‘A Happier Place’

By Dennis Boone

Six and Oh!  The Chiefs’ glittering start to the 2013 season is a source of civic pride that can’t be found anywhere else.

Mark Donovan has plenty to think about these days. He’s president of the Kansas City Chiefs, and their 6-0 start (as of the time of this writing)—after a 2-14 finish last year—made them one of just two undefeated NFL teams a little past the one-third mark of the season.

But even with the interest of the national media piqued, even with all the congratulatory phone calls and all the rekindled partner interest, the things crammed on Donovan’s plate can’t crowd out his thoughts about three employees in the Chiefs’ offices.

“We just promoted three young gentlemen in our ticket sales office; they’ve been here for six, four and four years, and all three had started as seasonal interns,” Donovan said. “They were out there, pounding the pavement, representing the organization on the ticket side in years where we were 4–12 or 2–14, and that was hard. But they stuck with it, kept grinding away, and they have been very successful.”

After that 6–0 start he said, the calls are a little different now; the callbacks are happening more often, those taking the calls are a little more eager to do so. “It’s a great example, from an internal standpoint, to see what hard work gets you,” Donovan says. On top of that, the requests for media credentials have exploded, ESPN is using more video of Chiefs games in its nightly broadcasts, and other TV programs have splashed Kansas City imagery across the nation.

You can even say that the excitement around these parts is at world-record levels: In a 24–7 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 13, Chiefs fans hollered Arrowhead Stadium into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s loudest outdoor sports venue, peaking at 137.5 decibels.

With all of that, a strong sense of pride indeed is washing over Arrowhead Stadium. And across a region now known as “Chiefs Kingdom,” thanks to those goose-bump-inducing radio commercials you hear every day as part of a perfectly timed marketing campaign.

Jack Bondon is one good example of that civic pride. The co-owner of the Berbiglia liquor store network says Chiefs season tickets have been part of the program for 52 years there, “and we’ve suffered through it at times. There have been days where Chiefs tickets worth $300 or $400 sat on the desk, not used—it was terrible. Now? Everybody wants a Chiefs ticket.”

And when demand is up around town, people farther away take note, too, Bondon said: “Any time something like that brings attention, former residents will fly in from out of town. “It’s good for the economy, there’s money for hotel rooms, and most of them come in on Friday afternoon, so they’re here all day Saturday and doing all sorts of things.”

Business is up at the company’s 11 Missouri-side stores, too. “This year, what we’ve found happening is that the tailgate-party sales are enormous,” Bondon said. “Normally, we open at 11 on Sunday morning, but now it’s 9 a.m. because people want to get what they want and head to the stadium early. That’s the great part.” The flip side?

“Between 12 and 3 p.m. on Sunday, you could shoot a cannon through some of the stores,” he said.

There’s a broader lesson behind the Chief success that a business going through a rough patch should keep in mind.

“That’s the message to our staff,” Donovan said. “One of the keys for the last four years has been preparing for success. On the business side, your success is directly impacted by things you have no control over. So what we talk about continuously is being prepared, having the right people, the right structure, the right processes, the right infrastructure in the back of house to maximize that success when the opportunity arrives. And for us, maximizing that success of the team is building a brand, regionally, nationally and internationally.”

Because in the end, Donovan said,   it’s more than a just a game. “It’s great to see how this team unites this community,” he said. “You can look at every single measurable… the Chiefs impact everyone. When we’re successful, Kansas City is a happier place.”