BOCA RATON, Fla. (TNS) — Over the past 20 years or so, there’s been a fairly clear distinction in Missouri between the Chiefs’ side of the state and the Rams’ side of the state.
“Just east of Springfield and Columbia, the middle of the state,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said.
But the Rams’ recent decision to return to Los Angeles after a 21-year stint in St. Louis potentially could blur those lines, provided the Chiefs can find a way to cater to football-hungry fans on the east side of the state.
“It expands our reach, it activates another market of potential fans, potential marketing partners,” Donovan said. “It’s a big market that’s nearby, so you want to active there if it makes sense to be there.”
With the Rams gone, the Chiefs are now allowed to market in St. Louis, since it falls within their home state. But while they will speak about the market, in general, and the potential course of actions they might take to court it down the road, both Donovan and chairman Clark Hunt have consistently maintained that the Chiefs are not ready to aggressively market to Rams fans.
“We don’t have any specific plans to go market in St. Louis,” Hunt said at the Super Bowl. “I don’t think the time is right for that right now. Understandably, I think the fans there are very disappointed.”
Donovan reiterated that point this week, noting that the Chiefs will be smart and respectful about marketing to fans that just lost their team, and that they have not set a timeline for when, or if, they will do so.
“We’re going to be very cautious, we’re going to be very respectful,” Donovan said. “They’ve been through a process, and their fans, they’ve been through a lot. We’re gonna be very cautious, we’re going to be patient. We are going to take opportunities as they come.”
To be sure, there will be some opportunities. St. Louis was considered to be part of the Chiefs’ market before the Rams arrived in the mid-90s.
“If you look at the Chiefs Kingdom and you look at the plot map of season tickets, we have a pretty big map in comparison to other NFL teams, so yeah, St. Louis was a part of that,” Donovan said. “There are definitely (Chiefs) fans there that have been there for a long time.”
Yet, part of the reason for the Chiefs’ caution when it comes to courting Rams fans is a desire to see if the market as a whole will welcome them. Some will surely hold out, largely out of an anger, both at the Rams for leaving and at Hunt for being involved in the process.
Hunt was the sole member of the six-man Los Angeles relocation committee to back the Rams’ Inglewood project — the rest voted for the Raiders’ and Chargers’ joint venture in California — and though it was a winding road and his reasons differed from others’, the vote eventually swung his way, paving the way for the Rams’ flight to Los Angeles.
Hunt maintains he would have preferred to see the Rams stay in St. Louis, with either the Raiders or Chargers moving to Los Angeles. But once the Raiders and Chargers — who share the AFC West with the Chiefs and Broncos — joined forces, the reality was that one of those teams would likely have to move to the NFC, and Hunt was strongly against realignment.
“I was in disagreement with the rest of the committee because I felt that the league would be better served by less relocation, because it’s less disruptive for the fanbases,” Hunt said. “I had hoped that there would be an outcome that possibly one of the California teams would end up moving to LA, because it was clear to me that somebody was going to move to LA — the league had been trying to do it for 20 years — and there was momentum for it.
“But I wasn’t in favorite of two teams moving. I certainly hoped that the Rams were gonna stay in St. Louis, but that’s not the way it turned out.”
While some in St. Louis are surely feeling sore about that, Donovan said early indications are that some fans there have already pledged their allegiance to the Chiefs.
“The day (the move) was announced, we got phone calls from people in St. Louis saying, ‘I’m a Chiefs fan, and I’m here to buy season tickets,’ “ Donovan said. “We got calls, day one, from corporations in St. Louis saying, ‘The marketing dollars we used to send (to the Rams), we’d like to at least have a conversation about sending with you.’ “
Donovan, however, noted the Chiefs have not held conversations with corporations about the latter — out of respect, he says — though they are willing to welcome any new fans who want to come aboard, even when they are not directly courting them.
“Season-ticket holders we’re taking because it’s a personal decision, they’re calling us,” Donovan said. “But we’re not advertising tickets in St. Louis.”
At least for now. Donovan noted that the league must also decide how to split up the preseason television rights among the four teams that still surround the market — Kansas City, Chicago, Tennessee and Indianapolis — a process he expects to be completed within the next few months
“If we have the right to put preseason (programming) there, we would probably put shorter programming there like coaches shows, Chiefs rewind, things like that,” Donovan said, who added that they would need to find a broadcast partner.
Donovan said that as it currently stands, if any of the teams that currently surround the St. Louis market were to add it to their preseason viewership, they would have to surrender some of the markets they currently hold.
That’s something the Chiefs, at least, are not prepared to do right now.
“The way the rule works today, we would have to give up cities that would match that (St. Louis) population, cities we’ve been in for years and years and years, so we’re not going to do that,” Donovan said. “So that makes St. Louis an outlier. If you’re Indianapolis, if you’re Chicago, Tennessee, they have the same issue. Who goes in there?”
Donovan said preseason games and regular-season games are two different issues, however, with Hunt adding that the regular-season games that will be shown in St. Louis will ultimately come down to demand among viewers there.
“I think they make that decision based on (which games) they think will get the best rating, and it’s not always us,” Hunt said. “The away team has an impact on that as well.”
Still, it’s hard to imagine the Chiefs not having some sort of stake in St. Louis down the road, especially with the two cities only being a four-hour drive apart.
During a recent conference call, Chiefs coach Andy Reid was asked if there was room on the Chiefs bandwagon for St. Louis fans.
“Absolutely, come on down,” Reid said. “You just have to get through Columbia, just get past Columbia and then let’s go.”
Reid was then asked what made the Chiefs a good team to follow.
“Well, first of all, there’s no place better to play than Arrowhead — it’s phenomenal,” Reid said. “The environment is tremendous, the Hunts have made it that way. It’s a great fan experience.
“Then, the product out there. John Dorsey has done a great job of bringing good players in here that are fun to watch. We’ve got old, we’ve got new, and it’s a great blend. There’s nothing like it on Sundays. It’s an exciting, exciting atmosphere and we have a chance to be a pretty good football team ... and I think every fan wants to follow a team that has a chance.”