My Two (Chiefs) Cents
It’s been a rough week for the Kansas City Chiefs and their fans. That is also probably the understatement of the week. Negative attitudes are at a high, and there are so many things at work that it’s difficult to sort things through and address things equally and/or fairly. But here’s my perspective on the varying issues, maybe you’ll agree, maybe you’ll disagree, but hopefully I can bring a few things to light which may have previously gone unconsidered. Some of what I say will be supported by facts, some by speculation in the absence of publicly available facts (such as Pioli’s “master plan”, assuming he has one), but the main intent is to present information or perspective that may not be currently represented (or is, at least, underrepresented). As some (if not most… if not all) of these views are likely to be unpopular or underrepresented, I’m prepared for a hailstorm of comments to the contrary. In the interests of perpetuating a well-reasoned, well-thought-out discourse, I kindly request such comments remain cordial.
Though owned by the Lamar Hunt family, through Hunt Sports Group, through Unity Hunt LLC, when one thinks of Kansas City Chiefs ownership, one thinks of the family-elected CEO and Chairman Clark Hunt. Simply saying the name “Clark Hunt” will send chills down a large number of Chiefs’ fans spines.
Clark Hunt has been associated with cheapness, caring more about the bottom dollar than team success/glory, and caring less about the Kansas City fanbase and community. That he lives in Dallas, TX is usually a shot taken by fans and media as indication of his lack of caring for the fanbase and community, and that cap availability numbers inaccurately represent how much a team is spending on its players have given him the label of being cheap.
I do not agree with a lot of the negativity surrounding Clark Hunt. For those of you who read my article two weeks ago, you should know by now that the Kansas City Chiefs have not been cheap in their player spending, having amassed the highest paid team in the NFL this season according to salary cap figures. If you did not read that article, it may be more conducive to your fair assessment of Clark Hunt to do so now. The article provides insight into team spending for all NFL teams and how certain aspects of salary cap management function. To summarize the article for the sake of expedience, Clark Hunt isn’t being cheap on the player spending. This also feeds into how much Clark Hunt cares about the bottom dollar. Though I’m sure the Hunt family’s business interests in the Chiefs would keep them from wanting the organization to start functioning in the red, the same could be said of any business’s or organization’s owner(s) ever. Something can only be supported for so long when it’s not earning revenues equal to or greater than its expenses. That’s just basic economics.
In regards to his consideration for the fanbase and for the Kansas City community, more consideration is being given than the Hunt family has been commonly assessed. One of the chief complaints is that the on-the-field product is not equating to what a lot of Chiefs fans consider to be fair prices for stadium attendance. They don’t feel they’re getting the bang for their buck; a sentiment that is amplified in rough economic times where how one spends what money one has is greatly scrutinized by the spender. So, how does the Chiefs’ gameday experience stack up against the 31 NFL teams? Every year Team Marketing Report in Chicago, IL researches this very question. Here is a chart of the average ticket prices for a fan to attend a game at each of the NFL stadiums; it should be noted the cost and quantity of premium seating is not included in these averages:
|Rank||Team||Avg. Ticket||Rank||Team||Avg. Ticket|
Source: Team Marketing Report
The average NFL ticket price is reported as $78.38, well above what the average ticket price to Arrowhead costs. Even factoring out the five highest ticket prices (all above $100) the average ticket price for the 27 lowest price teams is $71.84, still firmly above the Arrowhead average. What may be of additional interest is that Team Marketing Report also tracks the percentage changes in ticket prices for each NFL team. TMR determined that the average NFL ticket price has increased by 2.5% compared to last season. Fifteen NFL teams saw no change in their ticket prices. Of the remaining seventeen teams nine increased ticket prices [the lowest being the Seahawks by 1%, the highest being the Bears by 9.2%], and six lowered ticket prices. The Kansas City Chiefs are not only counted among the six NFL teams that lowered ticket prices, but KC decided to decrease their prices by the second-most percentage* [2.6%]. As part of their report, TMR provided the NFL average cost dating back to the 2007 season; even going back that far, the current Chiefs’ pricing does not meet or exceed the league average.
*Only the Bengals decreased their ticket prices by a greater percentage[4.2%]; however TMR’s research showed that, of the six clubs that decided to decrease ticket prices, the Bengals were one of two clubs that decided to lower ticket prices following lower fan attendance during the 2011 season; the second team being the Bills.
TMR also researched the average premium ticket costs and the cost of beer, soft drinks, hot dogs, parking, programs and caps as part of their study. Their figures on beer and soft drinks are based on the smallest sizes available at each stadium, and their figures on caps are based on the least expensive, adult-size adjustable caps at each stadium. In these categories, the Kansas City Chiefs exceed the league average in only two of them: 1) Hot Dogs – in excess of 66 cents, and 2) Average Premium Ticket costs in excess of $26.30.
As part of their report TMR created a cost index comprised of the costs of four average-price tickets, two small beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-size hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two of the least expensive, adult-size adjustable caps. The reported cost index for such a gameday experience for each team is as follows:
|Rank||Team||Cost Index||Rank||Team||Cost Index|
Source: Team Marketing Report
As can be seen, the Chiefs rank as the fourth cheapest team in terms of the cost index. TMR determined that the average NFL cost index has increased by 3.9% compared to last season. Only two NFL teams saw no change in their cost index. Of the remaining thirty teams twenty-six saw an increase in cost index [the lowest increase being the Cardinals by 0.3%, the highest being the Bears by 16.3%], and four saw decreases in their cost index. The Kansas City Chiefs are not only counted among the four NFL teams that lowered the overall cost of an average gameday experience, but KC decreased their prices by the second-most percentage [1.6%] with only the Jets showing a greater decrease [1.9%].
So though some, including The Arrowhead Adventurer, may not care for certain organization initiatives, such as the switch to paperless tickets (thereby depriving fans of the memento of ticket stubs), savings are being passed onto the fans by making such changes (I, for one, always tended to rip/disfigure ticket stubs from any events I’ve attended and, as a result, do not partake in that particular keepsake practice… as such, I’d personally prefer more efficient line movement).
Does this forgive the disparity between on-the-field product and the associated costs? Not incredibly. We’d still all like to see the Chiefs be more competitive and in championship contention; an increase in quality without an increase in cost. But at least you’ve been afforded the opportunity to see what other teams’ fans are paying out on gameday, and I think we can all agree that being a Jets fan has to suck considerably more by a quality to cost comparison.
As for the Hunt family living in Dallas, this is the way it’s always been. Lamar Hunt’s ability to finance a football team came from the wealth earned by his father, H.L. Hunt, in conjunction with Hunt Oil. Though Lamar Hunt’s branch of the Hunt family tree no longer holds a stake in Hunt Oil, there are many other business ventures they do own a stake in which are, for the most part, based in Dallas. In the early days, when the Dallas Cowboys (who at the time were much less successful than the Dallas Texans) started taking attention away from Lamar Hunt’s beloved football team, and he resigned to the fact that sentiment was not enough to continue functioning in Dallas when the previous three seasons found the organization in the red, he sought to move that team to a city that would give a damn. The speculated options at the time were for a move to be made to either Oakland or Kansas City. After what was described as a “cloak-and-dagger” affair, Kansas City’s mayor and Hunt agreed to stage a season ticket run to determine if the new city would be devoted enough to the sport to garner the team with the attention Lamar felt it deserved. Obviously Kansas City met Lamar Hunt’s expectations as we know that he moved the team there; however, what may not be known is that Kansas City fell far short of the set season ticket goal (25,000 tickets) in that they only sold tickets in the 13,000-14,000 tickets by the given deadline. Lamar still felt that the city showed enough devotion and passion (despite not meeting the ticket sales threshold) that he decided to move the Texans to Kansas City.
Nowhere is it mentioned or even suggested that Lamar Hunt agreed to pull up his family’s stakes to move to Kansas City. A lot of tradition and business interests already existed in Dallas for that to have been part of the deal. That same family tradition continues to this day. The Chiefs are but a part of Hunt Sports Inc., and Hunt Sports Inc. is but a part of Unity Hunt LLC. To expect numerous businesses, and a family’s tradition, to be uprooted for the sake of one of those business ventures (though the Kansas City Chiefs are the most recognizable) is asking a lot, and probably too much
Does this mean that the Hunts and the Chiefs don’t care about Kansas City? Not in the least. By my count the Hunts through the Kansas City Chiefs have 15 steady community service programs devoted to helping various aspects of the Greater Kansas City Community. Players are encouraged to actively participate in giving back to the community. And new initiatives such as the Chiefs partnership with the University of Kansas Medical School are geared towards ultimately helping the Kansas City community as a whole. These are not the actions of an ownership that doesn’t care about its fans or its team’s city’s citizens. In fact, their devotion to the community is a large part of why I am of a fan of the organization and have remained a fan through the tougher years; they may not always win (or even be competitive) but the organization’s devotion to contribute beyond what the game dictates is, by my estimation, admirable and should not be diminished by how they play 16 days a year.
Also, when it was obvious things were not progressing under Carl Peterson and Herm Edwards, Clark Hunt made a move to obtain one of the most decorated executives in the football industry, and spared no expense to bring him in to help the franchise (something an owner that doesn’t care wouldn’t do), which brings us to:
I don’t know what to think about Pioli. On the one hand Kent Babb has painted a pretty bad picture of Pioli. On the other hand, Babb also neglected to look into team finances and painted the Hunts as cheap on players though they appear to be anything but*, and generated negativity on that front where negativity wasn’t due.
Aside: I’m still astounded by that one. I’m a legal assistant in Pennsylvania, devoting nearly 60 hours a week towards my day job with a wife and 2-year-old daughter also garnering my attention, and I was still able to do more thorough research on that front (cross-checking my findings across many independent sources with no team affiliation for slant) and reported this as part of my contribution to this website. It was Kent Babb’s day job to do such things for which I’m sure he got amply paid, and he couldn’t do that much??? I guess I’m saying I’ve re-read Babb’s articles with a grain of salt as I am not satisfied with his research abilities (or lack thereof).
In Michael Holley’s book “War Room”, it is indicated (and I’m paraphrasing here) that when Pioli arrived in Kansas City, the Chiefs staff and scouts were complacent and unmotivated, which (by that point in the book) were distinguished as work habits in conflict with Pioli’s own work ethic. Holley (in juxtaposition to Babb) painted Pioli as a hard worker who would sooner have his work product exceed his paycheck than his paycheck exceed his work product.
If that is his work ethic, and the incumbent staff did not put their hearts into their jobs and strive towards the goal of making the Chiefs organization a championship product, I can understand the turnover ratio. There are no salary cap concerns in the front office; severance packages maybe (and they could be pillaging Hunt’s pockets for all we know), but not a set number that the organization may not exceed in accounting terms. If these people were not earning their paychecks (admittedly by Pioli’s standards), then I can understand Pioli taking swift action in terminating them and bringing in new people. I can even understand him bringing in people he knew from his time with the Patriots (as he likely had previous knowledge of these individuals’ work ethics, knowledge and talents).
The desire to have people who work for you do their damnedest and take more pride in doing their work in excess of expectations rather than taking the mentality of “I’m doing just as much as I think my pay warrants” (such people usually overestimating how much pay they’ve ‘earned’ through the work they’ve actually done) is also something I can understand, and would explain the so-called “wire-tapping”. I work for government, we have the same systems in check. E-mail, phone logs, etc. are monitored to determine how much company time the worker is spending on personal business (i.e. how much non-work they’re performing during hours they’re getting paid for). It isn’t incredibly shocking that a multi-million dollar business would partake in such monitoring. Again, if the workers were as complacent as Michael Holley indicated, it may be of utmost importance to changing the culture of football operations from people who care more for how much they could soak the organization for than how much they could contribute to the organization’s success.
If Pioli (or any other GM that could’ve been, or could still be, brought in) wanted to change a complacent culture satisfied with doing the bare minimum and having little interest in a championship that was gained by more than luck (if hard work was the alternative), I think we’d all be supportive of that change.
That being said, I doubt the candy wrapper story was made up, to which I can only say this: I can understand wondering why the hell you’re paying maintenance to do a job they’re obviously not doing (the wrapper was sitting for about a week after all… which by my count is at least 4 days too long, even if they were understaffed or only cleaned two to three days a week), but the taking of the wrapper as evidence makes the whole incident automatically extreme (and sounds on par with Mitch Hedberg’s “donut receipt” joke). That definitely could’ve been handled a lot better.
As far as his plans for rebuilding and his apparent secrecy of these plans are concerned, it’s frustrating as hell only being able to speculate what his intentions are/were. I, for one, believe (or maybe just really hope) that the plan was/is to build up the supporting cast first and drop in the intended franchise QB last. This would help prevent “David Carr Syndrome” or other 1st round busts such as Brady Quinn was in Cleveland. Instead of custom building an entire team to one guy’s talents (thereby making it more difficult should that one guy go down), it would entail building a talented team and allowing the last guy (QB) to adjust to the talents around him (thereby making it less disastrous should that one guy go down temporarily). To get the QB first and build the team around him is akin to making the QB the entire foundation’s cornerstone. If it’s later learned that that cornerstone is not of the quality it was believed to be, the building stands to get irreparably damaged. To get the QB last is akin to building a quality structure first and using the QB as the capstone. If the capstone is of lesser quality than was expected, so what? It’s less damaging to the structure to replace a damaged capstone than to replace a damaged cornerstone. The downside is that, as fans, we don’t know if this is the plan until it happens. It could very well be. It could very well be that Cassel was perceived to be the guy for real (rather than a QB deemed adequate to man the helm while the rebuilding took place… I guess in my metaphor “the scaffolding”). Will Pioli say? No.
Which brings us to the secrecy. I can understand this to an extent. Part of the existence of a salary cap in the NFL is to promote competition and to provide no team with an unfair competitive advantage due to finances. But each team wants a competitive edge to build the strongest team possible within the restrictions of these limited resources. Kansas City is not a large market, so the competitive edge of “come here, we’ll make you famous” isn’t much of one for Chiefs execs (past, current or foreseeable future). Fan loyalty can help lure talent, but that’s more our thing than a FO thing. The Chiefs don’t have overwhelming, modern day championship prestige (yet). So what competitive edges can there be? I would reason that not letting your competition know your goals heading into deals would prove to be a great advantage. If everyone expected KC to draft a QB in the first round of next year’s draft (let’s say they finished with a pick lower than No. 1 Overall), and a move was made to jockey the team in the position to draft the QB of their choice, how much greater would the trade cost be knowing that the team’s intent is to draft a team’s most valuable asset (QB)? If, however, you lowered your trade partner’s expectations to believe that your intent is in the interest of drafting a lesser position player, that deal will likely become less costly (meaning that your own team can hold onto more assets, be it player, asset, or money to re-invest in another portion of the team). It’s a competitive edge built on manipulating others’ speculation of your intents, and there may be considerable success in doing so; unfortunately, the decision to put your competitor’s speculation in doubt also casts doubt within your fanbase’s speculation.
As for owning up to his mistakes, I’ll go back to Babb and the salary cap situation: Babb (local media) fabricated a negative misconception of something the Chiefs were actually doing well and it spread like a fire causing a wave of damage in its wake. That was with bad knowledge of a situation the team was actually doing pretty well. What could be expected of this same local media if Pioli admitted to an actual error? Holy bejeezus, that would not end well.
Overall, I can appreciate wanting personnel dedicated to making the franchise a perennial contender, and I can understand building the supportive components of a team up first before dropping in the franchise QB. It’s not the broad goals behind (what I think is) Pioli’s rebuilding plan I question, so much as Pioli’s execution of this plan. Keep the ideology, but do better at enacting the plan (or, Clark, find someone else who can).
Spoke in a moment of passion. While morally justified in sentiment, he lacked the censorship to scope his claims down to only indicate the fans that partook in the behavior. CBA dictates that players are open to media. He spoke to media in conjunction with this clause. So, I really can’t begrudge him the action of speaking with the media.
I’ve been saying for weeks that negativity from fans affects the players more than fans might think. After weeks of negativity, and the greetings of a negative banner on Sunday, he construed some cheers as being in the morally negative bent. Looking through comments on various sites pertaining to this issue, it’s easy to find people admittedly partaking in this deplorable behavior (cheering a player getting injured), so Winston’s perception of the intent behind some of these cheers does hold some merit.
There is some understandable and justifiable betrayal felt on behalf of the fans (at least the portions whom, in a moment of passion, Winston lumped in with the bad ones), but attempting to look at thing empathetically from Winston’s point of view, the portion of fans that cheered Cassel’s injury are a part of the same fanbase whose overwhelming response to his FA visit convinced him to stop seeking potentially greater fortune, and a greater media market, elsewhere and to settle for less money if it meant great fans. He made a major life choice based on how great the fanbase presented itself to him, and in short time saw just how negative the fanbase/local media could get [the local media is crawling with negativity, fans (though not all) have been acting out in negative fashions for weeks (even if just verbally), and it culminated with a portion of those fans doing something so deplorable and anti-supportive of the players]. Given that consideration, I wouldn’t be surprised if Winston felt a little bit of betrayal, too.
Ultimately my point on this is that fan attitude does affect player attitude, and this whole fiasco is a case in point.
Fans who cheered Cassel’s injury
Winston was correct in stating that this is not the Roman Coliseum and the players are not gladiators.
For those that use the flawed logic that NFL stadiums are constructed in the image of the Roman Coliseum so football is like the modern equivalent, you should probably know that the architectural design of NFL stadiums is not intended as an allegory to ancient Rome. The Romans designed the Coliseum as they did because it architecturally allowed for greater seating capacity. The properties of such design haven’t changed, and this is why stadiums are made in such a fashion. Incidentally, uncomfortable-as-all-get-out bleacher seating may also be used to accommodate more people. It’s an attendance maximization thing, not a throwback to days of yore.
For those that use the logic that “it’s okay to cheer MMA and boxing, so why not a football player’s injury?”, you should probably know that the rules are different going into each contest. Beating the crap out of each other is an integral part of MMA and boxing matches, and the participants willingly submit themselves to such punishment. Incidentally, it’s not unheard of for professionals in these sports to schedule matches several months apart to accommodate for the fact that they’re going to get brutalized and need copious amounts of time to recover in between bouts. Injuries in football, on the other hand, are incidental to the sport (not integral) and any action done by a player to intentionally injure another (or even that increase the odds of injury, such as helmet-to-helmet shots) are generally frowned upon. Remember that whole Bounty scandal thing? Yeah, the main part of that was the targeting of players for the purpose of injury (that money may or may not have been put towards these goals is secondary). Remember all those fines players accrue for helmet-to-helmet hits? Yeah, that’s what those are about, too.
There’s no denying that big hits or hard hits get a viewer’s adrenaline going, or that it is pants-crappingly awesome to see a player pop back up from such hits like they’re no big deal. But sometimes those players don’t bounce back up, and that’s when it’s time for humanity to kick back in. Maybe if the injury is a more minor one (ankle sprain, broken finger, etc.) to an opponent’s superstar, you can thank your lucky stars that your team got a reprieve from his awesomeness for the rest of the game, but when you get into potentially life-altering injuries such as concussions, ACL tears and the ilk, it’s time to dial it down.
To those of you convinced that Cassel’s injury is the only thing that would take him out of the line-up and that your voice isn’t being heard, you may be right, you may not be right. Maybe Cassel really was the best QB on the squad (I just vomited in my mouth a little). That being said, I personally didn’t care for the public display of discord by use of a banner flying over Arrowhead; such displays have the potential to place the fanbase as a whole in a bad light. That being said, I respect that you care so much about your team to spend extra money for such a display,
I would suggest and alternative: it may go against younger generations’ grain to not make public statements (ala Facebook or Twitter), but there’s a thing called letter writing that involves a pen and paper which would be more low key (as in less inflammatory to the fanbase) and cheaper, too. I’m in no way condoning sending threatening letters to One Arrowhead Drive (that’s kind of illegal), but sending letters highlighting your devotion to the team and expressing your disapproval of certain things that are being done which you don’t agree with (preferably with well-reasoned arguments, as you’d be taken more seriously) might be much more effective. As I write this, it occurs to me that Lamar Hunt was fond of conducting business via letter writing (even as technology advanced into allowing more instant communications), so to do so as a fanbase may very well strike a personal chord within the Hunt family as it pertains to fan concerns. The least that could be expected? Solid evidence of fans’ concerns that can’t be as easily discarded and ignored as pressing a “Trash” button in e-mail. Pioli flipped over a candy wrapper, how much attention do you think will be paid to stacks of letters filling up the joint?
Hopefully some of what I said has shed new light on certain things. Again, some of it is speculation, so my guess is as good as yours, but hopefully you have gotten to considering alternative intents. Tune in next week when I’ll be looking forward to 2013’s expected cap hits/player personnel moves. As always, Go Chiefs!!!