End Of An Era … Friday Cup O’Chiefs

It had to end at some point.

Kansas City and environs are not New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Chicago. There are not enough people in the metro area, plus outlying villages and burghs to guarantee sellouts at sporting events. The Chiefs play in the 29th ranked Metropolitan Statistical Area and the 26th of the 32 markets in the National Football League. Plus, they have the fourth largest capacity of any building used by pro football in Arrowhead Stadium.

Sooner or later the basic math was going to catch up to the Chiefs. That it took 19 seasons is a remarkable achievement for an organization and its fan base. I’m not sure enough people appreciate what was done here starting in 1989 when Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer arrived and turned the NFL’s most moribund franchise into a winner, on and off the field.

By 1991, Arrowhead was sold out. It stayed that way until 2008, when season tickets did not cover all of the available seats. By this season, the Chiefs were not anywhere close to being sold out. That’s been the case for all 10 games this year. The Oakland and Dallas games were the only ones that came close. The rest were not close, especially in the last three weeks with opponents like Denver, Buffalo and Cleveland.

That the Chiefs were able to keep selling seats, without a championship or a trip to the Super Bowl, was one of the great business achievements of the last 25 years in the NFL. Peterson created an organization that made the Chiefs important to the community and the ticket buying public. Arrowhead became the place to be for parties and the social set.

It remained that way for so long because people like Schottenheimer, Cunningham, Vermeil and Edwards, along with top notch personnel people like Dovell, Hatley, Bradway, Kuharich, Cook and others provided fans hope each year that it could be the championship season. Even as the years of title disappointments piled up, Chiefs fans knew they could go to Arrowhead and they would be entertained and their team had a chance to win that afternoon or evening.

Those days disappeared in 2008 and have been exacerbated in 2009. There is no longer hope and entertainment is hard to come by. The Chiefs are 2-13 at Arrowhead in the last two seasons and have lost those 13 games by an average of 12.9 points per game.

Last year, maybe even as far back as ‘07, the Chiefs decided they would make up the difference and buy enough tickets to qualify the games to be on local television. This was a decision that had to be made at the very top and the Hunt family decided it was worth the investment.

And believe me, it was an investment. The ticket revenue at NFL games is shared with the visiting team. If the home team is going to declare a blackout, they must make up the difference between actual gate receipts and the manifest number they turn into the NFL at the start of each season. For instance, if a team says its capacity is 60,000 and that the price of all those tickets will bring in an average of $75 per seat, that’s a gate of $4,500,000.

The NFL split is 60-40, so the home team is due $2.7 million and the visitors $1.8 million.

If the home team sells only 55,000 seats but wants to put the game on local television, the visitors share would be $1.65 million. That means the home team would have to pay an extra $150,000 into the visitors pot.

Start doing that on a regular basis and the output by the home team can start to grow into big money. If there were even fewer than 5,000 unsold tickets, it can get to be very expensive.

So why would the Hunts spend that kind of money to keep the games on local television? One reason was the streak itself; they didn’t want to see that end, even when in reality it expired two years ago. More importantly was an internal debate that teams around the league have gone through over the years. Owners and their minions worry that if the game isn’t on local TV, the fans will forget about them. They will get used to not having the games and if the team is bad, they will fade from the radar screen of the average sports fan.

When it comes time to purchase season tickets, the interest will be less and the knowledge that there are tickets available will keep buyers from making an early commitment. Teams love the early commitment, because that’s money in house and can be banked and interest earned on top of the cash. The season ticket is also a commitment, no matter the skill of the team. That’s money invested no matter the record, outlook or whether the team made a fourth down conversion, or the quarterback threw four interceptions.

When the team’s record is bad and the money isn’t in the bank, that’s when owners get worried.

That’s what happened to the Chiefs in the late 1970s and most of the 1980s. In 1972, the Chiefs had 72,855 seats held by season ticketholders. By 1980, that number was 32,105 season ticketholders seats. By the 1986 season, the number was 26,074.

No one around the Chiefs will reveal where the team finished as far as season tickets for the 2009 season. Suffice is to say it wasn’t the 72,855 of 1972, and it wasn’t the 32,105 of 1986. It was somewhere in between, but definitely closer to ‘86 than ‘72.

Any Chiefs fan angry that this game will be blacked out should first thank the Hunts for carrying the streak of blackouts as far as they did. Over the last couple years it’s probably cost them millions of dollars to make the books work right for the league’s split pf gate revenues.

But the blackout tap has been shut off.


  • FALCONS – announced that former RB Warrick Dunn has become part of the team’s ownership group. Dunn was approved by NFL owners and his buy in to the franchise is expected to be completed by March 1.
  • JAGUARS – placed FB Greg Jones on the injured-reserve list; promoted CB Kennard Cox from the practice squad.
  • LIONS – released TE Dan Gronkowski; signed TE Nathan Hodel.
  • REDSKINS – announced that GM Vinny Cerrato resigned; hired Bruce Allen to become GM.


On December 18, 1960, the Dallas Texans beat the Buffalo Bills 24-7 before 18,000 fans at the Cotton Bowl in the final game of their inaugural season. More details later today.

On December 18, 1966, the Chiefs beat the San Diego Chargers 27-17 at Balboa Stadium. The Chiefs scored the last 10 points in the game to break a tie and finish up the ‘66 regular season with an 11-2-1 record. Early touchdowns came from Bert Coan on a 15-yard scamper and Curtis McClinton on a one-yard run. Mike Mercer had a pair of field goals from six and 25 yards away. Then with less than two minutes to play, Mike Garrett scored on a four yard run to assure a victory. Garrett finished with 162 yards on 25 carries, while San Diego WR Lance Alworth caught eight passes for 156 yards. Kansas City DBs Bobby Hunt (right) and Willie Mitchell had interceptions of San Diego QB John Hadl.

On December 18, 1977, the Chiefs lost to the Raiders 21-20 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum to finish the ‘77 season with a 2-12 record, at the time the worst season in franchise history. K Jan Stenerud had a chance to win the game with 10 seconds left, but he missed a 25-yard FG. He had earlier missed from 50 and 52 yards. The game featured 11 turnovers, 15 penalties and three missed PAT kicks. CB Tim Collier returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and the Chiefs added third quarter TDs from RB Mark Bailey on a 37-yard run and S Tim Gray, who returned a fumble 14 yards for the score. QB Tony Adams threw four interceptions. Interim head coach Tom Bettis was fired after the game.

On December 18, 1983, the Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos 48-17 in front of 11,377 at Arrowhead Stadium. There were 26,337 no shows for this game. The Chiefs scored three touchdowns in the game’s first 10 minutes and ran away to the victory. CB Lucious Smith intercepted a John Elway pass and returned it 58 yards for a TD. QB Bill Kenney threw touchdown passes to WR Carlos Carson (left) for 48 yards and TE Willie Scott for 17 yards. RB Theotis Brown had two touchdown runs and late in the game, QB Todd Blackledge connected with WR Stephone Paige on a 23-yard score. The KC defense picked off Elway four times in all, with CB Gary Green grabbing half of those. The victory ended the Chiefs season at 6-10, while the Broncos were headed to the playoffs with a 9-7 record.

On December 18, 1988, the Chiefs lost to the San Diego Chargers 24-13 at Jack Murphy Stadium. The Chiefs scored all 13 points in the first quarter and led 13-7 at one point in the first period. RB Paul Palmer scored on a 26-yard run and QB Steve DeBerg connected with WR Stephone Paige for a four-yard score. But San Diego dominated the second half, mostly on the legs of RB Gary Anderson. He had 217 rushing yards on 34 carries, scoring on a nine-yard run. Chargers QB Mark Malone was just six of 10 for 91 yards passing, but he added a five-yard TD run as well. The San Diego defense picked off a pair of DeBerg passes and sacked him three times. The defeat left the Chiefs 4-11-1 on the season.

On December 18, 1994, the Chiefs beat the Houston Oilers 31-9 with 74,474 fans watching at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs defense led the way in this victory, as they allowed the Oilers just 223 yards in total offense, with three sacks and five takeaways. Meanwhile, the KC offense scored four touchdowns, as QB Joe Montana threw scoring passes to TE Derrick Walker and WR Lake Dawson (right). RBs Donnell Bennett from 12 yards and Greg Hill from eight yards had TD runs. Dawson caught five passes for 101 yards and Montana was 16 of 27 for 235 yards. The KC defense had an interception from S Charles Mincy and four recovered fumbles, and three sacks, with two from DE Neil Smith.

On December 18, 1999, the Chiefs beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 35-19 in a Saturday afternoon game in front of 78,687 fans at Arrowhead Stadium. The highlight of the game was an 82-yard end around run by WR Derrick Alexander, who ran right, cut back left and seemed to weave his way through the entire Pittsburgh defense. TE Tony Gonzalez caught a pair of TD passes from QB Elvis Grbac, of 15 and two yards. RB Bam Morris had a 10-yard touchdown run and LB Donnie Edwards returned an interception of Pittsburgh QB Mike Tomczak 28 yards for a touchdown. The Chiefs defense had four interceptions and two sacks.

16 Responses to “End Of An Era … Friday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • December 18, 2009  - ED says:

    Yeah it sucks now being on the bottom. In the same boat with the Lions, Rams, and Browns over the course of the last 3 seasons, but I think this thing will get turned around. We got some bright spots. We just need keep adding talent and will be back to winnning.

  • December 18, 2009  - Arrowheadlines: Chiefs News 12/18 says:

    [...] End Of An Era … Friday Cup O’Chiefs from Bob Gretz [...]

  • December 18, 2009  - Arrowheadlines: Chiefs News 12/18 « wire2 says:

    [...] End Of An Era … Friday Cup O’Chiefs from Bob Gretz [...]

  • December 18, 2009  - el cid says:

    ED- the Chiefs flop may go back to the end of the Marty era. That said fans not at the stadium while not fatal is an indication of how far the Chiefs have fallen. Lamar Hunt trusted carl, and he lost it. Clark Hunt has handed the keys to Pioli the same way. Unfortunately I can see the same failure potential.

    If it takes Pioli/Haley the 2-3 years, this blackout could be the trend of things to come. I personally do not feel KC, the Fans, or the Chiefs can co-exist with continuing failures that long.

  • December 18, 2009  - Mad Chief says:

    I don’t see this “blackout” as a trend. It’s just a matter of fact when two of the worst teams in football are playing late in the season…with nothing really to play for. Like Bob opened his article with, “It had to end at some point.”

    Hopefully next year, this team will be a little more competitive…and this won’t even be an issue.

    Still, it’s sad to see the streak end. But, it’s just another indicator of where our team is at right now.

    Some like to rag on Pioli and Haley, and seem to wish failure on both. While I don’t agree with every move they’ve made…I sincerely hope they get this team headed in the right direction by next season. Right now, they are Chiefs. It’s one thing to be critical. But to wish failure on our team for the sake of being “right” or an “I told ya so” is pure BS.

  • December 18, 2009  - Rick says:

    You could see this coming when Edwards took over. Peterson hired his friends to coach. I also think the Chiefs will get things straightened out. Pioli doesn’t work for an organization like the Patriots without learning how to do things. Haley has made mistakes yes but I do think if he hires a OC he will turn things around. I’m not sure he can be the playcaller as emotional as he gets. I will give them this next year to see drastic improvement. I have held my tickets 21 years and will again next year. 9 hour round trip every game. My Christmas wish beat Browns and Bengals. Merry Christmas everyone.

  • December 18, 2009  - tm1946 says:

    I guess we could rag on the NFL for the schedule where we faced monsters at the beginning and several teams with over a week to prepare for the Chiefs. Or continue to beat to death Peterson for the remains Pioli had to fix. Or whatever. It seems to me that the real BS comes from guys who “like to look at the positive” or “headed in the right direction” with nothing to support it but wishes. But that is just me.

  • December 18, 2009  - Anonymous says:

    Rick I agree to a point. My tickets are not 21 years old, did not make that kind of money. I can get home using city streets in an hour and intend to be there sunday. My wish adds Denver to your list.

    Only negatives, Pioli said nothing in the works for a new OC, it is Haley’s job as long as he is HC and wants it. Another I see 2010 as part of this rebuild and do not expect much if any improvement until 2012, then it may all come together. Still Merry Christmas.

  • December 18, 2009  - Mad Chief says:

    Well tm1946,

    It’s a choice, I guess. I can try to look for the positives…or I can piss and moan all day/week/season about things I have no control over. I choose to look for hope in this teams future, and try to tune out gloom and doom forcasts that have the Chiefs sucking for the next however many years down the road.

    If you think that being positive about the future is BS, and wishing failure on the Chiefs is NOT…then I don’t see how you can call yourself a Chiefs fan.

    But that is just me.

  • December 18, 2009  - colby says:

    Maybe if Hunt quit spending money buying up all those empty seats and started spending it on TALENT instead of being 30 plus mil under the cap two years in a row then the seats would be full because the team would field a COMPETITIVE product.

    It’s so simple, kind of like soccer.

  • December 18, 2009  - Insider says:

    Interesting there are those who want to blame the blackout on Carl as well. And at the same time deny him credit for preventing a blackout for almost 2 decades.

  • December 18, 2009  - Jim Lloyd + says:

    I bet there is going to be a deseant crowd out there Sun…
    Fans buying seats on the gate & resales .
    A lot due to the fact this is the last HOME GAME !
    Almost every player on that team is of high talent and when they really start clicking together , they could be hard to beat .
    This could start soon .

  • December 18, 2009  - Behind Enemy Lines says:

    I’d take a late Christmas present as well (a win over Denver). In fact, I’d be ok with a loss to CLE and CIN if we could beat Denver. But, since I’m an optimistic guy, lets double our wins on the year and win out! That would be a great way to end the season.
    Merry Christmas, Chiefs fans!

  • December 18, 2009  - arrowhead1978 says:

    Call it doom and gloom, but it’ll be a good thing that they are blacked out, the chiefs fans wont have to go out and buy a new tv on monday…

  • December 18, 2009  - brainsmasher says:

    I bought season tickets last year to support Herm and Clark for having the nads to blow up the team, get rid of rapidly aging vets and go young–something they should have done 3 or 4 years earlier; but better late than never. Herm would never make my list of top coaches; but it’s the Billies and Joes and not the X”s and O’s. Well, Clark decides to scrap that plan when Pioli becomes available. Can’t argue with that as Pioli was the hottest thing going. I got a bad feeling not when Pioli canned Herm; but by the way he let Herm twist in the wind. And then the Toddler refuses to deny that he punked Brian Waters with his now famous, ” I can win more games with 22 guys off the street” comment. And then they proceeded to discard young and inconsistent players and replace them with what we now know is crap. I’ll watch on tv; but it will be a long time before I even think about going to a Chiefs game.

  • December 19, 2009  - el cid says:

    No fan of Pioli/Haley brain drain. But strongly consider keeping your tickets one more year. I am betting the first regular season game will be against the superbowl winner or loser and the first qtr (thanks, Haley) will be loaded with talented team with players with star quality. Just hang in one more season if you can.

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