It's an exciting time once again in Chiefs Kingdom as the Kansas City Chiefs are headed to Super Bowl LVIII after securing their fourth Lamar Hunt Trophy in five seasons.
This achievement is just the latest in what has been a banner handful of years for both the Chiefs and the Kansas City community, and with even more excitement on the horizon, we sat down with Chiefs President Mark Donovan to discuss a variety of topics heading into Super Bowl LVIII.
Q: Mark, let's start with the obvious – the Chiefs are heading to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years. When you hear that, what does it mean to you?
Mark: "Getting to the Super Bowl is an amazing challenge. Doing it back-to-back is rare, which proves how difficult it is. It's also an amazing opportunity for us. Internally, before games – especially big ones – we talk a lot about how we have an opportunity to make some more history. That's the one thing that hits me. This is a historic franchise that is on a historic run. Just to be a part of that is humbling, and you can feel a greater sense of appreciation for how special this time is from our fans and our staff. We had our staff meeting the other day to discuss Super Bowl preparations, and you can just sense it. There's a true appreciation for what we all get to be a part of."
Q: It's truly a historic run, but it hasn't always been easy. Can you speak to the steady leadership of Head Coach Andy Reid that not only got us to the top, but has helped us stay there?
Mark: Coach is a "flat-liner." That's one of his strengths that people sometimes don't recognize. People may get frustrated with him because he's not really animated in press conferences or super emotional on the sideline, but players respond to that. They know that he's going to be steady, and that things are going to be OK.
That's of particular importance during a year like this, which had some ups and downs, and despite that adversity, the people in our building never stopped believing. Even when those people were confronted with the reality that in order to reach our goal, we would need to go to Buffalo and win there, and then potentially go to Baltimore and win there, nobody in this building questioned if we could do it. Instead, there was a new excitement about a new challenge. That starts with Coach.
Q: You've had the benefit of being around him and witnessing how he handles those peaks and valleys. How have you seen that leadership manifest itself during this current playoff run?
Mark: Nobody gets down on anyone. We all stick together, and we all believe in each other. That's one of the benefits of experience, and his experience is so valuable. It's the same idea for our players who have been there and done that. They know what it's like. I had a lot of conversations with people leading up to the Baltimore game about what a challenge it was going to be, but I believed that one of the advantages we had is we had been in the second half of an AFC Championship Game before. We know what that feels like. We've failed, and we've succeeded – and we know the difference. We knew that it was going to take all 60 minutes.
Q: That hard work has culminated in another Lamar Hunt Trophy and a spot in Super Bowl LVIII, but from an operational standpoint, now the work really begins, right? How does the organization go about planning for this?
Mark: We talk a lot here about preparing for success, and I think our Super Bowl planning is part of that mantra. We started planning for this week about three months ago, and we were able to put the people in place who have done it before. They know what we have done really well, how we can be most efficient and how we can do things more effectively.
Q: With that in mind, what are some of the specific hurdles that your operations team faces during this process?
Mark: Well, for one thing, they're putting together a plan to move 1,000 players, coaches, staff members and their families to Las Vegas. That's in addition to moving the team efficiently and housing the team for a full week of practice. They do all of that in a way that eliminates the distraction of it all, and sets us up for success.
The behind-the-scenes stuff is something that I don't think anyone can ever fully appreciate, and when everybody came back from Baltimore, they celebrated, but they also knew that this was going to be one of our busiest weeks. To go back to the experience point, if you have done this before, you know what's coming, and you know how to prepare for it. That makes you more efficient, and as much as many of our staff members are running on fumes getting through it all, we're pretty excited to be this busy right now.
Q: Speaking of those 1,000 people that will be heading out to Las Vegas, who all gets to go?
Mark: We take our entire staff – everybody who works for us. I think that's a credit to the Hunt family. They treat us like family, and if you have an opportunity to celebrate your biggest victories, you want to be together.
It's one of the coolest weekends for us because we get to see the staff, along with many of their family members, come up to the stadium to get ready to take this trip. It's really cool. We're all coming together to experience and celebrate it together, and hopefully – if things go our way – we can bring them all back together for a post-game party. It's one of the best moments that you can have in sports. The fact that we're able to share that with our families is made possible by the Hunt family.
Q: It's all so exciting, and the journey to this point has been witnessed by millions of people. We've seen historic TV ratings throughout the year and the postseason, including the largest-ever streaming audience for the Wild Card Game on Peacock, plus record-setting Divisional and Championship Round Games. What do you think that says about Chiefs Kingdom, and where this team and the brand are?
Mark: It's indisputable evidence of the power of this brand and the power of the Kingdom. I think on both a national and an international front, it puts us in an elite space of franchises. Also, multiply that by the fact that we're one of the smallest markets in the National Football League, but we're still on that stage and able to deliver those kinds of ratings. It's a real credit to the team and the success that we've had, GEHA Field, and the Arrowhead Experience is something that's known world-wide. That drives ratings. That's a real credit to the power of this franchise.
Finally, I would say that from a local standpoint, the fact that our market shares are often more than 80 percent is unheard-of. For example, for our game against the Dolphins in Germany, 94 percent of the TVs that were on in Kansas City were on our game. Nothing does that, and that's a credit to our fans, the Kingdom and the commitment that they have to supporting this team.
Q: The 2023 calendar year was an eventful one for both Kansas City and the organization between the Super Bowl parade, the NFL Draft, a Ring Ceremony, numerous record-setting special events and the NFL Kickoff Game, plus there's more on the way with the MLS and Copa America in 2024, and – of course – the FIFA World Cup on the horizon in 2026. Can you talk a little about the "special events" business, and also the eyeballs that are on Kansas City?
Mark: Fifteen years ago, we had not had a "special event" at Arrowhead in over a decade. We relaunched our concert business in 2010, and last year we broke every attendance record we had with the combination of Taylor Swift, Billy Joel, Ed Sheeran, Beyonce and Luke Combs. That's a credit to our operations staff and their ability to pull off all of these concerts and events, which includes promoting them and running them successfully.
Our staff also had to overcome a lot of challenges, and that extends to our football games, as well. Think about the Wild Card Game. We had people from our staff out in sub-freezing temperatures shoveling snow so that we could have a game. It was the fourth-coldest game ever, and we had a packed stadium. Again, that's a real credit to our staff and our fans.
Q: In a similar sense, the team just released a recent economic impact study yesterday. These numbers are pretty staggering – almost one billion dollars in annual impact, nearly 6,000 jobs supported and $28 million in tax revenue. As you look at the ways that the team is connected to this region, can you talk about the significance of those numbers?
Mark: It gets back to everything that we've been talking about. Not only does this region support this team, but this franchise and our venue are critical components of the culture of this region. These economic impact stats are proof of that. When you talk about almost one billion dollars annually, few things can have that size of an impact on a region. The ability to stand here today and show what we deliver to this community and this region is significant, and that's on top of the pride and promotional factors.
This also goes well beyond the Chiefs, but think about the trend that Kansas City is on right now, and think about the effect that the Chiefs and GEHA Field at Arrowhead have had on that trend. It's five straight AFC Championship Games, it's the concerts and it's everything else that we've done to bring more attention to our community, such as the opportunity to host the World Cup in 2026. Without that trend – and without this venue – we're not having the discussion about hosting the World Cup.
In regard to the World Cup, we've been saying since the day we started pursuing it that this will be the biggest event in the history of this region by a factor of four. Without this venue, and without this trend that we've been on, we wouldn't have these opportunities, which will benefit the next generation. It's a credit to everyone involved with this, but a key component is our venue and the experience that we've created there that has become well-known world-wide.
Q: Now, in addition to the playoff run and preparing for Super Bowl LVIII, it has also been a busy time off the field in relation to the future of GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Jackson County voters will be presented with the opportunity to vote for an extension of the current 3/8 cent sales tax that would go toward supporting a future renovation of the stadium. Can you talk us through that process, why the team is looking at a renovation, and where we go from here?
Mark: The important thing that I want to stress to the fans and the voters of Jackson County is that we've had a really good partnership for decades, and a component of that partnership has been the 3/8 cent sales tax in Jackson County. What we are asking the voters in Jackson County to do is to extend that existing sales tax. There's no new tax money. This is just an extension of how we are currently supported by the county.
In addition to that, the County Executive and the Jackson County Legislature brought up concerns that they wanted us to help address as we go forward. So, along with the Royals, we got together, listened to the concerns and made concessions that make this deal better than the last deal for Jackson County and Jackson County taxpayers to the tune of almost 200 million dollars. With all that, we have the opportunity to keep both franchises in Jackson County.
There is so much excitement around both franchises, from the new stadium for the Royals to the renovation for us, and it's a great opportunity to extend this legacy and to build on all of the things that we've talked about today.
Q: Mark, we really appreciate your time, and good luck this week and next Sunday.
Mark: Thank you, Matt. Let's go make some more history.