The Chiefs Industry: Kansas City's sustained success has boosted small business bottom lines

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Union Station and other downtown Kansas City, Mo., buildings are lighted in red in support of the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football team Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. The Chiefs will play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 58. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. – Anthony Oropeza still remembers the day Travis Kelce walked into his studio at the InterUrban ArtHouse in suburban Kansas City, where some of his acrylic and mixed media works were hanging from the walls.

Kelce was helping to deliver a grant for the community arts hub, and the first piece to grab his attention featured Satchel Paige, the Hall of Fame Negro Leagues pitcher who later played in Cleveland, near where the Chiefs tight end had grown up.

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Then, Kelce saw Oropeza's painting entitled “:13 seconds,” which depicted the dramatic finish to the Chiefs' game against Buffalo in 2022. Kelce made a crucial catch to move Kansas City within range of a tying field goal in their divisional playoff game, then he caught the touchdown pass in overtime that sent the Chiefs back to the AFC championship game.

“That right there,” Kelce told Oropeza, “looks familiar.”

Oropeza's work has caught the attention of more than just Kelce in recent years. He's done commissions for Jarrod Dyson of the Kansas City Royals and the wife of former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols. But the vast majority of his work focuses on the Chiefs, which has helped him supplement his 9-to-5 job working for the local parks and recreation department.

“The success of the Chiefs, or more specifically the success and greatness of Patrick Mahomes, has definitely helped my career,” he said. “It helped me pay for my kids' education. Helped me meet some of the best Chiefs fans around.”

Indeed, the sustained excellence of the Chiefs, who play the San Francisco 49ers next Sunday in their fourth Super Bowl in five years, has been crucial to the bottom line of dozens — if not hundreds — of small businesses such as Oropeza's art studio.

In December, Econsult Solutions Inc. estimated the total annual economic impact by the Chiefs on team and Arrowhead Stadium operations, as well as ancillary spending of non-local attendees of games and events, at just shy of $1 billion.

“We are incredibly proud of our 60-plus-year connection to the Kansas City region,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said in a statement. “We know that the franchise and the stadium are key economic drivers."

Not just for big companies but small T-shirt companies, bakeries and even local artists.

Take RAYGUN, an irreverent apparel company with locations across the Midwest, which has T-shirts that feature such cheeky sayings as, “I Cheered For Kansas City Before It Was Cool” and “Go Taylor Swift's Boyfriend” — a nod to Kelce, of course, whose relationship with pop superstar Taylor Swift has likewise proven to be quite profitable.

Charlie Hustle, another local apparel company, pays homage to her with hoodies and shirts that say, “In My Red Era.”

Dolce Bakery, in the suburb of Prairie Village, Kansas, has an entire “Swiftie Collection” of heart-shaped cakes, along with an even more extensive menu of Chiefs-related cookies and treats. Cakes are decorated to resemble Mahomes, complete with his signature curly hair, and coach Andy Reid, whose mustache and glasses are featured quite prominently.

“January and February are historically quieter months for us,” Dolce Bakery founder Erin Brown said, “but these Super Bowl years have allowed our creative team to churn out freshly baked Chiefs designs that the Kansas City community has loved.”

The very nature of small businesses allows them to pivot quickly, too. So when the Chiefs beat the Ravens to book their place in the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, Dolce produced a cake that reads “Welcome to the Kingdom,” but in the styling of “The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that has greeted visitors to the Strip for more than six decades.

“As devoted fans ourselves,” Brown explained, “it's given us an opportunity to connect with our regular customers and reach new ones through our collective passion and support for the Chiefs.”

After the Chiefs beat the Bills in the divisional round, when Kelce's brother, Jason Kelce, famously stripped off his shirt and hopped out of his suite to celebrate, the bakers at Eileen's Colossal Cookies in Liberty, Missouri, took notice. They decorated a cookie cake in the spitting image of the Eagles center, and pictures of it posted to social media quickly went viral.

Another bakery, McLain's, noticed when Reid's bushy mustache froze during the Chiefs' wild-card win over Miami, the fourth-coldest game played in NFL history.

So they began offering a slightly tweaked version of their own Reid-inspired cake called the “Andy Reidcicle Cake,” where his mustache looks as if it is icicles.

Those are just some of the small businesses that have benefited from what has become a robust Chiefs industry.

“It's helped me help my community, too," added Oropeza, the artist whose studio Kelce visited that day. Along with original work, he does live paintings for charity fundraisers, and some of his Chiefs-related pieces have gone for thousands of dollars.

“The biggest highlight of it all,” Oropeza admitted, “was when my daughter met Travis that day, surrounded by all of my paintings. Her meeting him put the biggest smile on her face that I had ever seen. And as a dad, seeing your kid smile that wide made all the late nights — 4-hours-of-sleep nights — and all the other sacrifices for the past 10 years well worth it.”



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