Chiefs have no leverage in Arrowhead renovations after KC shoots down massive public funding tax

The voters of Jackson County, Missouri rejected a sales tax measure this week which would have led to major renovations for the Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium, as well as a new downtown ballpark in Kansas City for the Royals. This has led to talk of possible relocation for the teams, who have given veiled threats that they could move outside of Kansas City proper — with the belief being that they could attempt to find sympathetic public funding in suburbs surrounding the city.

It’s the latest blow for public stadium financing, which has come under increased public scrutiny in recent years. One of the best grifts in professional sports, billionaire owners routinely use the threat of relocation to pressure local politicians into putting funding measures on ballots, with the hope that voters will be afraid of losing sports teams, and pushing these measures through.

The Jackson County proposal aimed to issue a 40-year sales tax extension of 3/8th a cent, which would have given $1B to the Royals, and $500M to the Chiefs — with the owners of the teams contributing $1B and $300M respectively.

Royals owner John Sherman was obviously upset by the decision.

“We’re deeply disappointed as we are steadfast in our belief that Jackson County is better with the Chiefs and the Royals.”

Meanwhile, Chiefs’ president Mark Donovan didn’t mince his words about the gravity of the bill failing in terms of the commitment to the city.

“We respect the process and the decision of the Jackson County voters today,” Donovan said. “We’re disappointed. We feel we put forth the best offer for Jackson County…we’re ready to extend the long standing partnership with the teams the enjoyed with this county. This is important.”

Naturally, these kinds of statements are supposed to invoke fear into Jackson County residents, but when it comes to the Chiefs it’s extremely hollow. Alex Kirshner wrote in Slate about how empty any threats of moving the Chiefs actually are.

“They will never, ever—ever, in a zillion years—leave the Kansas City area. They are not the other Missouri franchise, the Rams, that stopped over in St. Louis for 20 years before migrating back to a bigger market, Los Angeles, where it had previously spent half a century. And with the Rams and Chargers both taking up residence in Southern California again and the Raiders in Las Vegas, there just aren’t other American cities that lack an NFL team and would give the Chiefs the level of support they enjoy now.”

Kirshner goes on to detail how a NFL relocation fee would exceed the money the Hunt family wants to renovate Arrowhead Stadium — and that’s before you could find a viable home for the team and begin to talk about funding a new stadium.

However, there’s still an emotional drag here, even if the end result would see the Chiefs move across state lines into Kansas to see stadium funding inside the KC metro area, but outside of Jackson County. Abandoning Arrowhead, which has been the Chiefs’ home for over 50 years, would be a remarkable disappointment as we would lose a legacy stadium in favor of new glitz and glamour, putting money over history once more.

The calculus for the Royals is different and more complicated than that of the Chiefs. The team wants a new park all together, and had already made announcement of a downtown location. While it seems incredibly unlikely the team would leave town, it does delay their plans significantly — and there’s no shortage of markets aiming to land an MLB team, should relocation to a new city become a possibility.

The Chiefs, well, it’s basically on the Hunt family to cry poor. With a collective net worth of $24.8B it’s laughable to see them coming hat-in-hand to ask the public for money — let alone the lion’s share of stadium renovation costs. It’s especially funny after Clark Hunt was given an F- in the NFLPA player report card for being one of the cheapest owners in the NFL, in spite of the Chiefs’ runaway success.

The biggest takeaway from the result of the vote is that voters are wising up to flushing public funds away to save billionaires money. Community groups are organizing and educating the public on how valuable tax resources could be better invested, rather than propping up wealthy sports organizations.

Teams can talk big, but the idea of true relocation is more or less out the window at this point — especially for a wildly successful organization like the Chiefs, which already has some of the most rabid fans in football.

Teams get the support and money from fans in hundreds of different ways. They don’t need tax revenue as well.

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