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Archive for Monday, January 22, 2007

Border War’ has new battlefield

Arrowhead deal a sore point for some merchants as game-day revenue lost

January 22, 2007

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At the top of Naismith Hill, squeezing inside the aisles of Jayhawk T-shirts, fleece pullovers, football jerseys and hundreds of other crimson-and-blue products, Bill Muggy knows that for at least one weekend this fall, he'll be stuck with more of his merchandise than he can stomach.

Kansas University's home football game against Missouri is shifting from the field just down the hill to a 70,000-seat NFL stadium in Kansas City, Mo., some 53 miles down Interstate 70 - and taking $12,000 in Jayhawk Bookstore sales with it.

"They're desperate for dollars and not cognizant of the impact that the rivalries have on campus and in Lawrence," said Muggy, the store's owner, after KU athletics officials announced the venue change Monday afternoon in Kansas City, Mo. "They want businessmen to cough up a bunch of bucks to be part of business partnerships, and then they turn around and say, 'Once we've got your dollars, we don't want to give you any.'

"In this instance, they're just flat out moving the game into an area where the only place it really benefits is the dollars in the KU athletic department's coffers."

Such sentiments were making their way through front offices, behind beer taps and into commercial kitchens across Lawrence on Monday, as Kansas Athletics Inc. leaders gathered with their counterparts from the University of Missouri and others from the Kansas City Chiefs to confirm what had been talked about for months and speculated about for weeks.

The annual Border War football game against Missouri, originally set for Nov. 24 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, instead will be played at Arrowhead Stadium. The 2008 game will be played at Arrowhead instead of Columbia, Mo.

The payoff: KU will be guaranteed to receive at least $1 million from the game in each of the next two years.

"And we think we can do much better than that, very candidly," said Carl Peterson, Chiefs general manager.

First OU, now MU

The move follows up on another KU "home" game played at Arrowhead. In 2005, the Jayhawks played the University of Oklahoma in Kansas City, Mo., losing the game but winning in the cash box.

KU officials figure they scored a $1.23 million profit from the OU game at Arrowhead, compared with a $719,000 profit generated by that season's Missouri visit to Lawrence.

Lavern Squier, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said his 1,200-member organization had not put a price tag on the potential for lost sales, exposure and other aspects tied to the change. But chamber officials, in the past, have regarded home football games as "million-dollar weekends," in that fans fill hotel rooms, crowd restaurants and spend money that they otherwise wouldn't when the Jayhawks are on the road.

Lew Perkins, KU's athletic director, said Monday that his department had done all it could to ease the financial pain for Lawrence businesses. KU already had added an extra home game for 2007.

Hope for understanding

KU-MU at Arrowhead

Fans on the street react to the news that the Kansas-Missouri football game will be held in Arrowhead Stadium this year. Enlarge video

"We're very sensitive to our merchants," Perkins said. "They've been very good to us. But we feel that having seven home games is showing them that we care.

"Hopefully they can understand."

Perry Martin, general manager of the Lawrence Holidome, barely had heard the news Monday afternoon when he disclosed his early interpretation.

"Ouch!" he said.

That was before he started running the numbers, and checking the reservation books to see whether he would need to cancel reservations for the MU football team and its traveling party. Martin figures the hotel will miss out on $50,000 to $60,000 in revenue.

"It's frustrating," he said.

But all is not lost for his employer, Hulsing Hotels. The company also owns the Holiday Inn just across the street from the parking lot at Arrowhead.

And Martin figures that Lawrence will make out OK in the end, given the schedule with seven remaining home games - all expected to be sellouts for the hotel.

"We have to remember: What's good for KU is ultimately going to help the community," said Martin, whose company is paying at least $20,000 a year for the rights to play host to Hawk Talk, Coach Mark Mangino's weekly radio show. "It's just one of those things. You don't get mad. You just move on."

Beer, barbecue

Doug Holiday, co-owner of Bigg's BBQ, 2429 Iowa, conceded that moving the game to Kansas City would cost him "big time" money. But it also opens a new opportunity.

He's already looking into renting buses to carry fans to the games, leading a "Bigg's Caravan" equipped with barbecue, beers and plenty of KU spirit - all for a price.

"I've got to make money," he said. "If that's the way they have to make their money, it's OK. Let's just make the best of it."

John Charnes, professor in KU's School of Business, said he thought the move would be good exposure for KU in the Kansas City area.

"I think it's a good thing to give Kansas City fans an opportunity to see the team over there," he said.

Casey Topol, a KU senior, is looking forward to seeing her team on a different field.

"It just seems so much more exciting - like it's a bigger deal," she said. "I'd love it if it were here, but it's got to be so much more exciting and thrilling at Arrowhead."

But Melissa Horen, a KU student and vice president of student government, said she didn't like the change.

"Some of the really good memories I've had of the last four years have been when we beat MU at home," she said, "and to celebrate after that."

And Tim Burgess, a KU student and avid Jayhawk football fan, shares some reservations with the announcement.

"KU has been great against Missouri at home in the last four years," he said. "We've had their number every time. We've killed them. I'd hate to see that momentum go away just because we want to play at Arrowhead."

- Staff writers Sophia Maines and Ryan Wood contributed to this story.

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