K.C. fans buy Chiefs' fresh approach Marketing efforts pay off with sellouts

November 13, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

The team the Washington Redskins play Sunday was one of the pro football's most popular and successful franchises in the 1960s. It went to two of the early Super Bowls and won one of them while attracting sellout crowds.

The franchise then fell on hard times in the 1970s as the great players grew old and faded away. The team started losing and firing coaches and the fans deserted the team in droves.

Sound familiar?

The Kansas City Chiefs suffered the same fate as the Baltimore Colts. The Chiefs won Super Bowl IV in 1970 and the Colts won the next year before both teams collapsed. The season-ticket base for both teams eventually nose-dived to the 25,000 range.

The stories have had different endings, though.

The Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 to play in a new domed stadium.

Kansas City, meanwhile, had one thing going for it that Baltimore didn't. It opened one of the nation's best football stadiums, Arrowhead, in 1972 as part of a dual-stadium complex for football and baseball.

Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt didn't need a new stadium. He needed new front office. He finally made the move in 1989 when he kicked his team president, Jack Steadman, upstairs to a chairman of the board post and fired general manager Jim Schaaf.

He brought in Carl Peterson to step into both jobs and give the team new direction.

Peterson had proved he could build a football team when he put together the Philadelphia-Baltimore Stars in the USFL, a team that went to all three of the league's championship games and won two of them before the league folded in 1986.

Peterson, though, learned that the old NFL idea, "If you win, they will come," was outdated. He didn't want to wait for the team to win to bring the fans back.

Since so many NFL teams sell out, marketing has become a lost art in the league. When a team gets in a losing cycle, teams don't even seem to know how to cultivate their fans.

Peterson, by contrast, put as much emphasis on marketing as he did on winning football. He hired Marty Schottenheimer as his coach and he has put together a team that made the playoffs the past two years and brings a 5-4 record into Sunday's game.

Just as significant was his hiring of Tim Connolly, who has a marketing background, as an executive vice president.

One of the first moves was the commissioning of a Cleveland-based firm, Teamwork Consulting, Inc. to conduct focus groups in the Kansas City area.

It found out the Chiefs had a poor image, were perceived as being distant and aloof and had an aging fan base. The average season-ticket holder was about 60.

The club then started the selling of the Chiefs. No slogans or promises. Nothing fancy. Just black-and-white TV commercials with the theme of hard work.

They then concentrated on trying to make game day a fun experience. They stressed tailgating, put their games on an FM radio station and got the players to travel in caravans to neighboring states.

Since they have a stadium with 78,000 seats in a small market, they also kept their ticket prices low. The average price is $23.72, the league's lowest. Washington's average is close to $35.

The results are obvious. They increased season-ticket sales 5,269 the first year and 7,862, 13,142 and 12,733 the last three years before they cut it off at 65,000. In 1986, the figure was 25,378.

The crowd is now so young that Peterson said there's a college atmosphere at the stadium.

By contrast, the Cardinals who moved to Phoenix in 1988, the year before Peterson arrived in Kansas City, started out with 55,000 season ticket holders and are now close to 20,000.

"Granted, their product hasn't been very good, but they don't market."

The Chiefs are taking a new approach and it's working.

One thing hasn't changed. The fans, impatient that quarterback Dave Krieg has produced just two touchdowns in the past three games, are quick to boo.

The alternative, though, was even worse. They used to just stay home.

NOTES: OL Joe Jacoby (neck) remained sidelined for the second straight day, raising the possibility that he won't be able to start Sunday. If he can't, rookie Matt Elliott will play center and Raleigh McKenzie will move to right tackle. . . . Two linebackers who didn't play last week, Monte Coleman (neck) and Andre Collins (back), also remained sidelined. . . . CBS has moved the Dec. 13 game against Dallas from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. for more TV exposure.

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