “weighs very much in my mind.”
“We understand that taking a home game away from the market affects people,” Hunt said then. “We would want to make sure there would be support for it.”
The International Series has grown from one regular-season game in 2007 to three games in 2014, and 17 of the 32 clubs have played games in London.
Some teams have pushed back about playing in London, though Donovan said the league is in discussions about making it a Super Bowl bid requirement to play a home game in London.
But Donovan added that the team would not receive any retroactive “credit,” sort to speak, for doing so next year.
“The Super Bowl decision is more a cold weather issue than anything else,” Donovan said. The league is still going through that process after New York, so it isn’t directly related … if Kansas City gets a Super Bowl, I think it’s going to be because of (Arrowhead Stadium) and this environment more than it is about us playing a game in London.”
Special teams coach Dave Toub is aware of what a London trip means for an NFL club. When he was special teams coach of the Chicago Bears, he traveled there in 2011 for the Bears’ game against Tampa Bay.
“We actually flew in on Thursday, and I think Tampa Bay flew in early,” Toub said. “We had a great experience. We had plenty of time to see everything we wanted to see and we were still fresh when we played the game.”
The Bears won 24-18.
“We had a good time,” Toub said. “Only because we won.”
Whether the London game will be a good thing for Chiefs fans depends on who you ask.
Lake Quivira resident Pete Lord owns a small software company and is 25-year season-ticket holder. He anticipates making the trip to London for the game.
Lord said he was in London for business during the same September weekend when the Raiders played the Dolphins. Lord remembers being on Oxford Circus, one of the capital’s busiest shopping areas, for an NFL-themed block party.
“To see that many people and that much excitement, I said the ‘Chiefs should be a part of this,’” he said. “There were a lot of fans wearing jerseys — some wore jerseys of the teams that were playing and some wore other teams.
“I hate giving up the home game, but the excitement there and the fans … We’ll make a road trip out of it to support it. It was a bigger deal than I thought.”
The Chiefs holding a game in London isn’t a new concept. Donovan said it was contemplated in the Chiefs’ lease during the renovations that the team could play an international home game.
“We’ve been discussing this with members of the chamber and the city and state for years,” Donovan said.
In October 2006, general manager Carl Peterson said the Chiefs volunteered to be one of the first teams to play a regular-season home game in a foreign country solely because of the renovations.
“That would have been the perfect time,” said Wood, the season-ticket holder from Camdenton.
Donovan reiterated that he understands why fans would be frustrated by the news. But he said the Chiefs would have refused to give up a home game against an AFC West rival or another team from their conference.
“There are a couple of games we said ‘No — we’re not giving that game up,’” he said.
Donovan also said he hoped fans understood that the Chiefs are making the best decision for the league — as Lamar Hunt was wont to do.
“I think it’s a tougher discussion to have with a number of our fans on today, next season (and) what it mean today,” Donovan said. “This is a long-term process. This is a long-term benefit for the league. But selfishly, it’s a long-term benefit for the Kansas City Chiefs, our brand, our region. The opportunity to be on this stage is added.”