The problem isn’t that the Chiefs will play a game in London. By the end of next year, 20 of the NFL’s 32 teams will have played a game in London. That includes the Broncos, Bears, Steelers, Giants, Cowboys and Patriots. Heavyweights.
The problem begins with the Chiefs giving up a home game to do it. Those heavyweight franchises that’ve played in London have always done it as the visitor, which is absolutely not a coincidence.
The Chiefs are the first franchise that will give up a home game that doesn’t have trouble selling tickets, isn’t transitioning to a new or renovated stadium, or hasn’t just been decimated by Hurricane Katrina.
The Chiefs are five years removed from opening a renovated Arrowhead Stadium funded with $250 million of public money. They should be one of the last teams without ticket or stadium problems asked to give up a home game, and instead they are the first.
The problem extends to how the Chiefs rolled this out, initially thinking a 240-word press release would be enough, then reacting to a predictable negative fan reaction by having club president Mark Donovan answer questions. Clark Hunt, the owner and the chairman of the NFL’s International Series, has not yet spoken.
So what the Chiefs have done, essentially, is take a game away from Kansas City, devalue their season tickets, and justify it with “brand-building” that may or may not serve their own needs but absolutely does nothing for fans.
Hunt and the NFL have businesses to run, while fans have teams they give their hearts (and money) to, so there will always be ocassional conflict. Ticket price hikes are probably the most obvious example.
One of the simplest and truest statements about running a sports franchise is that the more you can eliminate or compensate for those ocassional conflicts, the better you’ll be.
Which is, really, at the heart of how the Chiefs flubbed this.
They deleted one of eight home games that fans (and local businesses) plan their lives around every fall and explained it away with corporate jargon.
In the big picture, this is just one game in one season. Clark Hunt has not insulted anyone’s mother. But he has remained silent as his team is taking something away from fans (many of whom paid the lion’s share of his renovated stadium) without replacing it with even a t-shirt.
Here, then, are three ideas, probably all hair-brained, that the Chiefs could’ve announced yesterday to soften the blow:
▪ 1. Throw a party in London for Chiefs fans who can make the trip. Rent out a hotel ballroom or sports bar. Get a band. If you can talk them into it, get Andy Reid and John Dorsey and a player to come say Hi. Let anyone wearing Chiefs gear eat and drink for free. See if you can partner with a team in the Premier or Championship League for a tailgate and ticket package the Saturday before kickoff.
▪ 2. Throw a party in Kansas City for Chiefs fans who can’t make the trip. Kickoff time hasn’t been announced, but if it’s noon or later Kansas City time open the parking lots for tailgating. Let people into Arrowhead to watch on a video board you could put on the field. If that doesn’t work (watching the game on the video boards the Chiefs have high above the end zones would be awkward) see if the Royals will open up Kauffman Stadium. If it’s one of those breakfast starts, you can adjust around the same premise.
▪ 3. Freeze season-ticket prices for a year. Next year’s season ticket package will be based on the nine games instead of customary 10, which is fine except it’s devalued with only seven regular season games to offset the stupid preseason games instead of the usual eight. So for anyone who buys a season ticket package in 2015, promise that their prices will be the same for 2016.
The underlying sentiment from Donovan yesterday was that playing games in London was good business for the NFL and hopefully for the Chiefs.
That’s fine. We’re all adults, and understand these are businesses. But part of running a business is taking care of your customers.