WASHINGTON, D.C. -- People here wonder how seriously we should consider the New Orleans Saints as a candidate to move to Los Angeles. I wonder how seriously we should consider the Kansas City Chiefs.
Yes, the Chiefs.
|The Chiefs say they wouldn't leave their loyal Arrowhead fans, for now at least. (Getty Images)|
That's because Jackson County, Mo., home to the Chiefs' stadium, would default on its lease after the 2006 season, which means the team could become a player in the L.A. market if it's still available.
Not so fast, said Clark Hunt, the team's chairman of the board, who clarified remarks attributed to him in last weekend's Kansas City Star. The team's interest, he insisted, is to remain in the greater Kansas City area, not to relocate to Los Angeles.
"My comments," said Hunt, here for the NFL owners meetings, "were in response to a state legislator who said to me, 'It's my opinion and the opinion of my constituents that the Chiefs and Royals will never leave, no matter what happens to the stadiums.' And my response was that, in my opinion, if the stadiums are not renovated at some point in the next several years, one or both teams will leave Missouri within a 10-year window.
"Obviously, in Kansas City you have a state line right through the middle of the city, and I was really referring to the prospects of the teams moving to the Kansas side."
Missouri legislators recently snubbed a proposal to utilize existing tax revenues to maintain Arrowhead and Kauffman stadiums, both located in Jackson County and both more than 30 years old. Legislation from the state's current tax on professional athletes and entertainers would have pumped as much as $10 million annually into the two facilities.
But with that money now unavailable, Jackson County might not be able to fund repairs required to maintain state-of-the-art stadiums, as required by their leases. That, in turn, would cause the county to default on its leases and at least raise the possibility of the Chiefs leaving -- with speculation focused on Los Angeles, where the NFL would like a team no later than 2008.
"I don't think it's realistic," Hunt said. "Our leases run for another 9½ years, and it's likely the county will figure out a way not to default on it. I don't think the county is going to tell us, 'Look, we want to default in the next 20 months.' I think they will find a way to create a short-term solution. We don't think that's ideal for either team (the Chiefs or Kansas City Royals) for them to do that. We would rather see a long-term solution."
It's unclear what the next step is, though the Kansas City Star reported the possibility of a tax election later this year -- probably in November -- to impose a quarter-cent or three-eighths cent sales tax. The Star also reported the tax could be for four years, raising $80 million for minimum maintenance of the stadiums, or extend for a longer period to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for renovations.
What is clear is that the Chiefs aren't happy and could leave Arrowhead in two years.
"We have to look at all options," said Chiefs president Carl Peterson. "We owe it to the Hunt family. But what we have to do right now is give the opportunity to Jackson County to try to solve this problem. They know it's a problem. They've readily admitted it publicly that there is a problem. They're running out of money, and they need to start to do something. They have the opportunity and the ability to solve it."
And if it's not?
"Our first priority is Kansas City," said Hunt. "So we'll run all those traps before we even think about another market."