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How did Arrowhead Stadium get its name? We answer a reader’s KCQ

It takes a steady hand to paint the field at Arrowhead for the Chiefs playoff game

Groundskeepers were busy painting the field at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday in preparation for the Chiefs NFL divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
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Groundskeepers were busy painting the field at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday in preparation for the Chiefs NFL divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

The excitement at Arrowhead Stadium during the divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts got Tom Solon to wondering how the stadium got its name.

“I’ve always thought it was an awesome name for a stadium,” Solon writes to KCQ, a recurring feature in which The Star, in partnership with the Kansas City Public Library, answers readers’ questions.

Turns out, the late Lamar Hunt, then owner of the Chiefs, simply decreed it.

“We have named our stadium ‘Arrowhead,’” Hunt declared on Nov. 5, 1970, as reported in The Star. The clip was found at the archives at University of Missouri-Kansas City. “We feel that Arrowhead is a most symbolic name for the home of the Chiefs.”

That was it. No further explanation. Arrowhead would also be the name of the stadium club on the middle level.

Arrowhead obviously fits the team’s Native American motif. We can only be grateful Hunt didn’t come up with “Tomahawk” stadium.

But how did the name Chiefs originate? That requires a recap of the Hunt story.

The man behind the American Football League and owner of the Texans began looking for a new home city when it became clear that Dallas was not big enough to support both the Texans and the NFL expansion team, the Cowboys.

The name Chiefs can be traced to former Kansas City mayor H. Roe Bartle, who secretly wooed Hunt to move his team to Kansas City. A condition set by Hunt was the guarantee of 35,000 season-ticket sales. That was the average attendance at the Texans’ Cotton Bowl stadium.

In Kansas City, Bartle organized 20 business leaders to push ticket sales before the public knew any details about what they were buying. The goal was reached in eight weeks. (By 1970, 70,000 season tickets had been sold, leaving only 7,472 seats per game for individual sale.)

The decision made, Hunt reportedly wanted to rename the team the Kansas City Texans. There was also, apparently, some consideration of the Mules.

But the Chiefs was one of the most popular entries in a name-the-team contest. Jack Steadman, Hunt’s general manager, told his boss, “There’s just no other name we can select.”

An article on mentalfloss.com suggested the name arose from Bartle’s nickname, “The Chief,” which had come through his involvement with the Boy Scouts of America, for which he established the Native American-themed Tribe of Mic-O-Say.

(The same article also said Hunt had pointed out that the name was locally important because Native Americans once lived in the area — as if that could not be said of any NFL city.)

The Chiefs’ first home field in Kansas City was the old Municipal Stadium, built in 1923 at 22nd Street and Brooklyn Avenue. The Chiefs shared it with the Kansas City Athletics baseball team. The Chiefs played at Municipal for nearly a decade.

In the mid 1960s, Kansas City was itching for a new stadium worthy of its professional status. But where to put it? Downtown? On the old Municipal site? In an industrial area referred to as the Leeds site?

Gov. Warren Hearnes signed a bill creating the Jackson County Sports Authority. After much wrangling, the Leeds site was chosen and it was decided to build two stadiums — one for football and one for baseball. But the latter would only be built if Kansas City could secure a baseball expansion franchise. (Charles “Charlie” O. Finley was taking his team, the Athletics, to Oakland.)

Jackson County voters in 1967 approved general obligation bonds to build the two stadiums, together estimated to cost $43 million. That number would rise considerably, but Arrowhead was ready for the 1972 season. Hunt declared the stadium “a reality” before the first game on Aug. 12. The Chiefs took the Governor’s Cup by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 24-14 before a crowd of 78,190.

Thirty-four years later, the stadiums needed renovations — and the Chiefs and the Royals were restless. Jackson County voters in 2006 approved a temporary 3/8th-cent sales tax for the improvements. The deal ensured that Kansas City would have pro football and major league baseball for another 25 years.

Arrowhead got wider concourses, more restrooms, new seat configurations, a greater variety of bars and concessions, an upgraded sound system and new video displays. The work was completed by the 2010 season.

With a frigid weather forecast for Sunday’s AFC championship game at Arrowhead against the New England Patriots, think how cozy a roof over the stadium would be.

A rolling roof was envisioned when the sports complex was being planned, but construction cost overruns and project delays caused by a labor strike put the idea on hold. The sports authority considered a fabric dome in 1984 but that was deemed impractical.

A rolling roof was again floated during stadium renovation plans in 2006 — along with a league promise that Kansas City could be host to the 2015 Super Bowl — but Jackson County voters rejected a separate tax to pay for it.

The fans remained enthusiastic, however. In 2014, Arrowhead broke the Guinness Book record for loudest stadium.

There have been discussions in the past of selling the naming rights to Arrowhead. But Chiefs President Mark Donovan has said that “Arrowhead” would need to remain part of any new name.

“As I’ve said publicly, we’ve been in discussions over the last six or seven years,” Donovan said at the Chiefs 2016 kickoff luncheon. “Some of those discussions have gotten to the point of actual negotiations, but the right deal hasn’t made sense for either side.”

Donovan said at the NFL annual meeting that year: “It would be ‘blank’ field at Arrowhead. We go into that discussion with partners that way. We think Arrowhead is iconic, we think it’s part of the brand, so changing that name doesn’t work for us.”

Do you have a question about Kansas City?

Reader Tom Solon submitted this question as part of our ongoing series “What’s Your KCQ?” The Star and the Kansas City Public Library are working to provide curious readers with the facts.

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Matt Campbell has been a news reporter for The Kansas City Star since 1982.


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