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Opinion: Branson, Chiefs partnership comes at right time for city

Eyes & Ears

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"Patrick Mahomes, you and the Kansas City Chiefs have just won the Super Bowl. What are you going to do next?”

“We’re going to Branson!”

No, no, you and I both know that’s not what Mahomes and family yelled during the on-field celebration after winning Super Bowl LVIII. The iconic Disney commercial ended the same way it has since the ads started running in 1987. The Mahomeses are in fact going to Disneyland.

But they would be going to Branson if city and tourism officials there could have their way. The Chiefs inked a deal last year that makes Branson the official vacation destination of the team. I’m sure you’ve heard by now.

It’s great timing for the city – months before another championship victory for Missouri’s NFL team. It’s just the second of three such partnerships in the NFL and could be a sign of more to come. Other teams with official vacation destination partners are the New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys. By the way, the league has its own official travel destination: Kissimmee, Florida, according to its partners page at NFL.com.

What’s it cost for a city to become a vacation destination of an NFL team? Over $1 million a year – at least in the case of Branson, where city and tourism officials agreed to pay the Chiefs a base of $1.25 million a year, or nearly $6.38 million with annual escalators written into the five-year contract. Terms also spell out another 2%-3% playoff fee assessed for each Chiefs postseason game to cover additional exposure for Branson. The Virgin Islands reportedly got a deal for less. According to an interview with its governor by The Virgin Islands Consortium, the Jets will receive less than $3 million for its three-year deal.

The meshing of professional sports teams and paying sponsors is a growing trend, made famous by international soccer teams who place big-paying sponsor logos across the chest of player jerseys customarily reserved for the team names. That’s secondary in soccer, and it works very lucratively for the teams, leagues and player contracts. It’s similar in MLS. The NBA has adopted a team sponsor model but in reverse of soccer so that the sponsor logos are upper left shoulder on the jerseys, leaving the marquee real estate for their city team names. The NFL and other U.S. pro sports have resisted the logo tagging on jerseys.

However, sponsor revenue is coming in the back door of these front offices in the form of official partner deals like the travel destinations. Anything you can think of seems to fit, like these other new partners the Chiefs added in 2023: Official Soup Partner, Campbell’s Chunky Soup; Official Pizza Partner, Little Caesars; Exclusive Confectionary Partner, Mars Wrigley (Snickers); Official Higher Education Partner, University of Missouri-Kansas City; and finally, Official Outdoor Living, Composite Decking and Railing Partner, Envision Outdoor Living Products. See what I mean?

Ad revenue is ad revenue. I think the question to answer is whether it dilutes the on-field experience for paying fans. My take is that no, it doesn’t.

Back to Branson. Chamber and tourism officials struck while the iron is hot – both in the industry trend and with a team that can now be called a dynasty.

I still can’t help but wonder if we’ll see players, coaches, front office staffers, etc., and their families visiting the Ozarks to enjoy the quiet lakes and waterways, exceptional golf courses, boating and fishing, theme parks, summer camps and higher-end lodging. So, I asked Kirk Elmquist, the man behind the Chiefs deal in his role as executive director of the Branson/Lakes Area Tourism Community Enhancement District. His reply: “It would be a great bonus.”

So, for those dreaming of a Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift sighting during their getaway weekend to a private cabin and fine dining at Big Cedar Lodge, probably not. Or a Kelce family reunion, with Jason and his girls, maybe mom bringing her famous cookies. Who knows?

After all, Mahomes and Kelce have played Payne’s Valley Golf Course, per an Instagram post by @golfbigcedar. And Silver Dollar City offered Mahomes free season passes in a Facebook post in 2022.

But that’s not the end game here, Elmquist and others involved with the deal say.

Now, there are public appearances as part of the deliverables during the season kick-off rally in Branson. According to the contract terms obtained from city officials, the Chiefs have agreed to send current players with three years or less of experience, a couple of former players and several cheerleaders.

But those people, even the star players, aren’t the target audience for the marketing plan. To get the big names for formal appearances takes big dollars, and I’m told Branson is spending its money in the deal on marketing to a wider audience rather than getting one or two individuals to town.

To the Chiefs kingdom, the door to Branson appears to be wide open to you. I see this partnership shaping up for a lot of fun with a winning team, and Branson and the Ozarks could score some marketing points throughout it.

Springfield Business Journal Editorial Vice President Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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