As Chiefs owner seeks taxpayer money, players turn it back on him: Time to pony up

Five minutes before a video unveiled the Chiefs’ vision of a renovated GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, chairman and CEO Clark Hunt stepped to the microphone and offered a brief introduction.

The Chiefs had intended to reserve the day for illustrating their case for a project that needs taxpayer support.

They didn’t have the luxury of reserving even a full minute.

How’s this for timing: At the very moment Hunt began to speak, the NFL Players Association hit send on player survey results that concluded he is the NFL owner least willing to invest in team facilities.

So, in the flesh, an NFL owner seeking investment from Jackson County voters for the game-day facility; and on the inter-webs, his players handing him an F- grade for a lack of investment in their facilities.

There can’t be an NFL city in the country that felt the irony Kansas City did on Wednesday.

The Chiefs would dispute the conclusion reached by those surveyed (their own players), which you’d expect, but it’s important to note. The NFLPA is intentional about providing the view of its players, a strategy for trying to spark change.

But when it comes to the topic at hand — the topic the Chiefs had hoped would be the only one at hand Wednesday — determining the right side of the debate might just be secondary.

The Chiefs are in a moment in time in which perception is everything. They, along with the Royals, want Jackson County residents to pass the 3/8th-cent sales tax on the April 2 ballot to help fund the very renovations they were revealing. It’s probably stating the obvious to suggest the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs are the party that’s supposed to carry this over the finish line.

Could this alter that perception? It’s not the first time we’ve discussed the Hunt family’s expenditures, because it’s not the first time the players have questioned some of his expenditures, or lack thereof. A year ago, the Chiefs ranked 29th overall in the player survey.

This year, the survey returned with 77% league-wide participation — it’s not known how the Chiefs compared to that overall number — and Kansas City fell to 31st overall in the ratings, based on grades in 11 criteria. Only Washington ranked lower, and that’s not the kind of company you’d prefer to keep on or off the field.

The Chiefs rated 23rd or worse in nine of those 11 categories, and they were dead last in how players view ownership’s eagerness for facility investment.

Like the verge of a dynasty of a different kind.

That’s tongue-in-cheek, of course, and I’ll explain what might change that in the future. But the reality now is that the more Super Bowls the Chiefs win, the more damning their lack of pleasing their players becomes — because the players sure have done enough to please ownership.

The Chiefs have put their own finances into Arrowhead Stadium, which sits across the parking lot from the practice facility at the center of the players’ complaints. The stadium received new locker rooms, new seats in the stands and the new space (Hall of Honor) in which Wednesday’s presentation took place. Those are ownership bills.

But the players emphatically delivered a message through the survey for a second straight year.

What about our facility?

To the victors, uh, bypass the spoils?

That’s their perception. More than half the team responded that the Chiefs’ training room is understaffed and lacks equipment found in other training rooms. A majority of the team, according to the survey, believes the weight room fails to surpass the quality of off-site locations. The Chiefs were just one of six teams to respond that way.

A year ago, the complaint centered around the training facility’s locker room, all the way down to the fact that the players had stools rather than chairs with backs. When I asked Hunt about it a month later, he expressed surprise, but then said the team would “learn from it.” He added, “I’ll be interested to see it this coming year.”

Well, maybe not that interested, as it turns out.

The stools in the locker rooms did become chairs, by the way. The team made that change. It is next spending $2 million, primarily for air conditioning in the indoor field, this offseason, team president Mark Donovan said. So we can’t say they across-the-board refuse to inject dollars into the place.

What we can say is what filled our inboxes Wednesday: The players haven’t seen enough yet to alter their responses. And players respond more favorably at literally every other franchise.

“The team went on to win the Super Bowl. They then came back to the same old locker room, but with new chairs (as) the only renovation,” NFLPA president J.C. Tretter said when asked about all of this by The Star’s Jesse Newell at the NFL Combine, adding, “I think there’s some frustration there in that locker room of, ‘We keep winning Super Bowls, and nothing’s coming back to us. There’s no priority on making our lives better, but we keep making the organization more money and more fame.’”

On Wednesday, after revealing the stadium renderings, Hunt said his family’s ownership group has agreed to contribute $300 million to the stadium renovations, plus any overruns. The renovation project comes with an estimated price tag of $800 million.

That was the planned topic of conversation. The only planned topic of conversation.

But it was only part of the conversation that actually unfolded. The NFLPA’s second annual report card — the Chiefs are yet to bring home good grades (other than standout student/head coach Andy Reid, who was graded more favorably by his own players than any coach in the league) — drove another dialogue.

Those two issues, stadium and training facility, are more related than you might assume. First, because of the aforementioned perception just four weeks shy of asking taxpayers to help upgrade your stadium. But second, it’s also about what comes after the vote.

It’s quite logical to assume the Chiefs wouldn’t have much interest in staying at their current training facility should they not keep their stadium in Jackson County. And you can probably guess what I’m getting at next: They aren’t committing to a major renovation of the training facility, therefore, until the stadium’s future is settled on April 2.

But will they after? They will be without excuse, certainly. Surprise is long gone.

They wouldn’t plan to put $2 million into a facility if they also planned to soon tear it down, Donovan noted Wednesday.

But down the line? They haven’t locked in their long-term future.

Neither has Jackson County locked into one with them.

We’ll know that much in four short weeks. That was the original point Wednesday.

The long-term future — and its grades — will be up to the Chiefs soon thereafter.