For close to twenty years, it was pretty much taken for granted that the Kansas City Chiefs would rank among the top-attended teams in the National Football League.
But for many of you who can’t point to owning season tickets as far back as 1963, there were some lean years, starting from the first days the team moved here from Dallas in 1963 through 1965 and particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.
However, with the arrival of a new management and coaching team, led by Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer in 1989, the environment underwent an almost immediate transformation. Soon, other NFL teams were coming to Kansas City – yes, the same Kansas City that had once drawn just 11,000 plus to a game against rival Denver, no less, in 1983 – to get an idea how they could turn their fortunes around, particularly off the field of play.
Working from a study by Teamwork Consulting, Inc. of Cleveland, the new Chiefs management team got an almost immediate sense of where the franchise was in the minds of its fans and potential ticket buyers in early 1989. In short: The Chiefs were depicted as uninvolved and the fans tired of empty-sounding slogans and marketing gimmicks. Fans had quit showing up and when the house was filled, it was crowded only during Raiders games and then by many who were not passionate about the team and were more interested in being rowdy and sometimes abusive.
Changes came and fast.
On-the-field morale was evident to anyone who followed the team. Grumbling and backbiting from players were non-existent. Agitators no longer agitated.
Off-the-field, there were no more excuses. No more slogans or promises; indeed, if there was to be a slogan, it was “no more slogans”, which found a responsive audience, cautiously willing to give the new administration a chance. The advertisement campaign was done in bland black and white for a reason. These newcomers were hard-working folks, not glitzy types, trying to bamboozle what had become a cynical public. Even the mascot was changed to something called “KC Wolf”, who harked back to the franchise’s roots at Municipal Stadium. Group sales were emphasized and new trips to the outer environs of the market area were made with sales staff and current players in tow.
Tony DiPardo and his Zing Band were brought back. Local retired players – too long ignored – were re-engaged and became “Chiefs Ambassadors”, who visited with fans in the parking lots and in the suites. The idea of tailgating was promoted, not frowned upon, as it is in many other NFL venues. Inside the bowels of the stadium, a new program entitled “The Clean Team” had bathroom attendants in each restroom to keep it clean.
By any standard, results in ticket sales came faster than results on the field. In Schottenheimer’s first year, the team finished with an 8-7-1 record, just out of the playoffs, but season-ticket increases ranked fourth in the entire NFL. By 1990, Kansas City was tops in that category and by 1991, did it once again.
The Chiefs were back as a viable product in the sports marketplace and season-ticket sales were soon capped at 65,000 (way up from the 25,378 from the year right before Peterson and Schottenheimer took control), with the remainder of ducats available for single-game sales.
It was the start of one of the most productive periods in franchise history, both on the field and off, and well before the advent of Twitter and other online information, which are now routinely used by Emory University researchers Mike Lewis and Manish Tripathi to measure fan loyalty and reactions.
This past year, the pair released their findings on what cities have the most loyal and supportive fans. Data was gathered over a period of 11 years to arrive at a model. To no surprise, the Chiefs ranked in the top five in fan loyalty and support over the last decade, even as their on-field results declined. Only the Patriots and the Washington Redskins ranked higher. Kansas City was third with Denver and Pittsburgh close behind. The team’s current ranking is 21st, according to the study, with the Cowboys atop the list and the Raiders last.
This week, another home season begins with new leaders at the helm, new initiatives from a revamped and enthusiastic marketing team and with an energized corps of season ticket holders with reason again to hope.