Talks have resumed between officials from Missouri Western and the Kansas City Chiefs on the future of their training camp, although those were recently put on hold ahead of next week’s NFL Draft.
There’s still much to be decided.
The Chiefs will be back in St. Joseph this summer for the fifth year, ending the guaranteed portion of the current 10-year contract. The team pledged to keep training camp in-state through at least 2019, but beginning in 2015, only five one-year mutual options exist to keep the annual event on Western’s campus.
Officials from the two sides have met a few times since February to start preliminary discussions and plan to continue talks leading up to and during the team’s stay starting in late July. Western athletic director Kurt McGuffin remains committed to providing a long-term home for the Chiefs and expects a decision on the first one-year option by the completion of this year’s camp, although Kansas City Chiefs vice president of communications Ted Crews would not commit to that timeline.
Regardless, the big decision looms.
“I don’t feel any pressure because I’m pretty confident in what we’ve provided,” McGuffin said. “We’d prefer guaranteed years, and we’ll work toward that. I think our preference would be as many years as we can get.”
The Chiefs were one of 10 NFL franchises to conduct camp last year at a collegiate facility, part of a shrinking group in recent years.
At least publicly, officials have pledged support for the setup, which allows coaches to isolate players from outside distractions in a centralized location complete with amenities. Last year marked the first go-round with Kansas City for new general manager John Dorsey and head coach Andy Reid — an important reason why negotiations for 2015 were put off until following the season.
The new regime needed a chance to experience St. Joseph and Western’s facilities first.
“What a great setup here,” Reid declared at the close of last year’s camp. “If I’m an athlete, this setup right here? I’m going to look at this school right here. It’s an incredible situation for athletics.”
The most likely scenarios continue to be a re-up with Western for at least one year or a move to the Chiefs’ University of Kansas Hospital Training Complex located adjacent to Arrowhead Stadium. That’s been the trend in the league that’s led to an increase from five teams using home facilities for training camp in 2001 to 19 last year.
“But frankly, what we have here at Missouri Western is as good as any training facility in the National Football League,” Kansas City Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said during a visit to training camp in St. Joseph last year.
And with facilities close to equal, the Chiefs have less to plan for with Western’s accommodations.
“We feel our customer service for the Chiefs and the people that come in to watch ’em is what is a factor in this decision-making for them,” McGuffin said. “That, ‘Hmmm, it’s pretty easy to come up to camp there. They just open the doors, and everything is in place and we don’t have to worry about anything.’”
Most of that is due to the Griffon Indoor Sports Complex, the 118,000-square-foot facility now on Western’s campus as a by-product of the current contract with the Chiefs.
The major upgrades in facilities have been a perceived boon to recruiting and prestige for Western. With that asset to remain in place regardless of the Chiefs’ training camp commitment, officials could easily pass on the idea of hosting an NFL team for three weeks and move on with other endeavors.
Instead, McGuffin continues to see the value in St. Joseph, Mo., datelines in print, radio and TV stories and the exposure for the university that generally accompanies
“You can’t put a price tag on that,” McGuffin said. “Yeah, camp is a lot of work. It’s three weeks of a lot of work for a lot of different people on this campus.”
According to McGuffin, Chiefs camp generated about $75,000 in revenue for the school last year — based solely off of parking fees, concession shares, sponsorship money and special-event admissions.
Specific economic impact of those three summer months proves difficult to accurately enumerate but has fallen short of original projections for both St. Joseph and Western. However, outside groups rent out the GISC on an almost weekly basis, and those fees add up to another $95,000. Those two income sources help to almost completely pay to maintain the multipurpose facility, and the other events also benefit local businesses with more patronage from outside the city.
There have been some thoughts about potential post-Chiefs scenarios.
McGuffin said the school hopes to move games for the Griffons women’s soccer team onto the two full-sized practice fields that host the majority of camp workouts. That remains a possibility even if the team remains.
A Chiefs’ exodus would also lead Western to seek out other conferences and meetings that can take advantage of the school’s facilities to help make up for lost camp revenue.
“Other than that, the change could be that some of us get vacations in late July instead of June,” McGuffin said with a laugh.
Obviously, that’s not the priority or preferred outcome, and McGuffin hopes to know soon how to plan out his 2015 summer.