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.
SIGNINGS, INJURIES & MOVEMENT AROUND THE LEAGUE
- 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.
FROM THE PAGES OF CHIEFS HISTORY
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.