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HOH: New stadiums signal the AFL is here to stay

Posted Sep 5, 2012

Team historian Bob Moore looks at team attendance numbers from the first five years of the American Football League


League attendance is often a topic of conversation when determining the hold the games have on the local populace.

Consequently, there is a general opinion among followers of the Kansas City Chiefs that attendance has been consistent down through the years since the Dallas Texans moved to Kansas City in 1963.  As anyone who is facing the aging process, one’s memory is not what it used to be.

The first five years of the American Football League were difficult ones attendance-wise, as most followers of the game understand, and that included Kansas City housed in aging Municipal Stadium.  It’s the fate of all new leagues where the record of success is particularly grim.

Then, why did he AFL succeed where so many others have failed?

According to records found in the Lamar Hunt archives, the team’s attendance in Kansas City in 1963 was actually lower than it was in Dallas in 1962, or so it appeared.  But a closer examination of the Hunt records reveal that the 1962 Texans attendance was greatly “inflated” because of what Hunt termed “the attendance war with the Cowboys.”  Both teams averaged 10,000 per game at very low prices. In Kansas City, the attendance that first year represents “paid” at prices that were close to the highest in all of pro football, Hunt admits.  As a result, the Chiefs that first year could boast of being in the black, a true oddity of what we know of new sporting ventures today.

Meanwhile, around the AFL if not in Kansas City, new stadiums were appearing with the first in New York where the Jets moved into Shea Stadium, located in the borough of Queens, in 1964.  In Shea, the Jets averaged 42,000 per game up from 14,000 the previous year at the old decrepit Polo Grounds.  The next year, the average jumped to 58,000 in a stadium that seated 60,000. It was quarterback Joe Namath’s rookie season.

The construction of Shea signaled the beginning of a building boom with Oakland/Alameda County Stadium (1966), San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium (1967) and Houston’s Astrodome (1968). The dome was actually four years old when the Oilers moved into the stadium.

These four new stadiums combined to give the AFL the best new venues in all of pro football and made it pretty evident to anyone in the sport that the fledgling league wasn’t going anywhere.  It is one of the often overlooked reasons for forcing the NFL to the table to negotiate a merger. With the exception of St. Louis, all NFL teams played in older stadiums.

A further examination of the numbers show how important new stadiums were to the growth of the AFL. Oakland averaged 32,215 in 1964, San Diego 39,615 in 1967 and Houston 40,500 in 1968.

Hunt later used these figures to impress upon Major League Soccer owners how important the construction of soccer-specific stadiums was to the growth of that game in this country.

AFL HOME ATTENDANCE 1960-64

(Based on “announced” attendance, not “paid”)

Team

1960

1961

1962

1963

1964

Dallas/KC

171,500

123,000

155,409

150,567

126,881

Oakland

86,281

53,582

76,893

122,048

127,369

Denver

91,333

74,508

178,485

132,218

118,259

Buffalo

111,860

133,408

195,436

240,763

297,576

New York

114,628

106,619

36,161

103,550

298,972

Houston

140,136

195,024

200,285

163,372

141,777

Boston

118,260

115,610

150,626

169,870

199,652

LA/San Diego

109,656

195,014

153,908

191,491

169,656

TOTALS

994,654

996,765

1,147,203

1,273,879

1,480,142

Pct. Avg.

+5.52%

+15.1%

+11.0%

+16.2%

Avg. per game

16,869

17,799

20,486

22,748

26,431

Key Factors

----

(1)

(2) (3)

(4)

  1. Chargers move to San Diego
  2. Chiefs move to Kansas City
  3. Patriots move to Fenway Park
  4. Jets move to Shea Stadium

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