Everyone is familiar with Soldier Field; they were even more familiar with it before the 600 million dollar renovation that was completed on it in 2003 that was so extensive that it caused it to be de-listed as a national landmark. It has been known as other names including Municipal Grant Park Stadium, or lovingly coined the Mistake on the Lake, or the Spaceship on Soldier Field. Needless to say, while the Bears have only played there for about forty years, this is without a doubt the house the Bears built, and one that it continues to maintain. It's for this reason the atrocious field conditions that plague our beloved bowl are not only unfathomable, but an affront to the common sense of the average Bears fan, and the NFL as a whole. Follow me below the fold where we'll take a look at a few different numbers regarding the Bears, and Soldier Field.
Alright, so before we start going number crazy, let me say unabashedly what my primary issue is with Soldier Field.
The Park District.
Now, why would you have such a huge problem with the Park District you ask? Because they are almost wholly responsible for the terrible field conditions we've had to endure for years and years. You see, natural grass is a wondrous thing, and honestly the best playing surface around if properly maintained, but that's the rub. Natural grass is just that, natural. It's a living organism that can damaged and destroyed with abuse and overuse. That's where the Park District comes in. The Park District owns Soldier Field and is responsible for the lions share of its upkeep and maintenance, and they also are the ones responsible for renting out the field for various and sundry things like musical festivals, individual acts, college football games, and soccer matches.
Why is this a problem? Because every single one of those activities is just as brutal if not more brutal than a Bears game. It goes without saying that college football is going to have a very similar impact as soccer, but when you start getting into musical acts, and musical festivals, or really anything that involves large masses of people and the erection of extremely heavy stages and scaffolding you are unleashing the hounds of war on the poor field. The damage inflicted on the field is almost always substantial and generally requires at least a partial resodding after any such event.
Now some of you may be asking, especially if you've missed one of the reports written here at WCG: why does it matter? Sod is sod right? It's all grass? Not exactly. You see, after re-sodding, the turf is generally extremely loose and sod can take up to three weeks to take root under the best of circumstances, so after re-sodding you're looking at poor field conditions for at least two weeks, if not three, and that's if there is no further damage to the field and it's taken care of extremely well - which has also been suspect at times when it comes to the Park District.
Now, here is why I'm getting extremely outraged when it comes to our continued terrible field conditions in relation to the rest of the league. This is the Chicago Bears, this isn't some bush league farm team, this isn't some team that has games blacked out because fans don't show up, this is not only one of the greatest sports franchises in history, but the sole football team in a huge market. This is where we are going to take a moment to examine the numbers.
The Chicago Bears are worth almost 1.1 billion dollars. As of 2007 we had the 5th smallest debt to value ratio for any NFL team, and we're likely even better now considering the Colts were at six percent to our nine percent, but that's before their stadium went on the books, as I recall. Working off the same 2007 numbers we had the 7th highest operating income, and revenue stream. Why does this all matter? Because we are quite literally playing in the smallest field in the National Football League when it comes to seating capacity. With a waiting list numbering in the decades, it's well within reason you could add 20,000 more seats and continue to have people waiting for years to get their PSL. Yet, you don't hear of any kind of clamoring for a new stadium, or another renovation, or anything like that. No hold outs, no threats, just acceptance for the history of the franchise, and the class act it's always been.
I have no issue with being a class act, but at a certain point it should also earn you a measure of respect, and that is respect that the Park District has continually neglected to provide by its terrible care for the field, and its unwillingness to resolve the problem either by eliminating outside events during the season, or simply changing to an updated surface such as one of the many next generation field turfs that now exist. All of this while the Bears are under long term lease with a yearly number of 5.7 million dollars a year until 2014 where that yearly lease number skyrockets to 28.5 million dollars a year continuing through 2033. Is it really too much to ask that when the Bears are literally one fourth of your income from the stadium, that you attempt to give them a workable playing surface? Is it still too much to ask if in a few years they are literally going to double the outside income to the field? Enough is enough, and with another entire off-season going by with zero movement on replacing the field the rest of the Bears fans should have had their fill as well.
Sure, it all comes down to money, but a one time investment that pays dividends both for the Bears, and for anyone else that uses it, must be taken under formal consideration by the Park District, and if not then, the people of Chicago need to start a campaign to place someone in a position to make that decision for them. The Bears are not a second rate team, and they deserve better than a second rate field.