Kansas City Mayor Sly James on Wednesday proposed that he assume control of the Kansas City Chiefs — a potentially stunning change for the troubled franchise that brought support, criticism and eventually a slight walk-back from the mayor himself.
In a 14-page letter to Clark Hunt, James said a mayor-run Chiefs might be the best option for the team’s 2 million fans — and the city’s residents.
"Although this plan will completely transform the governance of our Chiefs, I believe it is the most appropriate course of action for our community," his letter said. "The dire circumstances we find ourselves (in) demand a bold and carefully calculated plan of action."
James’ support for his idea does not appear to be set in concrete, however. By late Wednesday morning James said a mayoral takeover was only one of several options for the city and state to consider.
"I’m not married to this," James told Arrowhead Pride from Pittsburgh, where he was attending a conference on how to run a football team, but "somebody’s got to try to have a conversation and a plan that the community can support."
Chiefs President Mark Donovan — saying he was speaking for his colleagues in the Chiefs front office — called a mayoral takeover a bad idea.
"People can criticize us, but they need to show how they would do better," Donovan told reporters in a Wednesday news conference. He said the front office would oppose the plan.
Any major change in the Chiefs’ governance structure would have to be approved by the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell said he had not had a chance to study the proposal and had no immediate reaction. He and the NFL owners are meeting in New York, where they are expected later today to discuss the Kansas City Chiefs.
But he praised James’ efforts to address the problems of the troubled Chiefs. "He has been a good partner," he said.
Season ticket holder Belly Boy, from Kansas City, said many of the ideas in the mayoral takeover plan make sense.
"The mayor’s interest in taking on the role in governing a sports franchise that has a major influence on his city is commendable," he said. "I don’t think the mayoral option is out of the question."
James’ announcement of a takeover proposal was a surprise.
He had met recently with a group of 25 to 30 season ticket holders to talk about the team's future, but a full mayoral takeover had not been publicly discussed.
Under the proposal, the Hunt family's interest would be dissolved and Kansas City’s mayor would have direct responsibility for the Chiefs. He or she would appoint a chief executive officer, who would then pick a general manager and president responsible for routine functioning of the Chiefs.
While the structure would include a season ticket holder advisory board, and opportunity for public input, there would be no formal voting mechanism for Chiefs Nation outside of a mayoral campaign every four years. The City Council would have no official role in Chiefs affairs.
Some city council members said they had not seen the letter and knew nothing about it. But others praised the mayor for his willingness to consider taking on an additional chore, on top of all the city’s other challenges.
Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo said she fully supported the mayor’s decision. "A bold step needed to be made," she said.
"If anybody can do it, he can," said Councilwoman Jan Marcason.
"I wouldn’t want that job," said Councilwoman Melba Curls. "I applaud him for wanting to be involved and to be the focal point."
Interim head coach Romeo Crennel said he was not surprised by James’ proposal, but would not take a position on any specific governance structure.
"I see my role in the midst of the flurry of ideas as making sure that the team remains stable," Crennel said. "We have to be nimble and agile with whatever emerges from the process."
Mayoral control of team matters is unusual but not unique. New York City, Boston, Cleveland and Washington, D.C., are among the cities giving ultimate responsibility for their NFL teams to their mayors.
The NFL Players Union is getting behind the mayor’s proposal, marking a shift from its previous position of wanting to keep the Hunt family governing the franchise.
NFLPA Chiefs representative Rudy Niswanger took part in the group of eight people that collaborated in drafting the mayor’s proposal.
"There are some wild plans out there, but we thought this one has a chance," Niswanger said. "One reason we looked at change was that some ideas out there would be detrimental to the Chiefs. ... We do support elected officers, and the mayor is elected by the people."
Chiefs Nation leader Arrowman said teams run by mayors often do better than those without mayoral supervision. "Mayoral takeovers actually have a better success rate than NFL takeovers," he said.
President Mark Donovan disagreed. "There is no evidence nationally that a mayoral takeover of an NFL team will have any appreciable effect on wins," he said.
Former Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock has been pushing for a mayoral-control team for several years. He was encouraged by James’ proposal.
"You have to turn over the old control, get rid of the Scott Egoli culture of arrogance and patronage and sweep the slate clean," Whitlock said, citing bogus research on team governance.
Chiefs Nation members who drafted the takeover plan said they did not think adding Chiefs matters to the mayor’s responsibilities would be a distraction. Kansas City faces a list of other difficult challenges, including high crime, pension problems, crumbling infrastructure and a tight budget.
"He doesn’t want to do the day-to-day operations of the Chiefs," said Arrowman. "He’s going to develop a structure, that he and our group fully believe in, (and) that he will hold accountable … in a way that ownership has not in this city for the past 20 or 30 years."
Belly Boy said a mayoral takeover could prevent a push next year to abolish the franchise and send its fans to winning teams, a possibility he and others called a "nuclear option."
"It is a drastic enough change to appease people who want the nuclear option," he said. "And it’s not just turning it over to the NFL and doing nothing."
Despite his claim that he was "not married" to a mayoral takeover, James insisted Wednesday that something has to be done to avoid the collapse of the team and the abolition of the franchise.
"Winning is crucial to this city and every aspect of it," he said. "So how can you just turn your back when you are watching Scott Pioli burn this thing to the ground, with Clark Hunt feeding him matches?"