Published January 27th, 2023 at 2:52 PM
Just like last year around this time — and the three consecutive years before that — private planes will land early and often at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport on Sunday, when the Kansas City Chiefs host the AFC Championship game.
For last year’s conference championship, 395 private planes landed that Sunday at the downtown airport, said Kansas City Aviation Department spokesman Joe McBride.
“That’s in one day! Fifty-seven percent more business jets, turbo props, small planes, you name it, that arrived at that airport that were not normally scheduled to go there,” he said.
It’s just one instance where the Chiefs’ unprecedented, five straight AFC Championship games at home have become an unprecedented profit margin for Kansas City businesses.
Sunday’s game will determine which AFC team advances to Super Bowl XLVII in Glendale, Arizona. The Chiefs will square off against the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that has beaten them in their last three meetings. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. with coverage on CBS.
The game, McBride said, draws people who spent big bucks to go to the game.
“From team owners to network executives to sponsors to folks that might happen to be executives at some company that has a private jet and can do that,” McBride said. “Also, just a bunch of folks that pool their money and charter an aircraft and fly to see the big game.”
Most of them don’t stick around after the game, but others who do, like visitors who fly in commercially or drive to Kansas City, make a big economic impact.
Kathy Nelson of the tourism industry group Visit KC outlined the impact of three previous AFC Championships, excluding 2021 because of the pandemic aberration.
“From past years, there’s been an economic lift in this city of about $13 million when hosting the AFC Championship game,” she said.
Nelson uses what she calls an “economic impact calculator” to determine that number.
She compares it to another big sports event in mid-March: the men’s and women’s Big 12 basketball tournaments.
“That typically is between $15 million to $18 million, with both men’s and women’s, over the course of four days,” Nelson said.
The Chiefs’ regular-season success also carries over to unplanned postseason profits for restaurants and hotels.
Andrea O’Hara, executive director of the Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Kansas City, said the hotel occupancy rate heading into this weekend is in the neighborhood of 80%.
“As a business owner, yeah, it’s great,” said Grant Tower, who co-owns Taps on Main Street with his brothers, Jason and Mark. “I mean — five years — it’s nuts. We’re lucky.”
The Chiefs-Bengals matchup this year and last brought mixed emotions for the Tower brothers, whose hearts are with the Buffalo Bills.
“My dad is from Tonawanda, New York — it’s a suburb of Buffalo,” said Tower. “He came here for college, met my mom, stayed and raised us as Bills fans.”
If the Bills had won last Sunday, the AFC Championship would’ve taken place in Atlanta. It would’ve meant a missed opportunity for the brothers and other local business owners.
“Would we have been disappointed had the Chiefs played in Atlanta? No, because they would have been playing in the AFC Championship game,” said Visit KC’s Nelson. “You would have still heard Kansas City mentioned in the broadcast. That’s a marketing lift.”
“Of course, having those dollars influxed into our community is important, but we would never plan on that,” she said.
For those who don’t make it to Kansas City this weekend, Sunday’s CBS telecast will undoubtedly feature the city’s sights and sounds — inside and outside Arrowhead Stadium and around the metro.
That, too, is an important draw for visitors later on, according to Nelson.
“I had someone from Canada stop me the other day at Union Station,” said Nelson. “He said, ‘I keep hearing about Kansas City.’”
“He had no idea who I was … and goes: ‘Can you help me? I need to figure out where I need to eat. I keep hearing about this place.’”
Then there’s this guy named Patrick Mahomes, whose on-field success is attracting non-sports followers from all over the world.
“I don’t even know how to quantify that,” said Nelson. “People that I know from around the country just know Mahomes.”
The Mahomes name certainly didn’t hurt as a marketing tool when Kansas City landed the 2023 NFL Draft, happening in late April. It’s the biggest sports-related event the city has ever seen, some suggest.
And it’s only one in a series of major sporting events lined up in Kansas City this year.
Greg Echlin covers sports for KCUR 89.3, where this story first appeared. KCUR is a member of the KC Media Collective.