Arrowhead Stadium, home to the Kansas City Chiefs, has always been one of the NFL’s crown jewels. Frequently sold out for Chiefs’ games since its opening in 1972, Arrowhead owns the Guinness World Record for the loudest stadium in the world when the crowd noise hit 142.2 decibels during a 2014 game.
What the Chiefs had in gameday atmosphere and regional following, though, they lacked in Super Bowl appearances—only one in 1968—and a transcendent superstar. That’s until quarterback Patrick Mahomes burst onto the scene as a starter in 2018, the same year he won the team’s first-ever MVP award. Since Mahomes’ arrival, the Chiefs have been to two Super Bowls, won one of them, and have seen their franchise value increase by more than 28 percent.
And with another stacked roster this fall, Kansas City figures to once again factor heavily into the Super Bowl discussion. The Chiefs’ five primetime TV games are the most in the NFL this season.
Illinois State alum Tyler Kirby ‘07, the team’s vice president of business development, has helped the organization capitalize on its growing popularity. And as a business developer, there’s nothing more exciting than growing a brand while it’s white-hot.
“Demand for the team has always been really strong but certainly reached a new level with (Mahomes’) arrival and the general success of the team,” Kirby said. “The style of play really complements the energy of the fanbase, and ticket sales demand has certainly supported that. We’re just excited that our fans can look forward to an entertaining and successful product week in and week out, and that it further enhances the experience at our stadium.”
Kirby oversees ticketing, consumer marketing, and fan development. He’s responsible for all aspects of ticket sales, from the point of purchase to stadium entry. He’s helped the team become proactive in the digital world, allowing the team to be more dynamic throughout the year in its marketing efforts, including engaging young fans. The bulk of his daily routine, Kirby said, is making sure those areas are working together.
A double-major in marketing and business administration at Illinois State, Kirby is entering his 13th season with the Chiefs. He was previously director of ticket sales and operations, ticket sales manager, and ticket sales representative. Before his time in Kansas City, he worked for Redbird Athletics, as well as being the marketing coordinator for U.S. Cellular Coliseum (now Grossinger Motors Arena) in Downtown Bloomington.
Kirby credits his time at the University for providing a successful foundation that he has turned into an ascension to football’s highest summit.
“The business school was really valuable in preparing me for a professional career, but also the experience I received working for the ISU Athletics department really solidified that working in sports business was something I wanted to make a career out of,” Kirby said. “I’ll always value my time there and the people that I met.”
One of Kirby and his staff’s most noteworthy achievements was figuring out a way to get fans safely in the stadium at a reduced capacity last year when coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines weren’t yet readily available. He helped set up 100 percent mobile ticketing and contributed to digital communication and servicing. According to the team’s website, 106,000 fans passed through the gates at Arrowhead Stadium in the pandemic-stricken year, accounting for nearly 9 percent of NFL’s total regular season attendance totals. They were one of six teams to have fans at every game. In their two home playoff games, both wins en route to another Super Bowl appearance, the crowd noise was noticeable and gave the Chiefs a distinct home-field advantage.
“The most challenging thing was that you really didn’t know what you were preparing for,” said Kirby, noting the team effort it took to pull off the feat. “So, we had to go through many different scenarios and iterations around ticketing, fan communication and general health and safety measures around the stadium. In working closely with our city and many other experts in the space, we felt like we put together a plan that could safely have fans attend games.”
Kirby has seen the franchise go from one with a passionate but restless fanbase starved for a Super Bowl title to a championship team that is now one of the sport’s most popular. He’s grateful to be a part of a culture that is always looking for innovative ways to grow the brand regionally, nationally, and internationally.
And with their championship core all under contract—including 11 years left on Mahomes’ record-setting $500 million deal signed last summer—it looks like business will be booming for quite some time in Kansas City.