Sam Mellinger

Chiefs can and should make things right with fans who planned to watch game in Mexico

2018 file video -- Poor field conditions in Mexico force NFL to move Chiefs game to Los Angeles

Last year, after consulting with the NFLPA and inspecting the field at Azteca Stadium, sub-standard conditions forced the NFL to move the Chiefs-Rams game from Estadio Azteca in Mexico City to Los Angeles
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Last year, after consulting with the NFLPA and inspecting the field at Azteca Stadium, sub-standard conditions forced the NFL to move the Chiefs-Rams game from Estadio Azteca in Mexico City to Los Angeles

This is how it works in 2018: multi-billion dollar sports business that micro-manages everything it touches, including the size of midfield logos and the socks worn by its employees, whiffs so horribly on the most basic level possible that the highest-profile event of the regular season is moved — and the only ones worse for the wear are the poor shleps who spent their own money to watch.

The NFL done messed up.

To be fair, the league is on the unlucky end of a conspiracy of bad events that led to moving the Monday night Chiefs-Rams game from Mexico City to Los Angeles.

Azteca Stadium installed a new field this year, and had a series of events scheduled recently, including a concert that apparently did much more damage than expected. An unusually heavy rain season made everything worse.

And the league deserves credit! Sort of. Moving the game was the right decision. Even if the Chiefs and Rams were not among the league’s highest-profile and most successful teams, stacked with stars and MVP candidates on both sides, putting players at unnecessary risk with an unsafe field would’ve been an indefensibly arrogant mistake.

So, that was the easy part.

The harder part will be explaining how this happened, and how a league obsessed with control lost it here, but that’s important only for the NFL’s own housekeeping. The result will almost certainly be tighter guarantees and more control over stadiums for future international games (and, yes, there will be many more, including at Azteca, because that’s how business is grown).

The important thing will be whether a league that is often and fairly criticized for viewing fans as profit centers is willing to do everything it can to make things right with those passionate enough to make travel plans for Mexico City.

Let’s be clear. The league can only do so much. Every ticket in every sport includes a “subject to change” disclaimer, and as powerful as the NFL might be, it can’t dictate to airlines and hotels that they change their refund or change policies.

But, this is an opportunity. The league — and the Rams and Chiefs — can at least offer a gesture.

Give anyone who bought a ticket for Azteca and can’t make it to Los Angeles a seat at a game next year, with parking. Give them a pass to the team’s official tailgate, and a ticket good for something to eat or drink once they get inside.

Nothing in this world is easier than spending someone else’s money, and that’s especially true about spending the money of a foolproof, taxpayer-funded, private business.

But this is good business, as well as a good gesture.

Moving the game was a league decision, and it was originally a Rams home game. So the Chiefs are a bystander here, but their fans are the most affected.

Any Rams fan from the LA area who had a ticket to Mexico City can cancel, stay home, and watch there.

But any Chiefs fan from Kansas City now faces a decision between various negatives: take the trip without a game, reroute from Mexico City at considerable cost, or eat the money altogether and watch on TV.

That’s a considerable bummer, not just financially but with the change of what would’ve been a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many fans. Life is unpredictable, and disappointment a constant risk with any travel plans.

But this is not a normal inconvenience. This isn’t an act of God forcing a game to be moved. This is the failure of humans, which in turn is burdening another set of humans. Fans are not owed anything, and the NFL is not obligated to offer even an apology.

Still, shouldn’t the league do something?

One source indicated on Tuesday afternoon that the issue would be discussed, and possible solutions brainstormed. The league will soon announce a refund policy, which is expected to give fans the option of exchanging tickets in Mexico City for seats in LA.

But for fans who spent hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars to watch their team in Mexico, that doesn’t make them whole.

Again, none of this is the fault of the Chiefs. The blame is with officials in Mexico first for failing to provide a satisfactory field, and with the NFL second for failing to get the necessary guarantees.

So, the Chiefs aren’t the bad guy here.

But they can be the good guy.

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Sam Mellinger

Sam Mellinger is a Kansas City Star sports columnist.

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