The Chiefs are headed to London in 2015.
The club announced Thursday that it will play host to the Detroit Lions on Nov. 1, 2015, in the NFL’s International Series at Wembley Stadium — one of three NFL games in the United Kingdom next year. The game, which will mark the first time the Chiefs play overseas, will be televised locally and nationally on Fox.
Because the Chiefs are the home team, that means they will only play seven regular-season games in 2015 at Arrowhead Stadium, which recently underwent a renovation in which Jackson County taxpayers contributed $250 million.
Donovan, speaking to reporters later Thursday, said season-ticket holders would only pay for nine games in 2015 — two preseason and seven regular-season games — as opposed to the usual 10.
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A team spokesman said Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt would not take questions Thursday. But Lions president Tom Lewand said Thursday that his team “would not have given up a home game in Detroit.”
Donovan said it was simply the Chiefs’ turn in the rotation, though there is currently no requirement for every team to host a London game. He also said he understood why season-ticket holders might be frustrated by the news, especially when they will still be forced to pay full price for two preseason games but be treated to one less regular-season game.
“As a fan, you don’t want give up a game – period,” Donovan said. “We get that, we understand it. If you look at the history of this franchise, specicially Lamar and what he did and the way he approached the National Football League and importance of the greater good, this is another example of this game following that tact and that approach.”
Donovan noted that the popularity of the London games — the league sells out the 80,000-seat Wembley Stadium in hours, he said — is the primary reason it’s good for the NFL.
“The International Series is a priority for the league,” Donovan said. “ It’s something that more and more teams, because we’ve increased the number of games, are playing. Therefore more teams have to give up home games. We’re not the first team to give up a home game. Obviously, some teams that have had advantages to give up home games have done that. Some teams like San Francisco and New Orleans and Atlanta have given up home games, as well.
“We think it’s a great opportunity, and we think that the people we talk to in the region sees this as a great opportunity for Kansas City. It puts us on a global stage. Our players, our fans and the whole region should benefit from it.”
Still, the move is unusual in the sense that most of the teams that have played host to overseas games thus far have attendance issues, which is not an issue for the Chiefs, who ranked seventh in attendance last season.
Jacksonville and Tampa Bay have been the home team twice, for instance, while Miami, St. Louis, Oakland and Minnesota have also been a “home” team in London. All ranked 21st or below in attendance last season.
On the other end of the spectrum, New Orleans — which ranked ninth in attendance last season — Atlanta (13th) and San Francisco (14th) have all played host to home games in London.
But it must be noted that the Saints agreed to the game while the Superdome was still undergoing a signifcant renovation following Hurricane Katrina, while the 49ers agreed to the game while playing at 54-year-old Candlestick Park, which was recently replaced by Levi’s Stadium. Meanwhile, the Falcons recently broke ground on a new stadium.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, completed a $375 million renovation to Arrowhead in 2010. But Donovan said he had “good” and “positive” conversations with a number of city and state officials on Thursday morning, after the team got word Wednesday night the announcement was coming, and Jackson County executive Mike Sanders was supportive of the decision.
“Now the world will see the best fans and best franchise in the NFL! What an exciting time to be a sports fan in Kansas City,” Sanders said in a release. “Between the World Series run by the Royals and the upcoming Chiefs game in London, we are proud to showcase our Jackson County spirit on the international stage.”
One thing that should also be noted is that Hunt has served as the chairman of the international committee — which is in charge of expanding the NFL’s footprint overseas — since 2011.
“We pride ourselves in leading by example,” Donovan said. “I think if you look at the history of the league .... I always go back to the Rooneys and the Maras and the McCaskeys and the Hunts sitting in that room with Pete Rozelle saying in order for us all to benefit we have to pull the TV revenues. And that launches this league. That’s one of the things that makes us as successful as we are today. This is another example of that.
“It’s not the same scale, I don’t believe, but it’s another example of ... you know, as a member of this league you’re going to be called on to do things and we happily accept that.”
Hunt told The Star in 2011 that the Chiefs may one day be interested in playing host to an overseas game.
“It’s something we would be open to,” Hunt said. “I definitely can’t sit here and say that we’ve made the decision that it would be good for us. There are a lot of things that go into that decision. It’s something we would want to discuss with the community. We understand that taking a home game away from the market affects people. We would want to make sure there would be support for it.'”
Hunt said at the time that he was aware that by doing so, the Chiefs would only play seven regular-season games at Arrowhead Stadium that season.
“That’s something that weighs very much in my mind,” Hunt said. '”We have a tremendous home-field advantage at Arrowhead.”
Donovan reinforced that point, but added that the Chiefs hosting a London game isn’t necessarily a new concept.
“I think we’d all love to have every game at Arrowhead,” Donovan said. “But this goes back to 2006, when we did the lease, it’s contemplated in that lease that there would be an international game, and if you had an international game, it could be a home game. So this is not a new thought. We’ve been discussing this with members of the chamber and the city and state for years.”
The International Series has grown from one regular-season game in 2007 to three games in 2014, and 17 of the 32 clubs have played games in London.
Some teams have pushed back about playing in London, though Donovan said the league is in discussions about making it a bid requirement to host a London game if a team wants a Super Bowl.
However, Donovan added that the team would not receive any retroactive “credit,” sort to speak, for doing so next year.
“The Super Bowl decision is more a cold weather issue than anything else,” Donovan said. The league is still going through that process after New York, so it isn’t directly related ... I think when Kansas City, if Kansas City, gets a Super Bowl, I think it’s going to be because of (Arrowhead Stadium) and this environment more than it is about us playing a game in London.”
Donovan said the league compensates both teams for going, though it’s unclear whether the club will take a loss, per se.
“I think when you undertake a prospect like this, it’s going to cost the Chiefs money, it is,” Donovan said. “It’s just too big an opportunity not to take advantage of. Now, we hope that’s an investment that we can return. But this is going to be expensive. It’s going to cost the Chiefs money to go.”
Donovan refused to quote a hypothetical number, but he did offer an anology.
“I had the good fortune of going to the Super Bowl in ‘05 with the Eagles, and we lost money,” Donovan said. “It’s expensive to do that and take that many people and move that many people ... we’ve got to go through the whole process of when do we go. Certain teams are going the Sunday before, certain teams are going on Thursdy, certain teams are taking big groups, certain people are taking it as a road game. So we’ve got to go through that process. There’s a lot more to come on this.”
Special teams coach Dave Toub is well aware of what a London trip means for an NFL club. When he was special teams coach of the Chicago Bears, he traveled there in 2011 for the Bears’ game against Tampa Bay.
“We actually flew in on Thursday, and I think Tampa Bay flew in early,” Toub said. “We had a great experience. We had plenty of time to see everything we wanted to see and we were still fresh when we played the game.”
The Bears won 24-18.
“We had a good time,” Toub said. “Only because we won.”
Whether the London game will be a good thing for Chiefs fans depends on who you ask.
Lake Quivira resident Pete Lord owns a small software company and is 25-year season ticket holder. He anticipates making the trip to London for the game.
Lord said he got a chance to see what the NFL London games are like in September, when he was in London for business the same weekend the Raiders played the Dolphins. Lord remembers being on Oxford Circus, one of the capital’s busiest shopping areas, for an NFL-themed block party during the lead up to the game.
“They had the street blocked off and they had the stage, and there was nothing going on when I there,” Lord said. “But there were people waiting there, waiting for something. To see that many people and that much excitement, I said the ‘Chiefs should be a part of this.’ There were a lot of fans wearing jerseys — some wore jerseys of the teams that were playing and some wore other teams.”
It made enough of an impression on him that the idea of his favorite team playing abroad intrigued him, even then.
“I hate giving up the home game, but the excitement there and the fans ... I told my wife, ‘I hope the Chiefs play here,’” Lord said. “We’ll make a road trip out of it to support it. It was a bigger deal than I thought.”
For his part, Donovan reiterated that he understands why fans would be frustrated by the news. But he tried to soften the play by contending that the team also tried to ensure it would limit the damage it would do to the competitive advantage it loses by not playing at Arrowhead.
“I completely understand that, I appreciate that,” Donovan said. “We knew there’d be — and there should be — fans upset giving up a home game. Couple things went into consideration in discussions we had with the league over the years. One of them was the thought of giving up a conference game or a division game, we were pretty adamant that wasn’t going to happen. When you look at our schedule next year, there are a couple of games we said ‘No — we’re not giving that game up.’ So, that’s part of the process.”
“I think it’s a tougher discussion to have with a number of our fans on today, next season (and) what’s it mean today. This is a long-term process. This is a long-term benefit for the league. But selfishly, it’s a long-term benefit for the Kansas City Chiefs, our brand, our region. The opportunity to be on this stage is added.”