It took a combination of negotiating and patience, but Missouri Western will remain the training camp home for the Chiefs.
On Thursday, the Chiefs and the school officially announced a three-year extension with two additional mutual-option years to keep the team in St. Joseph for camp.
“We weren’t sure if it would be a one-year extension or a five-year extension, but we had sensed and been led to believe it would happen,” said Robert Vartabedian, Missouri Western’s president. “It was just a matter of time frame and what they needed to feel good about continuing the relationship.”
The Chiefs have trained at Missouri Western since 2010, and the final guaranteed year of the original 10-year contract was 2014. The Chiefs possessed a series of one-year options, but the two sides had been discussing a possible extension, which was unanimously approved by the school’s Board of Governors on Thursday.
“It’s become, really, something special there in St. Joe,” team president Mark Donovan said. “And they show that appreciation to us by being so supportive ... they really are good partners.
“Every rep is important during camp, and they get that. They make sure they do everything they possibly can to ensure we get the best possible conditions to make the most of every rep.”
Donovan said the biggest issue the Chiefs had with the facilities — which will be rectified as a part of the extension — was the current state of the two grass practice fields, which are scheduled to be overhauled by July 1.
“The biggest issue that we faced this year was just making sure the playing surface was good and safe,” Donovan said. “When our guys are on there every day for 14 or 15 days in a row, it’s a pretty significant part of the puzzle. So we were able to get something worked out that will guarantee it will happen.”
Donovan said the focus on improving the field was a notion he made clear to Vartabedian, who noted that the fields last summer weren’t as “pristine” as normal, due to a harsh winter.
“(They had) concerns about possible injuries, which — when you’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of personnel on a playing field — that’s understandable,” Vartabedian said.
So now, the school will install a new sprinkler system, a new drainage system, new turf and new soil by July 1.
“That process will begin as soon as possible — that’s another reason we wanted to meet the third deadline, so we can get that rolling,” Vartabedian said.
Missouri Western was interested in entering negotiations with the Chiefs once training camp ended, but the Chiefs preferred to wait.
That’s how the original deadline for a new agreement — Dec. 1 — passed, and so did the second (Dec. 31) before the two sides struck a deal on Thursday, hours before the third deadline.
“They have certain requests in terms of topsoil and grass and drainage systems and sprinkler systems and entrances and exits to the playing field, as well as equipment and personnel to take care of it,” Vartabedian said. “So they’ll give us a ballpark figure on how much that’s going to cost, just to make sure we can cover that, and that’s what we agreed upon.”
But the practice fields are hardly the only improvements the Chiefs will see. For instance, the team will also receive additional space in the residence hall.
“Last year was the first year we had a couple of guys that had to move into another hall,” Donovan said. “ ... So we just wanted to make sure that between now and then … if we get bigger, we just want to have that planned for.”
Finally, Missouri Western also agreed to freeze the Chiefs’ food costs at 2014 levels for the next three years, and the Chiefs will also have additional security.
“Last year we had a storm roll through and we had to evacuate the fans,” Donovan said. “We realized that there wasn’t a PA system and there wasn’t adequate control over who was saying what and who was in charge, so we wanted to shore that up in case we face that situation again that we have a chain of command and can communicate efficiently.”
Donovan said these areas of improvement, combined with the football part of it — Chiefs coach Andy Reid has been vocal about his desire to stay in St. Joseph — made sticking at Missouri Western a good option, even though 18 of the league’s 32 teams will be “staying home” for training camp, compared with only five of 31 teams in 2000.
“If we needed to do that, we could definitely do that — we’ve got the infrastructure in place to do that,” Donovan said of holding camp at home in Kansas City. “But it’s a combination of coach and (general manager) John Dorsey really valuing the experience of getting away for that period of time and what that does to help build the team, and that’s supported by how good the people in St. Joe make it for us.”
It is a mutually beneficial relationship, however. A study by the St. Joseph Convention & Visitors Bureau estimated that the 40,000 visitors to training camp last year had a local economic impact of $6.3 million for the region.
And now, thanks to the extended partnership between the school, the Chiefs, the City of St. Joseph, Buchanan County and the State of Missouri, that’s money that will likely continue to pour in for at least the next three years.
“It’s important to our community, it’s important to our university, it helps us in terms of economic development and recruiting,” Vartabedian said. “It’s a point of pride, it helps us in terms of tourism issues. There are just lots of pluses associated with the camp. We wanted to get it done, and the Chiefs did, as well.”