Chiefs President Mark Donovan talked at Training Camp about a variety of topics, including renovations for the World Cup, alternate helmets and more.
Q: With the World Cup coming up in 2026, can you take us through what that means for GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in the short-term and the long-term?
DONOVAN: “Yeah, first and foremost, the World Cup puts Kansas City on a map it has never been on before. When you think about the importance of that event and the fact that we’re a part of that event should be noted and acknowledged. It is an international event – it’s going to be amazing when people see it and it’s going to be really exciting to be part of it. As it relates to the stadium, there are definitely some required changes that we need to make, to make the pitch fit within the framework of the stadium, which will involve some construction. It’s actually a two-year construction process. So, we mapped out a plan where we can actually do some of the work, put seats back in, take the seats back out, play the games, at the end of the games put the seats back in. Our goal at this point is to make sure every single seat is replaced for every single season, so we’re not losing a single seat for football. We are in discussions with FIFA – (Executive Vice President of Arrowhead Operations and Events) Matt Kenny and our team were in New York a couple of weeks ago meeting with FIFA to talk about exactly where we are and exactly what the plan is going forward. FIFA is actually pushing us a little bit, aggressively, to try to reduce the numbers of seats we take out which creates a little bit of better of an opportunity for us. It will be an enormous challenge for our operations and construction crew, but one that we’ll be up for.”
Q: When will the construction start?
DONOVAN: “(20)25. So, we’ll do the summer of ’25 going into the ‘25 (football) season and ‘26. And then after the ’26 season, take it out.”
Q: What does it mean for GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium after the World Cup is gone?
DONOVAN: “It’s a fair question. I’m sure it will come up in some other questions. It’s part of the process of evaluation. I would tell you that it’s its own separate discussion. We’ve got to think of the stadium as its own entity. We’ve got to do whatever we do right. And I think that’s the recurring theme here, is we’ve got a big decision to make in a number of years and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing all the due diligence, got all the information and we’ve got to do it right. World Cup won’t impact that. There are scenarios where we may do something different for World Cup and then say, ‘Well, wait a second. In a renovated (GEHA Field at) Arrowhead (Stadium), would you maybe keep that or change this? Or take advantage of the construction you’ve already done?’ That’s in the mix, but I would tell you that in general, two separate discussions.”
Q: For training camp, you mentioned a daily cap on attendance. What is the specific capacity? Was there an incident in the past that has led to this decision?
DONOVAN: “I’ll look to (Vice President of Arrowhead Events) Jeremy (Slavens) to help me out with a number here in a second. But I would answer the second part of that question to say that I’ve experienced some of that. We’ve had events here – especially the first few years, the year we got Andy (Reid), the year after Patrick (Mahomes) started – when we had a couple days here (where) fans drive all the way up here or all the way down here and they just don’t have a great fan experience because they can’t see, they can’t get anywhere near the autographs. It’s a balancing act, as a business operator, to make sure to get the maximum benefit and the maximum number of people in to have a great experience. But, that one bad experience is really powerful. We talk a lot as an organization about creating storytellers. If you run into a Chiefs fan who’s been to a training camp at a grocery store, wherever you are, and ask them about training camp, we want them to tell a great story. And if that story is, ‘I drove all the way up there and I got here an hour late. I didn’t even get to see or get anywhere near an autograph,’ that’s something we try to avoid. We think with the number of days we have we can do it effectively. Number? Do we have a number? I would tell you that we’ve had years when it’s been close to 20,000 – between 15,000 to 20,000 people (weekend) – and that’s a bad experience. I won’t give you an actual number because I don’t have it. But I would tell you that there’s going to be plenty of people here. The other part of that balancing act is making sure there’s enough people here to create that energy that our players thrive on during camp. As you all know who’ve been here at camp, there are some dog days. I’ve witnessed, and I’ve heard it from the players, it gets them through. It helps them go that extra rep. It definitely makes a big difference.”
Q: Do you know how many seats will have to be temporarily removed for the World Cup at GEHA Field at Arrowhead?
DONOVAN: “A couple thousand. I don’t have an actual number off the top of my head. It’s depending on what FIFA comes back with. It’s five or eight rows and a couple corners we have to do some work on. It doesn’t seem like a big project. I would tell you when you get into the architecture of the building and the age of the building, it’s an enormous project.”
Q: By the time we get to training camp next year, you will have had the NFL Draft. I know there is a lot going on in the city for that but how much happens from a team standpoint and what has to happen?
DONOVAN: “Yeah, the NFL was in town last week, our team met with them as well as with (President & CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission and Visit KC) Kathy Nelson and members of the City’s group that we are working with on that. I always make the point, as I said earlier, the World Cup is going to be enormous. The (NFL) Draft in 2023 will be the largest event Kansas City has ever hosted. That just gives you a little hint into the trend we are on as a city and we’re just excited to be part of it. I humbly say without the Chiefs the draft doesn’t come to Kansas City and without Arrowhead and GEHA Field (the) World Cup doesn’t come to Kansas City. We’re part of it, and we’re a big part of it, but we’ve got great partners in both. Kathy Nelson and her team on the draft is going to be critical to that. It will take a lot of time from our team just to help with the planning. There are a lot of things that come into play, as you know. As an organization our goal is to make it the best draft in history of drafts and to shine the light on Kansas City. Yes, there are benefits to the Chiefs in that. They’re mostly building our brand, building awareness of how special this town is and how iconic our building is and hopefully driving more fans here. But it is a city-wide event, it’s an NFL event, it’s not a Chiefs event, but we’re going to give it a lot of Chiefs flare.”
Q: Is it safe to say that the World Cup will be the biggest event in the stadium’s history?
Q: Can you take us through the bid process for the World Cup? Maybe talk about the roller coaster and a tipping point throughout the process?
DONOVAN: “So, let me correct my first answer to that. It probably won’t be the largest attendance in terms of one event because of the seats we’re taking out. But over the (multiple) matches for one event, it will definitely be the largest. And then the roller coaster and the tipping point. It’s a long process and FIFA is a great partner, but they are a challenging partner. They challenge us, they challenge every single bit of you. There were some days where it’s like, ‘How are we going to make this work?’ And that’s when the resolve of the teams – (President & CEO of Kansas City Sports Commission and Visit KC) Kathy (Nelson), the city, the county, us, the Royals, Sporting are a huge partner in that and in driving that. It’s just that resolve that was really the key that kept us going. I would say personally, the tipping point for me was there was a moment where FIFA’s team went around to all 18 cities that were bidding and they had a presentation. It’s your opportunity to shine and the feedback that we got on that presentation – which was led by Kathy and her team, which we were all a part of, and we had great participation from the state of Kansas, from the state of Missouri, elected officials as well as just business support – so, the feedback that we got were two key points. Going into the meeting, we were on the bubble or just outside, and probably not getting it. Coming out of the meeting we were firmly in and most likely going to get it. So, it is a great day for us as a city to come together and just show how special we are and how prepared we are for this. We like to think as the Chiefs and operating (GEHA Field at) Arrowhead Stadium that we are one of the best in the world and we take a lot of pride in that fan experience. That showed true, but Sporting’s success, the fact that this city, with the Royals hosting the All-Star Game, the fact that we had World Series, the fact that we had AFC Championships again and again and again. All those things matter. Kathy’s experience in having Big 12 Championships. All those things matter, and it was the opportunity to shine a light on all of that. I will tell you that the FIFA people walked away very impressed, and I think that was really the tipping point that got us in the mix.”
Q: What other challenges do you see ahead that you can kind of project now?
DONOVAN: “I’ll say, challenges that are going to be overcome, but we definitely have things that we have to pay attention to and put some effort behind. There’s some fundraising we need to do. There’s also some transportation issues that we’ve got to convince people that we can do this. We can, but we need to show them how were going to do that. A big part in that is scheduling. John Sherman and Brooks (Sherman) at the Royals have been great partners of ours and when you think about it from that perspective, to make this event happen, we are disrupting their season. They’re a baseball franchise, not a soccer organization. But they are a Kansas City partner and John has been, from the get-go – as John always is – he’s like, ‘We’re in! What do you need? We’ll figure it out.’ It’s going to be a challenge with scheduling because they’re here so long and FIFA, as I said, is going to set their own schedule and they’re not worried about who’s in the way. We’ll work it out, but if we didn’t have partners like that, we probably would have a lot of challenges.”
Q: How open are the Chiefs to an alternate helmet?
DONOVAN: “Honor tradition is one of our core fundamental values. But I go back to that balance point, if you look, more and more – especially at this season – it seems like with all the black helmets that are coming out, alternate uniforms that are coming out. I don’t want to create hope where there isn’t hope, but you’ve lived this with us a little bit. There’s an open discussion. There’s definitely more of a consideration than there’s ever been. We’ve definitely had some good conversations about the opportunity. But as you can imagine, I think we are the only team – we might be one of a small group – that has never changed. When I say, ‘never change,’ we’ve changed a little bit on the stripe or something like that because of the uniform change. That’s important to us, too. It’s finding that balance, again. I’ve been here 14 seasons now. The first couple of years I came from Philadelphia where we did that pretty successfully and I was really excited about that. After the first meeting talking about that, I didn’t bring it up again for a couple of years (laughter). But a couple of our teammates on our side kept pushing me and we’ve opened the discussion again. We’ll see. It’s definitely something we’ll continue to discuss.”
Q: The organization had an event last week with FC Bayern Munich. Their brand is just as big if not bigger in Germany as the Chiefs brand is here. How important has that partnership been as far as trying to build it up and reaching an audience in Germany and Europe?
DONOVAN: “Yeah, it’s a little bit of the ‘everything is connected’ story. So, Bayern Munich is a partner with FC Dallas, which is owned by the Hunt family. Bayern Munich is one of the most valuable brands in sport and they dominate in Germany. So, the relationship is number one World Cup, our ability to talk about our partnership with them helped, but number two, as we expand and have the opportunity to pursue Germany as a market, it’s been extremely valuable. As you can imagine, we are walking into business meetings in Germany with people we’ve never met; we don’t really know much about their business and we’re walking with Bayern with us and that’s extremely valuable just creating intros, creating the opportunities and being there supporting us. We’ve worked with them through FC Dallas for a number of years, we spent a number of years watching and learning what Bayern did as they entered the US market and try to learn the fundamentals, the things that were different for them, the things that we could help them with, but also how they did it. And then we’re trying to use some of those same techniques as we go into Germany. And then the final point I will make on Bayern is, it’s not just about Bayern, it’s about those opportunities to be introduced to people through them. We put together an advisory group of eight or nine CEO-level business leaders in Germany. They’re excited to be on board with us as we expand into Germany. And I would say that the opportunity there and in Mexico, and frankly to continue to globalize this sport and globalize our brand within the sport is really exciting. And it’s something we are pursuing very aggressively and they’re a big part of that.”
Q: Usually this is a question we ask every year here, but just with the amount of time the Chiefs have been in St. Joseph, what are your projections for the future of training camp?
DONOVAN: “Missouri Western and St. Joe have been great to us. They’ve made sure that they understand that every rep matters. That’s an easy way of saying, ‘Everything has to be right; we can’t afford to miss.’ That’s really important. We love our partnership; we love our relationships, and we fully intend to continue to have those relationships. We have some options in our contract to continue. So, as we always do, we’ll get through this year, we’ll sit down, we’ll have some conversations. Our early discussions with new Athletic Director Andy Carter has been very positive. It will be great to see – after he gets through his first full camp – his feedback and things he thinks we can do better or differently. But it’s been a great opportunity, it’s been great to be here. Our head coach loves getting away, our players like it. COVID actually gave us an opportunity to look at a different way of doing this. I don’t want to oversell that they like it because it is training camp, I think there’s an aspect they don’t like anywhere, but I think that camaraderie building and that time away is really valuable and we see it that way.”
Q: When you guys did that 2020 training camp that was adjusted due to COVID, was there a further understanding from that organization on what you gain from doing it away from the facility that you otherwise would not have had?
DONOVAN: “So I’ll give you my opinion on that and then I would defer to (General Manager) Brett (Veach) and (Head Coach) Andy (Reid) and the players. But my opinion is that we learned a lot that impacted how we handled OTAs going forward. So, we were able to implement different changes in those years that we kept through OTAs. I think training camp – we’ll come out of this year, this will be our first real normal one – and we’ll do the same thing and see if there are things we can do differently. But I think for this period of time, what Andy (Reid) has told me, this is really valuable and we like doing it this way.”
Q: With AFC teams have a ninth regular season home game again next year, do you anticipate giving up a home game to play in Germany?
DONOVAN: “Yeah, I hope so. That’s our goal. I know our Season Ticket Members would like all of our games to be at home, but the reality is, that’s one of the reasons we switched to the 17-3. Every team in the league will play internationally now. And we said that when we sat outside on a cold day and talked about the fact that they just announced to us that we were going to London. Every team eventually is going to go internationally. Every team is going to give up a home game. That is part of the reason for nine versus eight (regular season games). Ideally, we go and don’t give it up, but I don’t think that’s the way the model is designed, that would be a pretty significant anomaly if we were able to do that. But I will tell you this, there is nothing better than playing at home, but the opportunity to play regular season games internationally is going to benefit every aspect in this organization and our fans. Yeah, there are some long lines, and you have to connect the dots but trust me in that it will benefit all of us.”
Q: What’s your preference: Mexico or Germany?
DONOVAN: “Our preference right now is Germany. If you look at where we are in Germany and the investments we are making in Germany, it is a much richer opportunity for us. To give you some perspective, four teams have the rights in Germany – us, the Buccaneers, the Panthers and the Patriots. So, all big brands and all aggressive teams. We went from middle of the pack to the fastest amongst those teams in social growth over the last two months. So, we actually put a concerted effort in and now we see the benefits of that concerted effort and we think the opportunity is enormous. In a scenario where we don’t play there in the next few years, because you think about that timeline that you brought up – if you don’t play next year, then you’re probably not playing the next year, so then you’re another year out – we want to get there sooner rather than later just to activate those fans and get those fans interest.”
Q: When you say richer, what do you mean? Financially?
DONOVAN: “No, I mean we have the opportunity to grow faster there than in Mexico. So, if you think about us in Germany, we’re probably the fifth-largest brand in Germany from an NFL perspective. In Mexico, we’re probably 12th or 14th, so a much more crowded space. The other reason for that, getting into details here but nothing too far down the line, there are four teams that have the rights to Germany and there are nine that have the rights to Mexico. So, when you think about it strategically, where are you going to spend your resources? We’re going to go aggressively in Germany. We’ve talked about this from the marketing standpoint. In Mexico, we’re going to watch what other people do. We’re probably going to zig when they zag. We’re probably going to do things a little more aggressively, a little bit less traditional in Mexico and try to create a little awareness there. Then the opportunity may come up and were going to see if we can take advantage of it.”
Q: On bringing autographs back to camp?
DONOVAN: “I’ll give you a story. I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My dad took me to my first Steelers game against the Patriots. Sat upper upper deck. It was freezing cold. The only hat I had was a red, white and blue hat. It was a bad mistake to go into Three Rivers Stadium with a red, white and blue hat when they’re playing the Patriots. But after the game we went outside the locker room and sat outside in the cold forever. (Pro Football Hall of Famer) Lynn Swan shook my hand. (I’ll) never forget it to this day. Literally, goosebumps. Those kids at training camp get the opportunity to carry a helmet up with a player. Those kids at training camp get the opportunity to get an autograph. They didn’t have that for two years. So, the opportunity to get that back is something special. One of the best things about this organization is – in some organizations you go to a head coach or a GM and you say, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about bringing this back,’ and they’re like, ‘It was pretty good before. Why don’t we just keep this the way it is?’ With these two it’s like, ‘Done. We’ve got to do that. That’s part of it.’ So, we got great support from players, great support from our coach and our GM. We’re just excited to bring that back. That’s one of the things I should’ve mentioned that as part of the new things we’re doing at camp. I would also express to our Season Ticket Members, come up to camp and take your time, see it all. There are some really new, cool things that we’re doing. Hy-Vee is doing concessions and were excited to bring our partnership there. We’ve got our tailgate suites here. We’ve expanding our merchandise store. We’re going to do so much around Flag football this year. So, if you’re up here at camp, you’re probably going to see some kids running around – girls and boys – playing flag, continuing to grow the sport. And that’s what gets us excited as an organization to get back to camp.”