Sports Legend Revealed: Did the Kansas City Chiefs sell 35,000 season tickets without the ticket buyers knowing what team they were buying tickets for?
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FOOTBALL LEGEND: The Kansas City Chiefs sold 35,000 season tickets for their first season without the ticket buyers even knowing what team they were buying tickets for.
The famous 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Giants and Colts (sometimes referred to as ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’) helped to start a sizable rise in popularity for professional football in the United States, as the dramatic nationally televised game caught the attention of millions. One of those millions of enthralled viewers was named Lamar Hunt, an heir to an oil tycoon who was determined to be a part of the world of professional football.
Hunt had already tried to convince the National Football League (NFL) to allow him to open an expansion team in his hometown of Dallas, Texas. They turned him down. After the 1958 title game, though, he was absolutely determined to get into pro football. Hunt’s next attempt was to buy into the league in 1959, but right before he purchased a large stake in the Chicago Cardinals, it occurred to Hunt that he might as well just form his OWN professional football league, especially since that way he could get the Dallas team that the NFL would not give him. By the end of the year, he had formed the American Football League (AFL) with seven other team owners.
Hunt’s team was called the Dallas Texans and they played in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. However, much to Hunt’s chagrin, before the AFL began, the NFL decided that they WOULD expand to Dallas after all! They offered Hunt the chance to have his Dallas team play in the NFL, but by now, Hunt was determined to give the AFL a chance. So instead, he had the great fortune of having to have his brand new pro football team compete with a SECOND brand new pro football team in Dallas, the Dallas Cowboys. Only the Cowboys were part of the established NFL (they also got the coach Hunt wanted, the Defensive Coordinator of the 1958 Giants, Tom Landry - although Hunt certainly made out okay with picking Hank Stram as his head coach), so even though the Texans actually won the AFL Championship in 1962, it was clear to Hunt that he would never be able to compete with the Cowboys in Dallas. So after their championship season, Hunt quietly decided to shop around for a new home for his team.
Hunt began to make the rounds (quite secretively) to various cities that were within shouting distance from Texas, as Hunt wanted to be able to commute back to his home in the Lone Star State. He almost had a deal to move the team to New Orleans, but Tulane University refused to share their stadium with a professional team. Mayor H. Roe Bartle of Kansas City, though, was very aggressive in trying to get Hunt to move to Kansas City. Just HOW aggressive he was is quite impressive!
You see, with a championship team ‘for sale’ like this, Hunt had a good deal of leverage. So one demand he made to Bartle was that they had to guarantee season ticket purchases matching the Texans’ average attendance back in Dallas. Seeing as how that was 35,000, selling that many season tickets would be quite a daunting task. That was roughly three times as many season tickets as the Texans sold in Dallas, so it would not be easy for Bartle to meet this demand. But it was even harder when you realize that, since Hunt did not want anyone to know that he was planning on moving the team (can you even imagine a professional team today moving away the year after they won the championship? It would be bedlam!), Bartle could not even promote the new team as being the Texans!!
So when Bartle got together a group of Kansas City businessmen (he affectionately referred to the 20 or so businessmen as ‘The Gold Coats’) to sell (or get down payments on) the 35,000 season tickets, the men were not able to say what the name of the team was, who the owner was, where they would play, what football league they were going to play in, not even when their first game would be! All they had to go on was ‘we’re getting a pro football team - will you buy season tickets to see them play?.’ With just that to go on and a four month deadline to sell the 35,000 tickets, the Gold Coats did it in two.
Naturally, though, the season ticket drive only worked for that first season. After a few mediocre seasons in Kansas City, the Chiefs were regretting the move, with attendance dwindling to under 20,000 a game after the 1964 season. After slight improvement in 1965, the Chiefs made major strides in 1966, while Hunt was also negotiating something much more important to the Chiefs’ future success - a merger between the AFL and NFL. In 1967 the NFL and the AFL agreed to begin doing yearly championship games between the championship winners of each league. The Chiefs managed to make it to the first ‘Super Bowl’ (a name coined by Hunt himself) and following the game (which they lost), the Chiefs were now so popular in Kansas City that they had to add 7,000 more seats to their home stadium! Meanwhile, a bond issue was passed in Jackson County to build a brand new stadium for the Chiefs and Kansas City Royals!
So all the work Bartle and the Gold Coats did finally paid off. At least Bartle’s work will forever be recognized - you see, years earlier, Bartle founded the Native American-based honor society known as The Tribe of Mic-O-Say within the Boy Scouts of America. This earned him the life-long nickname of the ‘Chief.’ When Hunt agreed to move to Kansas City, he wanted to keep the name ‘Texans’ (which is ridiculous, of course, but Hunt felt it was no odder than a Los Angeles basketball team calling themselves the Lakers after moving from Minneapolis). A fan poll was taken, and the top vote-getters were the Mules and the Royals. However, the Chiefs also got a decent amount of support (about 40 votes out of a 1,000 or so votes cast) so there was pressure on Hunt to adopt the name to honor Bartle’s work in bringing the team to Kansas City. Eventually, Hunt capitulated so, in a way, Bartle will always be a part of Kansas City Chief history!
(By the way, years later, Hunt would admit that just 20,000 season tickets sold would have been enough for him to move the team to Kansas City).
-- Brian Cronin
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Top photo: Bobby Bell drenches Lamar Hunt after the AFC title game on Jan. 1, 1967. Credit: AP.