World Cup 2026 expenses may factor into future of Arrowhead

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Kansas City will host games in 2026 World Cup

Kansas City made an aggressive bid to be one of the US host cities for the enormous international event put on by FIFA. Arrowhead will host the games, and it will be a massive economic boost.

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Over the last few years, the Chiefs say they have spent nearly as much of their own money ($40 million) on renovations and upgrades to Arrowhead Stadium as it cost Jackson County taxpayers ($43 million through a bond i,ssue) to build both stadiums in the Truman Sports Complex completed in 1972.

Then there was the $125 million the Hunt family contributed toward the $375 million renovation finished in 2010 … albeit with the preponderance of the funding ($212.5 million) via an ongoing Jackson County sales tax and the state of Missouri providing $37.5 million.

All of which has helped Arrowhead remain an iconic marvel distinguished in part as the world’s loudest venue when extrapolated from the Guinness Book of World Records calling the 142.2 decibels at a 2014 game “the loudest crowd roar at a sports stadium.”

That record now is perhaps to be amplified when Arrowhead becomes the site for men’s FIFA World Cup games in 2026. An unprecedented time for the city also will provide a different sort of marquee scene for the stadium.

But what may well be a pinnacle even within the considerable history of Arrowhead comes with a double-edged twist: It may also be the beginning of the end of Arrowhead as we know it.

At least that’s a notion team president Mark Donovan intimated when he told a small group of reporters on Thursday that investing “tens and tens of millions” of dollars into this has to “factor into those discussions and that decision” about Arrowhead’s future.

That casual but blunt statement makes for a new layer in the ongoing discussion broached publicly for the first time by Donovan at the NFL owner’s meetings in March.

With the current lease at the Truman Sports Complex expiring in 2031, the Chiefs already were pondering the future of what will then be a nearly 60-year-old stadium before the Royals announced last year that they are actively exploring a downtown move before the lease expire.

Skeptics might consider such talk to be more leveraging and negotiating than anything else, but the prospective move by the Royals spurred enough urgency for the Chiefs to commission a $500,000 financial study of best options ahead.

The study is understood to be focused primarily on the viability of: staying at Arrowhead as it basically is now while also assessing structural soundness; a massive expansion on the grounds of the Truman Sports Complex (if the Royals indeed move) or an entirely new stadium on that site or elsewhere … including perhaps into Kansas.

As distressing as this is to some, it seems to me this is all a matter of legitimate due diligence more than it is mere posturing. And also that no matter how much a businessman Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt might be, it’s still hard to envision him moving away from this central energy base of franchise tradition driven by his team-founding father, Lamar Hunt.

One way or another, though, the World Cup will impact the calculus.

In ironic essence, an event whose arrival here harkens to the legacy of Lamar Hunt figures to expedite questions of the future for another of his proudest achievements.

Certainly, it adds another dimension of consideration for a franchise already wondering at what point spending further tens of millions of dollars towards refurbishments is good money after bad … which may be defined quite differently than we might perceive our own spending toward it.

However you see it, know this: Much has to be spent for Arrowhead to meet FIFA standards that include, for instance, the use of turnstiles.

Most financially demanding, the pitch at Arrowhead has to conform with all others.

At least entering the bid process, that meant the need to build a vacuum system underneath to raise the pitch several feet higher than what the field is now. And it surely means, at enormous cost, removing an as-yet-unspecified number of seats to extend to FIFA specifications.

It’s uncertain how much flexibility may yet remain with any of that … or even exactly who pays for what over the course of time.

But after Kansas City was named a host site on Thursday, Donovan alluded to both the logistical and financial implications.

“The good news is that as part of the bid process we had to show them a complete plan that gets (Arrowhead) in compliance …” he said in the KC Live! block of the Power & Light District shortly after the announcement.

Then he used some form of the term “challenge” three times as he spoke of what he described as a “multi-year project for us” that he punctuated with the idea of ​​getting Arrowhead “ready again” after 2026.

Asked in a final question what all that might mean when it comes to the stadium’s future, Donovan said this:

“We’re focused on getting this right, and then coming out of it’s going to be part of the discussion about what comes next, right? As you can imagine, (with a) tens and tens of million dollars project we’re going to put into getting ready for ’26, that’s got to factor into those discussions and that decision. And it will.”

Just what will mean is anyone’s guess, presumably even the Chiefs at this stage.

When he was asked in April how he foresaw this playing out, Clark Hunt said, “I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that. Certainly, my heart tells me that I hope it’s Arrowhead, right? Because Arrowhead is so special to our family.

“The important thing, though, is that we find the right solution for the Chiefs and the community and something that can last for hopefully another 50 years.”

Now, we can only wonder how that sentiment will apply when juxtaposed against the World Cup — another development Kansas City expects to have impact for decades to come that inadvertently may even include framing the future of Arrowhead.

This story was originally published June 17, 2022 2:31 PM.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.

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