Sam Mellinger

Chiefs’ decision to move home game to London hurts fans in Kansas City

The Chiefs will next season follow the lead of teams like the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, who played at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 26.
The Chiefs will next season follow the lead of teams like the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, who played at Wembley Stadium on Oct. 26. NFL UK/The Associated Press

The owner chose politics over fans. Clark Hunt prioritized the approval of the NFL’s other billionaire owners who are his peers over the men and women who paid for renovations to his stadium and all of the tickets to fill it.

The Chiefs chairman just became more popular with league officials and owners of other teams happy that he jumped on the grenade. Better him than me, they’re thinking.

The Chiefs are moving a game from Arrowhead Stadium to London, where they will play the Lions next year. Until now, the only NFL teams willing to move a home game overseas have been struggling with ticket sales, transitioning to a new or renovated stadium or recently ravished by Hurricane Katrina.

Next year will be the ninth season of the NFL’s International Series, and so far holding a game in London has been exclusively for the desperate: teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons did it, but only in seasons they were playing in soon-to-be-vacant stadiums.

By guilt or obligation, or desire to win favor with the men running teams the Chiefs are competing against, Hunt has put his team and fans at a disadvantage.

In an example of how tone-deaf and out of touch they are with their fans, the Chiefs announced the elimination of a home game with a short and woefully insufficient news release that they originally planned to be the extent of their comments Thursday. After hearing what should’ve been an entirely predictable reaction from fans, club president Mark Donovan addressed reporters for 10 minutes after practice. Hunt remained silent.

“We look at it as a great opportunity,” Donovan said. “We get to put our brand on a global scale, and that’s a big advantage for us.”

Donovan is a smart man and very smooth in answering questions. But he has to know he is trying to spin the unspinnable here.

Donovan talked about the games at 82,000-seat Wembley Stadium in London selling out in hours and how the league has made a priority of growing the sport internationally. But he knows those things are entirely irrelevant to Chiefs fans.

This is being done just five years after the Chiefs completed renovations funded with $250 million from Jackson County taxpayers. It’s insulting and disrespectful to so quickly move a home game overseas.

Season-ticket packages next year will be priced based on nine games — two preseason, seven regular-season — instead of the customary 10, but even that’s a bit misleading.

Teams shouldn’t be charging full price for preseason games for a lot of reasons. Among them, “hosting” a game in London means devaluing season-ticket packages with one fewer regular-season game to offset the charade of preseason games.

Hunt has chaired the NFL’s International Committee since 2011, and it’s easy to imagine this being an OK-I’ll-take-the-first-bite move for other owners who are understandably hesitant to delete a home game from their schedules.

In any case, Hunt should’ve been the one answering questions about why a home game — one of eight weekends fans plan their lives around every fall — is being exported to a place where they cheer every kickoff like a touchdown.

Donovan is better in front of cameras, though, so he was doing Hunt’s work Thursday.

By hosting a game in London, Hunt is being a model NFL citizen, a sharp businessman — and a rotten custodian for fans in and around Kansas City.

All of the talk about growing the Chiefs’ brand internationally is dismissive of what that brand means in Kansas City, and it’s PR gobbledygook when you consider that the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and other high-profile teams aren’t knocking down any doors to “grow the brand.”

If there was money to be made in ditching a home game for one in London, don’t you think Jerry Jones would have the Dallas Cowboys at the front of the line?

Donovan mentioned Lamar Hunt joining the owners of the Steelers, Bears and Giants in pushing the NFL to share national TV revenue equally, making a clumsy leap to paint a home game in London as one more example of the Hunt family showing a forward focus.

Well, if it’s such an honor and a way to improve the league, why are the only other teams holding games on the other side of the ocean either desperate, losers or desperate losers?

There are ways this could’ve happened that would have been more sensible and defensible.

If giving up a home game would’ve given the Chiefs a promise or even a better chance of holding a Super Bowl in Kansas City, then the team could have presented this as a down payment of sorts for a bigger prize.

Or if all teams were required to give up home games … then, well, it would’ve made much more sense for the Chiefs to do it before the renovations, but it could’ve been presented as a chore everyone has to do.

But neither is true. The NFL is considering a requirement to host an international game as part of future Super Bowl bids, but Donovan said that had “nothing to do” with this.

And because of the fluid nature of the International Series — nobody can be sure how many, if any, games will exist in the future or what the format will be — there is no league-wide mandate that everyone loses a home game.

So this is just a business decision by the Chiefs, one where they can continue to talk about “building a brand,” but one they must accept positions them with dregs like the Jaguars and Raiders as teams that have hosted games in London.

At the very least, Hunt should’ve been the one answering questions about it.

But even then, he’d be trying to spin a self-serving move that hurts fans in Kansas City.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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