Chiefs wrap training camp with future in St. Joseph in doubt

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs wrapped up training camp in St. Joseph Wednesday and while all indications point toward the club coming back in 2018, the possibility of a new summer home remains on the horizon.

The Kansas City Chiefs prepare for their first practice at training camp for the 2017 season in St. Joseph, Mo., on July 25, 2017. (Photo by Matt Derrick, ChiefsDigest.com)

“It is something that we’ll sit down and talk about as an organization,” team chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said when asked about returning in 2018, “but personally I hope we’ll be able to come back.”

The Chiefs and Missouri Western State University hold a mutual option for both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. University officials say they want the Chiefs to stay. Team president Mark Donovan expects a decision within the next few weeks.

“We’ll know what we’re doing for next year within three weeks after camp this year,” Donovan said upon the opening of camp this season.

The vast majority of teams conducted their training camps away from their home stadiums in the past. This season, however, 19 NFL teams based training camp at their home stadium or permanent practice facility.

Many of those camps are proving popular with fans. The Denver Broncos attracted a record 54,013 fans to 11 open practices this season. That’s an average of 4,910 people per session.

The Chiefs drew approximately 250,000 fans total during their first seven seasons in St. Joseph, according to the university. A team spokesperson said the club does not announce training camp attendance figures but said the team usually averages around 2,500 fans per day.

Hunt acknowledges the trend toward teams staying home but says he appreciates the benefits of offsite training camps.

“Philosophically, I personally like going away,” Hunt said. “Maybe it’s because I grew up going up to William Jewell and watching the Chiefs train there.”

The offsite camp provides a one-stop shop for the organization in a single-location. The team utilizes dorms, cafeterias and other facilities on campus unavailable at their training complex in Kansas City. Coaches and players can quickly travel from their dorms to the practice and training facilities.

The club can also utilize the employees and students of the university as support personnel.

“I think when you have that quality of a facility, that’s an hour away from Kansas City, so it’s away but it’s easy to get back when the players and coaches have a day off,” Hunt said. “I think you just have the best of all worlds.”

The Chiefs moved their training camp from Liberty, Mo., to River Falls, Wis., in 1991. The team moved to St. Joseph in 2010. The Missouri Development Finance Board reached an agreement providing $25 million in tax credits to lure the team back to Missouri. The agreement required the Chiefs to contribute $10 million toward the construction of the $15.7 million Griffon Indoor Sports Complex.

The university received an additional $300,000 in tax credits in 2015 to leverage with $600,000 in contributions toward rebuilding the two grass practice fields on campus. The team agreed to a three-year extension with single-year options for 2018 and 2019 contingent on the university updating the fields.

The team’s move generated an economic impact ranging from $1.2 to $2.6 million per year based on different studies. Projections once called for annual attendance of 100,000 or more but those numbers never materialized. An expected rise in sales tax collections for St. Joseph also fell short of expectations.

The Chiefs did draw more than 10,000 fans for a scrimmage in the Missouri Western football stadium in 2010. Total camp attendance reached approximately 60,000. The team, however, no longer holds any practices in the stadium. Sessions take place on the practice fields with a much smaller seating capacity.

Large crowds still come out for weekend practices and special events such as the annual family fun day. But no more than a few hundred hardy souls showed up for Wednesday’s rainy conclusion to camp. Most of those were service members participating in military appreciation day festivities.

The club’s agreement with the state also requires the Chiefs to keep their training camp in Missouri for 10 years. The team needs two more years to keep that pledge or risk repayment of a portion of the tax credits.

The Chiefs can keep their agreement with the state by keeping the camp at a different location within Missouri. That includes the team’s athletic complex in Kansas City.

“We’ve looked a bunch of different options,” Donovan said. “There are options out there.”

Other options include an offsite location other than St. Joseph but Donovan dismissed many of those possibilities.

“We like it here,” Donovan said. “We like the relationship, we like the efficiency, we like the familiarity and consistency. So I think it would be tough for somebody to come in and wow us and take it away from here.”

The ultimate competition for Missouri Western likely comes from the team’s headquarters at the Truman Sports Complex and the University Of Kansas Hospital Training Complex in Kansas City.

But several obstacles stand in the way of that plan as well. The practice fields are not currently designed to handle the number of fans that attend training camp in St. Joseph, for example.

Donovan also said the team must consider other issues and costs such as housing the team in a hotel for three weeks.

“All of those things factor in,” Donovan said.

Head coach Andy Reid said he plans to support whatever decision Hunt makes regarding training camp.

“The people here have be phenomenal,” Reid said. “The have done a nice job for us and we appreciate that.”

Hunt said primarily it’s a football decision for the organization. He wants input from Reid and general manager Brett Veach before making a final decision for the future.

“I know Andy feels very positive about having training camp here, Brett feels very positive about having training camp here,” Hunt said. “I think it’s a good experience for our fans who are able to drive up from Kansas City.”

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Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.

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