After reading Pete Prisco's article about how the NFL Should Alter Blackout Rules, allowing home games that do not sell out to still be viewed on television because of the bad economy, it got me thinking about how hard teams are having to work to sell tickets this year. Even teams that have a lot of excitment going, like the Atlanta Falcons with (possibly) budding superstar Matt Ryan as the new face of the franchise are having a tough time selling tickets.
Then I started to wonder: What have the Chiefs done to gin up excitement and put butts in the seats?
Well, they hired Scott Pioli who is about as big a fish as you can get as far as GMs go. But I don't think very many people are going to shell out big bucks just because of who the GM is.
They hired Todd Haley as head coach, but of course no one had ever even heard of him until Larry Fitzgerald drug him and the Cardinals into the playoffs and suddenly he was the hottest coaching prospect in the NFL. Even still, no one really knows what a Todd Haley coached team will look like except that there is likely to be a lot of screaming on the field and very boring press conferences.
They DID make a big trade for Matt Cassel to be the new franchise QB, and got a household name in Mike Vrabel at LB to boot. You might think the Chiefs PR department would have seized on this to make Cassel the centerpiece of their offseason marketing extravaganza. But no sooner was the ink dry on the Cassel trade than he was promptly locked up in Arrowhead tighter than UCrawford at a Herm Edwards motivational seminar. There wasn't even an introductory press conference where Cassel met the media and had his picture taken holding up his new Chiefs Jersey. Hell, we didn't even know what number he was going to wear for two months.
The Chiefs mostly signed a bunch of Patriots-reject special teams players or end-of-the-road vets in free agency. The guys we drafted may very well fill needs and turn out to be good players, but they were largely seen as reaches and do not play at excitement generating positions. The Chiefs are STILL sitting on one of the biggest piles of cap space in the league with nowhere to spend it.
Is there anything wrong with any of the above things? Not necessarily, but it sure isn't something that is going to jazz up excitement amongst the fanbase and convince them to part with their hard earned money which is getting harder to earn every day.
So what is Pioli's master plan? Now, we must remember that Pioli is not in charge of marketing and ticket sales as Carl Peterson was. But as a key ingredient in the organization, you can be sure that he is in on some business meetings or at least is required to communicate with the rest of the front office. After all, the Chiefs are a business and the purpose of a business is to make money.
Put simply, Piolis grand master scheme is to win.
Winning cures everything. Fans will part with their money to watch their favorite team win. The New England Patriots organization has been run in the militant style discussed above for a decade and sell out every game. Why? Because they win. Even when their hall of fame superstar QB is out for the season, they still win.
Here is the question: Can Pioli's no frills team building philosophy turn the Chiefs into winners fast enough to keep the Chiefs relevant in Kansas Citians minds? We've won six games the last two years and the last remaining superhero, Tony Gonzalez, was jettisoned for a (likely) late 2nd round pick next year. Though the Royals have floundered lately, they are more and more coming up on the radar of fans as an alternative to spend their money, and at a greatly reduced price compared to Chiefs tickets.
Then you also have the Carl Peterson factor. After twenty years under the same GM and President, Chiefs fans have come to expect certain things from their offseason. Peterson may have been subpar as a GM, but he knew how to gin up excitement among the fanbase. A couple free agent signings here, couple of sexy draft picks there, every once in a while throw in a big trade. Parade your picks and free agent signings for all the world to see and put them on every radio show in town. Many came to disdain this type of circus, but at the same time miss it now that its gone.
Pioli will have none of that. He has a one track mind. Build it (a winning team) and they will come. But with a fading economy, a rival sports team in the area on the upswing, and the expectations of a fanbase built up over the last 20 years which he has no intention of satisfying; will Pioli be able to turn the Chiefs into a contender fast enough to make Arrowhead the place to see and be seen that it once was? And should the NFL go to uncapped seasons should a Collective Bargaining Agreement not get done, how will not being able to fill the stadium hurt the Chiefs chances of being competitive long term?