Pick your Arrowhead Stadium parking problem for the Chiefs regular-season opener on Sept. 11. The list from frustrated customers is long.
There are fans like Tom Hook, who entered through Gate 4 around 10:30 a.m., never saw a parking attendant, crawled bumper-to-bumper around the perimeter for an hour before taking matters into his own hands. He drove through a coned off aisle and persuaded fans to clear enough space in their tailgate to create a space.
“It was total chaos,” said Hook, a season-ticket holder who lives in Houston and travels to most home games.
The reasons varied, but the feeling of traffic and parking chaos was mutual for thousands of fans who attended that game and took their seats much later than anticipated, if they didn’t bail on the game.
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As they were unfolding and afterward, the Chiefs monitored the rough start to parking and tailgating changes implemented this year and vow things will be better for the next home game, Sunday against the Jets. Kickoff is 3:25 p.m.
“We’ve asked our fans to buy in and have patience with us. They did, and we screwed up,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said. “We have to get better.”
That should happen by addressing several areas. Two problems seemed to draw the most complaints: The congestion around Gate 5, located at the southwest corner of the Truman Sports Complex, and the lack of direction to parking spaces once cars got through the tollbooths.
In the days after the game, Donovan and his staff looked at 1,300 aerial photographs and discovered that more cars than expected entered through Gate 5, creating about 15 percent more traffic at that stop than the busiest day ever, according to Donovan.
The Chiefs’ theory: People believed Gate 5 — accessed from Raytown Road and a northbound Interstate 435 exit ramp —was the only one that would accept prepaid passes, which is part of the new parking guidelines announced in July.
The Chiefs have combined what was known as general parking — cash parking on game day — with red reserve parking. There is now just one base tier of parking, known as red. The Chiefs incentivized fans by offering a discount for advance purchase. It’s $30 for a prepaid red pass, $40 for a cash purchase on game day.
Most fans bought early, which is what the Chiefs wanted, believing it would improve traffic flow. Enter with your printed pass or barcode on a mobile device and transaction times would be reduced by half, the Chiefs claimed in their July news release.
But more cars than expected arrived at Gate 5. Why? The same release said, “Continuing in 2016, Gate 5 will remain a pass-only gate.”
That was a communication issue. Gate 5 isn’t a cash tollbooth. It accepts passes only. But all the other gates accept passes.
“There was a belief that Gate 5 was the only pass gate, and that’s not the case,” Donovan said. “Cars that came in from (Interstate 70) drove past Gate 2, past 3, 4 to wait in line at Gate 5.
“There were a large portion of fans who bought passes for the first time and thought they had to go through Gate 5, which caused other issues.”
One of those was the traffic flow after passing through the tollbooth.
From the Arrowhead Stadium Facebook page:
“…worst parking experience in 17 years as a season ticket and red reserve parking owner.”
“We arrived around 9:30 a.m. and didn’t get parked until around 10:45 a.m.”
“Giving them one more chance at the next game and if it isn’t better I’m asking for a parking pass refund.”
Fans complained of few attendants ushering cars into lots and spaces, and cars passing what appeared to be closed lots with available spaces.
Donovan said cars that had entered through Gate 5 were mistakenly directed into Lot L, which is along Blue Ridge Cutoff and among the most distant from the stadium. Fans then walked to the stadium past open parking spaces.
“We had a directive that was incorrect and wasn’t the way we were supposed to do things,” Donovan said. “A tactical error we made was we filled L before we filled A,” which is next to Kauffman Stadium but closer to Arrowhead.
On Sunday, there will be more parking attendants and the Chiefs said they have gotten word to prepaid pass holders about the availability of all gates.
Some other factors should help. Experience has told Donovan that season openers present the most problems, and as football coaches like to say about their teams, the most improvement occurs from the first to second games. The 3:25 kickoff also should work in the Chiefs’ favor.
The goal is the mood of the fans attending the game to be solely based on the outcome.
“One of the things that was most frustrating to me, and people don’t want to hear about me being frustrated, is that we take a lot of pride in our game-day experience,” Donovan said. “And this took away from that.”