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The Chiefs without Lamar Hunt

Posted Dec 18, 2014

The Hunt name and his marketing beliefs persist to this day

This is the concluding column in a series tracing Lamar Hunt’s role in the marketing of the Kansas City Chiefs and the situations and circumstances he faced in doing so.

Chapter 1: Lamar Hunt: Consummate salesman
Chapter 2: A Man for all Seasons
Chapter 3: Early struggles
Chapter 4: Winning cures all
Chapter 5: Age catches up
Chapter 6: All that is new is not good
Chapter 7: Searching for answers
Chapter 8: Winning cures all, Part II
Chapter 9: The only constant is change
Chapter 10: The “Era of Good Feeling” ends




The memos from the offices of Unity Hunt no longer flow daily from Dallas to Kansas City, and neither do the owner’s late night phone calls to staff for reports and updates on sales, or offers on how he might help where he can. 

Still, many of the procedures and ideas Lamar Hunt put in play early on, like the Red Coaters, continue to exist, and ownership’s traditional walk-around the parking lot on game day remains standard procedure for Clark Hunt, the Hunt family’s chairman of the board, who now spends much of his time in Kansas City traveling from Dallas every week.  The NFL is very much a family endeavor and the son and his siblings remain true to the ideals set forth by the father.

Winning cures many ills, if just for the moment. With the selection of a new coach in Andy Reid, who in his own way brings an established and successful reputation much as Marty Schottenheimer did when he came to Kansas City near the start of the ‘90s, the Hunt family is very much in step with what its paternal head tried to do long ago when he set about trying to acquire an established coach with a resume after Hank Stram left.

Of course, the marketing and sales teams have been enlarged from a time when only a few people held those roles. Take a walk down the halls of the Chiefs offices today and you find yourself in an environment that closely mirrors a stroll down any corporate office building in any city in the nation. It is a far cry from the Spartan front offices Lamar first knew way back in 1960.  An examination of one of the team’s early publications identifies a full-time sales and marketing staff of two back then.

The administration of a professional football team is, of course, more than marketing, sales, players and coaches.  It includes many different functions and the people who man them were always on Hunt’s mind.  As early as 1966, he called for the AFL’s adoption of a hospitalization and pension program for all staff that had been with the teams for five years.  “Our staff people are as much specialists in their places as the players on the field,” he wrote in a letter to Commissioner Joe Foss. 

While the Chiefs employees at the time were tied to the Hunt Oil plan, others around the league were not.  “This to me,” he wrote, “is an inexcusable inequity.” 

In a business where player photos line the halls of offices, Hunt requested that employee photos, too, be displayed on a history wall he created tracing the franchise from its beginnings in Dallas to present day. His reasoning was simple: he wanted all his employees, no matter their station, to think, “I was an important person in that organization, that the management wanted me on that.”  Happy staff made for a happy and more productive workplace, he rightfully believed. 

At the outset of this series of columns I noted that a significant reason for Lamar Hunt’s success was that he radiated an incurable American optimism. Even as the AFL struggled to survive, Hunt was quick to urge his fellow owners that “we must take a positive approach rather than a defensive or crybaby approach” when taking on the NFL and the naysayers.

 

As many formal studies that were prepared for he and his staff, and as many strategy sessions that he endured year after year for all his sporting ventures, the outcome of his decisions were more often colored by this optimism – what he believed in his heart as much as he believed in his head.  As he admitted once, and I paraphrase, if we would have listened to any studies or taken any polls we would have never come up with the name Super Bowl.

Lamar Hunt had a Boy Scoutish faith in the games he loved, in the interests of the fans who watched them, and in the capacity of the people charged to promote his teams and drive the public through the turnstiles.  He was a man absorbed in his time, of the moment, without neurotic longings for past teams or what might have been.

“Stick-to-it-iveness,” was how he described his approach.  “Pay attention to detail is very important…and always be willing to do the hard work.” 

“No one ever drowned in their own sweat,” he wrote in a letter of congratulations to an employee’s son who had become an Eagle Scout.  

Hunt’s will was to make things work, to resolve conflicts, to see his plans, or his staff’s plans succeed.  As others waited for their plans to founder, his ear was attuned to what came next.  He was glad to play his part and only that it be a small part in the great marketplace of sport.

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