FROM OFFICE WINDOWS high above the playing fields, each of the two sons can see a symbol of the legacy that has been handed down to them. Clark Hunt’s reminder is at Arrowhead Stadium, where the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs play. Dan Hunt’s is in front of Toyota Stadium in a Dallas suburb where FC Dallas, the family’s Major League Soccer team, plays.
Eternally greeting football fans in Kansas City and soccer fans in Frisco, Texas, are duplicate bronze statues of one of the greatest innovators in professional sports. In each place are statues of Lamar Hunt, the man thousands of admirers still fondly remember. He was, like them, a sports fan first and foremost. His nickname as a child, in fact, was “Games.” Family members still tell the story of the time the Hunt family’s dog gave birth to a large litter of puppies, only half of whom were spotted. The young Lamar quickly divided them into teams and ingeniously devised a competition for them.
It was that lifetime love of competing that prompted him to pioneer the upstart American Football League that battled the NFL. It took 10 seasons, but the persistent AFL wore down the established league and was finally welcomed into the fold. By the end of the 1969 season, Lamar’s Chiefs had become Super Bowl champions and the name for the showcase event was credited to Lamar, who got the idea while watching his children play with a simple little toy called a Super Ball.
But football was only part of his contributions to professional sports. He brought European soccer into the American consciousness. Professional tennis flourished thanks to his visionary World Championship Tennis organization. Lamar was among the founders of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls, and his family retained shares of the team after his death in 2006. For his energetic efforts, Lamar Hunt was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the National Soccer Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
And it was all accomplished with a quiet, behind-the-scenes dignity that belied the wealth and fame of the son of legendary oil magnate H.L. Hunt. Before Chiefs home games, Lamar visited the parking lots and mingled with fans. His home number could be found in the phone book. He never was one to flaunt his successes.
Still, as the story goes, a journalist who noted that Lamar was losing a staggering $1 million annually in the early days of his pro-football venture approached Lamar’s billionaire dad for his thoughts on the crisis. “A million a year, huh?” the elderly Hunt was reputed to have said. “At that rate, he’ll go broke in 100 or so years.”
Today, according to Forbes, the Chiefs franchise is worth almost $1 billion.
Now come Lamar’s sons, who have stepped into large shoes. Today, Clark, 48, serves as chairman and CEO of the Chiefs, chairman of FC Dallas and chairman of Hunt Sports Group. Dan, 37, is vice president at Hunt Sports Group and currently oversees the business operations of FC Dallas. Youngsters who once enjoyed trout-fishing trips with their dad and were delighted that he was on hand to watch their peewee soccer games continue to employ his quiet strategies as their own. The apples haven’t fallen far from the tree. In fact, they have inherited their dad’s energy, resolve and easy nature.
Both sons see their primary responsibility to be good stewards and to continue to advance their father’s dreams. “He was a great mentor, a visionary and an innovator whose first concern was always the fans,” recalls Dan. “That’s now our role.”
Clark agrees. As he now oversees the Chiefs’ operation, he is reminded daily of the magnitude of the task his dad embraced. “It was one thing to stand next to my father and see the spotlight shining on him. Being in a public role is a completely different challenge,” Clark says.
Clark’s goal is to build teams that consistently compete for and win championships and provide fans with the best experience in the NFL and MLS. Dan, meanwhile, has visions of the day soccer stadiums throughout the U.S. are filled to capacity and American teams are recognized as equals to the established international clubs.
In truth, they say, there was never a specific time their father announced they eventually would be given the reins to the family business. Lamar Hunt was more subtle, simply inviting them to join him at league gatherings and including them in business meetings.
Dad would be pleased to know they’ve learned their lessons well.