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Chiefs Switching Supermarket Sponsorship Contract From Price Chopper To Hy-Vee

The Kansas City Star, January 31, 2009

By Joyce Smith

Say so long to "Chiefs and Chopper."

After nearly three decades, the homegrown Price Chopperchain will no longer be the Kansas City Chiefs' "official" grocery sponsor. Price Chopper said the Chiefs indicated that when the sponsorship contract ran out in March, Iowa-based Hy-Vee Food & Drugwould take over.

Price Chopper has been the Chiefs' "official" grocer for 28 years.

"Price Chopper has been a sponsor for 28 years, back when the Chiefs were building their fan base and the stadium wasn't as full as it is now," said Phil Hermanson, a spokesman for Price Chopper. "Being a local company, Price Chopper wants to support the Chiefs."

Hy-Vee declined to comment, referring calls to the Chiefs.

Tammy Fruits, vice president of sales and marketing for the Chiefs, said the National Football Leagueteam had a "long and good relationship" with Price Chopper, but she confirmed that the contract was ending. She declined to elaborate "out of respect to our partners."

Industry experts say grocers depend on community support and that one way to garner that is by supporting things the community cares about - from local schools to major-league sports teams.

Indeed. Sports have become one of the largest categories of sponsorship spending in the United States. IEG, a Chicago research firm, estimates that sports leagues and their teams generated $11.4 billion in sponsorship revenue in 2008, compared with $9.9 billion in 2007, a nearly 15 percent increase.

Hy-Vee's timing may be pretty good. Although the Chiefs' last two seasons were dismal - the team compiled records of 4-12 in 2007 and 2-14 in 2008 - there is renewed excitement since Scott Pioli was named general manager this month.

Still, overcoming the Chiefs and Chopper connection may be a challenge.

"Hy-Vee bought a category, so they are the 'official' grocery. But that only gets them in the game," said Dave Wilson, a partner of InQuest Marketing LLC, a Leawood-based marketing and communications company that has worked with Price Chopper owners and other grocers. "Then it's how you leverage it."

The Chiefs logo has been prominent in Price Chopper ads and in the stores. Players, team owners, broadcasters, cheerleaders and even the KC Wolf mascot have made guest appearances at Price Chopper supermarkets. And the chain used the Chiefs to push its deli value meals called Wolf Packs.

How Hy-Vee handles the sponsorship remains to be seen.

"In the early days, Price Chopper would buy out remaining tickets - sometimes thousands - so the local game would be televised," Wilson said.

William Chipps, senior editor for IEG, said Hy-Vee, which is based in West Des Moines, Iowa, probably had to offer something "pretty extraordinary" to the Chiefs.

If the chain offered more money, Hy-Vee has the luxury of spreading costs across its region of 225 stores in seven states. Price Chopper is a local banner of Associated Wholesale Grocerswith 48 locations in Kansas and Missouri.

In response to losing the official sponsorship, Price Chopper recently made a "major commitment" to advertising within KCTV-5's telecasts of Chiefs games and pregame and post-game specials, along with "Locker Room" and "Kick-off" shows.

To reach Joyce Smith, call 816-234-4692 or send e-mail to