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KC Chiefs (and Royals) talk of moving out


Bleujayone

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And so yet another team talks of moving to greener pastures, this time it's the Chiefs. Somehow I get the feeling if the NFL put a team in Los Angeles, many of these teams would suddenly find a solution to their current market and stay put. Then again, maybe that's the whole point towards keeping L.A. vacant; as a negotiation ploy.

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Arrow-Dead?

By RANDY COVITZ  ■  The Kansas City Star -Sunday, May 29, 2005

Picture this: A Midwestern city enjoys a love affair with its NFL franchise and fills the stadium 78,000 strong year after year, though the fans are continually frustrated by the team?s falling short of the Super Bowl.

The club?s roots go back to its championship years in a rival league before it merged with the NFL. The franchise is family owned, and the club?s patriarch is one of the NFL?s most respected owners in the league who enjoyed success with Marty Schottenheimer as his head coach.

But as years go by, the owner, now in his 70s, becomes disenchanted with the deteriorating conditions at a publicly owned stadium that once was a civic treasure, and there?s talk of him taking his team elsewhere.

Sound familiar, Kansas City? No, we?re not talking about the Chiefs. Yet.

We?re talking about the Cleveland Browns ? the original Cleveland Browns ? who abandoned their denizens of the Dawg Pound for a new stadium in Baltimore in 1996 after owner Art Modell grew weary of playing in antiquated Cleveland Stadium.

Now, it?s the Chiefs who could be on the move ? be it across the state line or across the country ? if Jackson County is unable to maintain Arrowhead Stadium as a ?state-of-the art? facility as stipulated in the club?s lease.

If the Browns turned their backs on Cleveland, could the Chiefs do the same to Kansas City?

Aware the county is growing dangerously close to defaulting on the leases, the Chiefs? frustration boiled over when club chairman Clark Hunt, son of 72-year-old club founder Lamar Hunt, told Missouri legislators recently that the Chiefs could leave Missouri within 10 years.

Hunt is determined to keep the Chiefs in the metropolitan area, and a new stadium in either Wyandotte County or Johnson County would be his choice if Jackson County fails to keep up 33-year-old Arrowhead to NFL standards.

But Wyandotte County?s success with Kansas Speedway notwithstanding, persuading the taxpayers in Wyandotte or Johnson County to build a new $350 million to $400 million stadium is no sure thing. Kansas City has seen sports franchises and organizations leave before, but not since Charles O. Finley took the Athletics to Oakland in 1968 would a team be departing for better facilities elsewhere.

Certainly, the prospect of a vacated and cobweb-filled Arrowhead Stadium would have been inconceivable when it opened in 1972. Just as no one in Cleveland thought the team would abandon its lakefront home of 49 years.

?The fans here didn?t think it would happen,? said Tim Hagan, president of the Board of Commissioners of Cuyahoga County. ?I?m sure the fans in Kansas City are thinking, ?The Chiefs have been here for (43) years? ? but so what? They?ve got to understand this is a business.?

At the time of Cleveland?s move, the Browns still had three years on their lease with Cleveland Stadium, and despite a new baseball stadium built for the Indians and new arena for the NBA?s Cavaliers, Modell, like the Chiefs, wasn?t asking for a new stadium but a renovated one.

Plans were in the works for the city to spend $190 million on a refurbished Cleveland Stadium, similar to the remodeled Soldier Field in Chicago and Lambeau Field in Green Bay, which are models for what the Chiefs have envisioned for Arrowhead.

But Modell, who was having some personal financial difficulties, couldn?t wait. He was actively pursued by Baltimore, which was still aching from its loss of the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984. The state of Maryland and Baltimore handed Modell a new stadium and turn-key operation without having to negotiate a lease.

The NFL and Modell avoided litigation when the league quickly granted Cleveland an expansion franchise for 1999 and stipulated the name, colors and heritage of the Browns would remain in Cleveland.

Though the Chiefs? lease runs through 2014, Jackson County would have little recourse if it defaults on the leases because it has run out of money to maintain the stadiums in accordance to the master plan signed in 1990. That could happen within two years.

And that?s what Clark Hunt was trying to convey to the legislators when they refused to allow an existing tax on athletes and entertainers? earnings to go toward maintaining the stadiums.

Hunt and Royals owner David Glass, in fact, offered to extend their leases to 2030 in exchange for funneling the athletes and entertainers? taxes toward stadium maintenance, but the legislators said it was too late in the session to work that out.

Little wonder Hunt expressed some frustration.

First, a bistate vote that would have funded extensive renovations at both Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums (including $50 million contributed by the Chiefs, $15 million by the Royals) and extended the leases to 2029 failed at the ballot box last November.

?We could have gotten two stadiums for the price of one,? lamented Kevin Gray, president of the Kansas City Sports Commission. ?Now, here we are.?

Then, the short-term solution involving the athletes/entertainers tax failed to reach the floor of the House in Jefferson City.

?In terms of Clark Hunt?s comment, he was responding to a question, ?Do we have to worry?? and he said something that is factually very true,? said Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields.

?If we don?t get our arms around renovations at the stadiums, we may very well see one or both of these teams not with us anymore. I kind of wish they said that before the bistate vote.?

The bistate vote, which was defeated soundly on the Kansas side as well as in Clay and Platte counties, did have one silver lining for the Truman Sports Complex. Bistate passed by about 60 percent in Jackson County.

?We do believe there is a general feeling in Jackson County that the teams are important and improving the stadiums is important,? Clark Hunt said. ?It?s quite possible we will see some kind of measure on the November ballot regarding doing some improvements at the stadium, and we?re somewhat hopeful that whatever the county decides to do, it has a pretty good chance of passing.?

Bistate augurs well for a Jackson County vote, said Bill Lucas, chairman of the Sports Commission, but he cautioned: ?If you?re just using Jackson County for your mind-set, it was an easy yes vote because half the money was going to come from somewhere else. If you could get your neighbor to help pay for your house, you would do it and vote yes.

?First you have to deem that it?s important to be a major-league city, and then you have to figure out your obligations to be one.?

The Jackson County Legislature has until Aug. 30 to submit a proposal to the election board for it to go on the ballot in November. The question is how much to seek from the taxpayers.

Representatives of the Jackson County Legislature, Jackson County Sports Commission, Kansas City Sports Commission, and the Chiefs and Royals will spend the coming weeks discussing the improvements in the stadiums that are required in the leases, and how much it will take to fund them.

One alternative would be a modest sales tax measure that could raise about $80 million per team and ensure the leases continue through 2014. Another option would be a proposal along the lines of bistate that would provide the complete renovations the clubs want and require them to sign longer-term leases.

?These guys are reasonable,? Gray said of the Chiefs and Royals ownerships. ?Clark Hunt didn?t have a six-shooter going, telling the legislators, ?You better do this.?

?We have owners who want to stay here and want to do the right thing. They?re not telling us to build new stadiums. They?re saying, fix up what we?ve got, and we?ll be fine.

?Let?s say we default in two to three years. If you?re talking about a new stadium in Wyandotte County, with construction costs, interest. ? The Hunts would have put in $50 million for bistate, but they?re not going to put in $150 million for a new stadium, not with Los Angeles out there.

?If you gave Los Angeles an opportunity, they?re going to give (the Hunts) a blank check. That?s the scary part.?

The landscape of the 32-team NFL has been stable since the league expanded to Cleveland in 1999 and to Houston in 2002, when the Texans replaced the Oilers, who had moved to Tennessee in 1997.

But the NFL has made no secret it would like to return to Los Angeles, the nation?s second-largest market, which has been without a franchise since the Rams and Raiders both departed after the 1994 season. Problem is, the league and city are still trying to determine an appropriate site for a stadium.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Rose Bowl and a site in Anaheim adjacent to the Angel Stadium parking lot are jockeying for position, but all three have flaws. The Coliseum would need at least $500 million to rebuild the 82-year-old structure; the Rose Bowl has issues regarding access, parking, and litigation from neighbors; and Anaheim, despite the contention of baseball?s Angels, is still not Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers, both playing in outdated stadiums, are leading candidates for relocating to Los Angeles. The Chargers are hoping to get a measure for a new stadium on the November 2006 ballot.

Saints owner Tom Benson confirmed his attorney received an offer of more than $1 billion for his club, presumably from someone wanting to move the Saints to Los Angeles, but he declined and said he wants to stay in New Orleans.

It?s no coincidence that the stadiums in San Diego, Kansas City and New Orleans are among the oldest in the NFL. Once new stadiums are completed in Arizona (2006) and Dallas (2009), 29 of the NFL?s 32 teams will be playing in refurbished or newer stadiums than Arrowhead. Those stadiums that are older than Arrowhead are in San Francisco (1960), Oakland (1966) and San Diego (1967).

That prompts the question, if these new stadiums are such money makers, why don?t the Hunts just pony up for their own new stadium, like New England?s Robert Kraft or Washington?s Daniel Snyder?

The Chiefs have been willing to contribute to stadium improvements, and Hunt spent $9.5 million toward the construction of Arrowhead Stadium. But the Kansas City market is too small to support an NFL stadium without public support.

Many of the newer stadiums in the NFL, including the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis and Cleveland Stadium, require the purchase of personal seat licenses that run in the range of $250 to $3,000 for the rights to buy a ticket, plus the cost of the seat. And some of the newer stadiums also charge anywhere from $2,210 (FedEx Field in Washington) to $4,880 (Gillette Stadium, New England) for premium club seats.

?The difficulty in building a new stadium,? said Chiefs president Carl Peterson, ?is we have (three) Fortune 500 companies. Washington can charge $250,000 for suites. We could never charge that or get that.?

The 80 suites at Arrowhead Stadium cost between $18,000 and $75,000 depending on the size of the suite, and together with club seats, generate about $14 million a year, or less than half the league average of $36 million. That makes it more difficult for the Chiefs to compete with the high-revenue clubs when it comes to offering free agents multimillion-dollar signing bonuses.

?The Chiefs don?t want a new stadium, the Royals don?t want a new stadium,? said Dan Tarwater, chairman of the Jackson County Legislature. ?They just want the improvements to the stadium.?

Ken Silliman, former executive assistant for former Cleveland mayor Michael White, remembers what it was like during 1996-98 when the city had no pro football.

?A lot of people swore off the NFL,? Silliman said. ?A lot of people said, ?Hey, I have more time on Sundays.? But Cleveland is a football town. I don?t know if Kansas City is a lot like Cleveland in that sometimes there?s a self-defeating attitude, and it was another thing that was taken away.?

To get the expansion Browns, the taxpayers had to spend more than $290 million to build a 73,200-seat stadium that includes 147 luxury suites and 8,754 club seats. It didn?t hurt that Cleveland ranks 15th in the country with a metropolitan population of 3 million, and the Cleveland/Akron/Canton area has nine Fortune 500 countries.

It?s doubtful Kansas City, which operates in the NFL?s fifth-smallest market (if you count Milwaukee as part of Green Bay?s territory) with a metropolitan population of 1.8 million, could ever persuade the NFL to return if the Chiefs leave.

?We?re not like a St. Louis market that can capture one back, we?re not like Cleveland or Baltimore,? said Michael Smith, president of the Jackson County Sports Authority. ?Los Angeles is a big enough market to capture it back.

?We are in a more critical position now than we were when we put the (sports complex) on the ballot in 1967.?

Those in Cleveland say it would be wise to learn from their experience.

?Do I say, ?Give them the kitchen sink?? No,? said Hagan, the county executive in Cleveland. ?But the political leadership has to work out a deal to make these people happy. Instead of polarizing the debate and saying, ?You?re selling out to the billionaires,? which is one argument. The other argument is saying ?Give them everything.? You can find a happy medium. Bring the people in the room and say, ?How can we get this? We want you to be here.? ?

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To reach Randy Covitz, NFL reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4796 or send e-mail to rcovitz@kcstar.com

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It has already begun months ago with Bi-State. Lamar is pissed so now Clark is going around causing a stir to get thier way. I cannot really blame them. The Stadiums are not up to snuff according to what is stated in the lease.

Bring the Chiefs on over to Kansas, I'm fine with that. :D

BTW, I for one think LA is not a possibility because I think either the Chargers or Saints will be there first. Plus I don't think LA is such a sure thing as they think.

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I don't think it would take much to bring Arrowhead up to "top tier" status and it's built in such a way that it could certainly be upgraded without having to tear the thing down a'la Soldier Field. Accordingly, I have to believe the Chiefs aren't going anywhere.

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