Work continues on replacing seats at Arrowhead Stadium
Outside Arrowhead Stadium, sprawled across parking Lot E , are piles of steel and red plastic that for 20 years supported the behinds of Chiefs fans in good times and bad.
Depending on one’s point of view, the more than 30,000 seats that the team recently yanked out of the stadium’s upper bowl and disassembled are one of two things: Junk fit only for the recycling center. Or valuable sports memorabilia that many a football fan would spend plenty to have in his or her home.
“I’d say the vast majority of them are probably unusable,” said Jim Rowland, director of the Jackson County Sports Complex Authority, landlord to the Chiefs and, across a swath of concrete, the Royals in Kauffman Stadium.
Of the seats that were in decent condition before being removed for all to see on time-lapse stadium cam, many were not in good shape after the dismantling crew got through with them, Rowland said.
Still, some are surely salvageable, said Caleb Clifford, County Executive Frank White’s chief of staff. Either way, county government has a duty to find out, as the seats are potentially worth tens of thousands of dollars to Jackson County taxpayers who own the stadium and everything bolted to it.
“There’s a potentially substantial amount of money here,” he said.
The question was who would sell the seats — and keep the cash — the Chiefs or Jackson County?
Clifford, along with the county counselor’s office, has led the White administration’s effort over the past couple of months to establish the county’s ownership and control of the seating components — backs, seats, armrests — that crews working for the team began sorting into separate piles when the seat replacement project began Jan. 29.
County officials were largely unaware of the project until the Chiefs announced it, one day before work was to begin. During this off season, the Chiefs said they will spend $11.5 million on stadium upgrades. Among the projects is concrete repair in the upper deck, which did not undergo the extensive renovation that the rest of the stadium benefited from a decade ago.
Since the seats had to be taken out anyway for that work to be performed, the Chiefs are putting in new, slightly wider ones that, unlike the old ones, have cup holders like seats closer to the field.
Installed in 1999, the fate of the old seats was not discussed when the team briefed the sports complex authority’s commissioners at their Jan. 15 meeting, Rowland said.
But recognizing that sports fans will pay hundreds of dollars apiece for seats from demolished or renovated professional sports stadiums, Clifford started making inquiries. Regardless of their condition, those seats belonged to the taxpayers of Jackson County, not the team, he thought. And whether the seats were sold to collectors or recycled for cash, there were written procedures for disposing of surplus property.
“It’s the law,” he told county legislators Monday when asked why he was insisting that the county take charge of the seats that are now in pieces in the parking lot immediately to the south of Arrowhead.
Before the county asserted its ownership rights, the Chiefs had considered selling some of them intact. Plenty of Chiefs fans expressed interest.
“Are they going to sell the old seats coming out of Arrowhead?” one fan posted on the Chiefs’ website. “I would love to be able to purchase for an ultimate man cave experience that has the feeling of home.”
Another man replied: “I have sent an email to the Kansas City Chiefs and requested the chance to purchase the seats that are being removed. I will keep everyone up to date if I get lucky enough.”
The team was then evaluating a proposal from the sports merchandise marketing giant Fanatics, a team spokesman said.
According to that proposal sheet, which The Star obtained from the county through an open records request, Fanatics said it would “manufacture and offer various versions of the seats from Arrowhead” and give the Chiefs a percentage of the retail price.
Stadium seats don’t have legs, which is why it takes work to ready them for resale. Typically the seats are resold as singles or in pairs supported with L-brackets that can be screwed or bolted to the floor.
Fanatics proposed selling 1,000 single seats and using 1,600 end caps and 2,000 seat components to make an additional unspecified number of single and double seats.
Also, the company proposed providing the Chiefs with about 2,500 seats that the team could use as an incentive for renewing season ticket holders, as well as another 50 single seats and 50 end caps at no cost.
A spokesman for Fanatics declined comment when asked for further explanation. The team took no action on the proposal after the county stepped in, a team spokesman said.
Following a Feb. 18 phone conversation with Clifford, Chiefs president Mark Donovan wrote Clifford an email saying that the team had by then no intention of selling the seats. Instead, the Chiefs would “do our best to retain a number of seats for the county and our internal purposes,” Donovan said, while continuing to recycle the rest and give the county any money received from those recyclers, “less any direct expenses incurred to secure and transport.”
Clifford wrote back, telling Donovan that it wasn’t up to the team to decide what to do with county property and to quit recycling the components.
“As I believe we discussed,” Clifford said, “at this time county ordinances do not allow for the county executive, or any other party, to agree to the sale or disposal of this type of county-owned property without the express approval of our legislature.”
On Monday, the county legislature will consider spending $42,725 to cover the cost of removing and storing the seating parts in Olathe while county staff decide how to proceed. A small number of companies specialize in removing seats from stadiums and reselling them to fans.
The owners of two of the companies in that industry, who happen to be brothers, told The Star that the county could easily recoup its moving and storage costs by selling restored seats to fans, especially as popular as the Chiefs have been lately.
“They are sitting on a gold mine and they are in the gold mine area,” Dan Sprinkle of Stadium Seat Depot said.
His brother Jim’s firm, S&S Seating, sold 14,000 pairs of seats to St. Louis Cardinals fans after salvaging them from old Busch Stadium before it was razed.
The going price, Jim Sprinkle said, is around $399 to $449 for a pair of seats, but can go higher. On eBay this week, a single seat dating to Arrowhead’s opening in 1972 was priced at $349.
How that one got on the market is anyone’s guess. Clifford said he and other county officials are unsure how surplus items were disposed of at the stadiums in years past.
“That would be good to know,” he said.
But he said the county has put both teams on notice that they are tenants, not owners, and have no right to sell county property without county involvement.
Even as Clifford was sparring with the Chiefs over seats this month, interim county counselor Jay Haden was demanding that the Royals pay the county $29,805. That’s how much the Royals acknowledged in emails obtained through an open records request that the team received since 2013 selling old seats from Kauffman Stadium, seat backs and novelty items, such as cuff links, made from damaged seat parts.
It wasn’t the first time the county had gotten after the team for selling items without permission. In 2018, sports complex authority attorney Mike White had reminded the Royals not to sell off county property after Haden alerted him that the team was trying to sell old phones from the bullpens and dugouts.
“Mike, I have communicated your concerns with the Royals, and they will cease any further efforts to sell these phones,” Royals attorney David Frantze wrote back.
There was no mention of seats. And when the county learned that the Royals had been selling some, an argument arose over the form of reimbursement and Frantze’s assertion that under terms of the team’s lease it could sell whatever it wanted from the stadium as long it was returned “a complete facility” at the end of the stadium lease in 2031.
The Royals have eased off that position somewhat since White wrote an email on March 22 siding with the county and urged the Royals to write the county a check for $29,804.75.
Frantze was cheerful if not entirely definitive this week when asked in a brief phone interview what the team’s next step will be.
“Frankly, our desire is to work with our landlord cooperatively and get the thing resolved,” he said.
The Royals have more pressing matters to concern themselves with in the days ahead, he said.
Like playing ball.