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Years of groundwork in Germany comes to fruition for Chiefs

'This is an investment we're making today that's going to pay off decades from now'
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Posted at 10:12 PM, Oct 29, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-29 23:12:56-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs have played in international games before, but never as World Champions.

As Frankfurt, Germany, prepares to embrace Chiefs Kingdom this week, I sat down with Chiefs President Mark Donovan.

"Three and a half years ago, four now, we had the opportunity to bid on the right to market our brand internationally. And the way it works at the league is you had the opportunity to bid on the certain market — certain country, in this case — so we chose to choose Mexico — same time frame, huge fan base down there already — and we in turn chose Germany," Donovan said. "One of the big drivers with Germany was the history of the NFL in Germany with the World Football League and all the franchises there.

"And then the history of the Chiefs in Germany. We played a game in Berlin there, and it's something that we thought was going to be a very hot market to grow quickly. We thought it gave us the greatest chance to have sort of exponential success quicker.”  

When I asked if it worked, he replied, “It has, yeah. It’s been really impressive.”  

German fans understand the NFL and everything that comes with it — from the strategy to the intensity.  

When tickets went on sale, more than 1 million people were in the queue.

"I'm sure you're watching it. What are you feeling as you're seeing the number just continue to grow?” I asked.

“We saw a little bit of it with the first game in Munich, and we saw just how many people were willing to buy who couldn't. So we're expecting it's going to be big, and then, you know, it's always better when it's bigger than you expected. And it was.”  

Previous international appearances for Kansas City include Tokyo, Monterey and Berlin.  

When it comes to the NFL's new program, Donovan believes "it's something that Lamar Hunt would have been really proud of."

"... He was one of the leaders in this area, as well as many others, but in this area of, 'We’ve gotta grow the sport internationally. We've got to create fans around the world,'" Donovan said. "He was such a fan of the World Cup. He saw it, he witnessed what it could be and he felt like games in Europe and other markets would make sense.

"And he was really a big driver, and he proved it through his commitment. He took the team to Tokyo twice. He took the team to Monterey. He took the team to Berlin the year that the Wall came down.”  

Lamar's legacy lives on today through the work of current Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt.

“Clark has followed that lead. He's been the chair of the international committee for a number of years. He is still on the committee today — he's now the chair of the finance committee at the NFL," Donovan said. "He truly believes in this as well, and that frees us up to actually make the investments and create crazy ideas like the championship that he's been supportive of.

"So I think it's a great legacy of the Hunt family that starts with Lamar, and it continues on today. And I think, again, it's going to be a great thing for the Chiefs, and it's going to be a great thing for the NFL.”  

Donovan said fans can expect to see the NFL continue to expand its footprint internationally, with new countries and more games in the years to come.

On a more personal note, I asked him how it felt to finally reach the moment the team plays in Frankfurt.

“As someone who has spent years working toward this moment, how is it going to feel to see those beautiful bump shots with the championship in the background and the anthem being sung before kicking off a really great game?” I inquired.

“Very, very excited about it," Donovan said with a smile. "You know, going into it, you have sort of both trepidation and excitement. A win will make it even better because that's a really big game. Think about this, think about the timing of all this, and you think about the investments we've made. [I'm] really proud of the investments we've made, and there are a lot of data points that ... exceeded our expectations — social media growth, brand growth, things in Germany.

"Then add on that when we invested in this, it was coming out the first championship," Donovan continued. "Now we have a second Super Bowl. This was all pre-Taylor Swift. This was all pre-Patrick being a multiple MVP candidate. So I think the timing of this all really makes sense. And the way we looked at this from the very beginning was: this is an investment we're making today that's going to pay off decades from now.”