The city of Chicago is in desperation mode when it comes to negotiating with the Bears about Soldier Field.
The Chicago Bears are about as good as gone. Sure, they haven’t closed on the Arlington Heights site yet, but it’s gotta be a near done-deal.
The city, much like it’s football team of late, is down bad and it’s late. They need a couple first downs to try for a Hail Mary.
What they proposed this week was that. A desperation heave against a picket fence defense.
The full report is online and it doesn’t actually mention the dome that was rumored earlier in the week. But like most good government proposals, it’s built on vague buzzwords that don’t actually say what they intend to do.
The report says the intention is to “Transform Soldier Field into a state-of-the-art venue with an exceptional visitor experience” and lays out these changes:
- Offer best in class visitor experience
- Update Soldier Field’s seating configuration
- Explore advertising and sponsorship opportunities
- Integrate additional public attractions into Soldier Field
- Explore the potential for year-round use
Later, the report expands on these ideas with a few more details which I find short-sighted and don’t go far enough to help the Bears with their ultimate goals that could be answered with a new stadium site in the suburbs.
From the report:
These updated seating locations should have a more relaxed environment than traditional stadium seating with couches and lounging areas that expand the entertainment experiences on game days and other events, helping to diversify the mix of spaces available in the stadium and city overall. Additional conventional seating, therefore, should focus more on maintaining existing capacity rather than significantly increasing it.
They’re already admitting that additional seats cannot be added to Soldier Field. Soldier Field is the smallest NFL stadium and it stands to reason that increasing seating capacity would be at the top of the list for the McCaskeys. While adding additional box seats is lucrative for teams, adding more seats plus luxury boxes, seems like where it should be at for the McCaskeys.
Then there’s the explore advertising and sponsorship point. The report basically lays out stadium naming rights deals, as well as sponsorship opportunities for concourses, parking lots and other spaces.
It might be cheesy, but there is something off-putting to me about slapping a corporate name on a stadium that is war memorial for those that gave the ultimate sacrifice. It seems dirty and disrespectful. Imagine having to say “Welcome to Allstate Soldier Field” or “We’re heading to Aon Insurance Soldier Field.” It doesn’t feel right.
Or even worse; having to look at a corporate logo over the iconic “Dedicated to the men and women of the armed services.” Drink Pepsi!
Finally, under the year-round utilization part, the report gets into the dome and more.
Replacing the natural grass surface with synthetic turf could reduce existing restrictions on the field’s use by removing the need to protect the playing surface. While this would require changes to existing contracts, it would allow Soldier Field to host a greater number of revenue-generating events, potentially including more college football games or concerts.
Many can get on board with that, fans have been clamoring for years, while the Bears themselves have maintained that research says grass is safer. But then we get into the really interesting part.
To better utilize Soldier Field year-round, the City should also explore the feasibility of enclosing the stadium...Although enclosing Soldier Field would incur significant investment, further analysis is required to fully understand the specific costs, the potential direct and indirect economic impacts, and the full range of potential funding sources available to determine options that are respectful to Chicago taxpayers.
The TL;DR here is “We should look at putting a roof on Soldier Field but we have no clue what it would cost or where the money would come from.”
It was nearly 20 years ago that the Bears and the city renovated Soldier Field the last time, in what turned out to be an ugly band-aid on a historic stadium. The new Soldier Field has been said to look like a spaceship landed inside it and now they’re proposing dropping a toupee onto the spaceship.
All of these proposals are just more band-aids to what is an overall problem for the Chicago Bears and the McCaskey’s; they don’t own it.
NFL ownership knows that the most lucrative thing for owners is to own their own stadium, own the land and get sponsorships and sportsbooks for all of it.
On the sportsbook front, that was reported to be a hang up in the whole negotiation between the team and the city last year.
Now, the city’s plan mentions that a sportsbook would be on the table but cites “regulatory and NFL policy changes” that would need to take place in order for that to happen. It also appears in a section discussing potential additions to the outside of Soldier Field, including restaurants and other attractions that would be part of the Museum Campus, but not necessarily inside Soldier Field.
Once again, this would appear to be a half-measure. NFL stadiums are getting sportsbook lounges inside their facilities now and partnering with gambling outlets up to entire stadium naming-rights deals. Having a sportsbook outside the stadium just again seems like too little.
Overall, this proposal is exactly what I would expect from the city: Desperate, not well-thought out and definitely not paid for.
What is in this proposal that makes sense for the Bears? Other than cost-sharing, there’s nothing there. The naming rights? That’s money they would have to split with the city. The restaurants and sportsbook and stuff? Would all be on city property.
The Bears have lost out on millions for years and it seems like a no-brainer that they’re finally catching on that now is the time to cut and move to the suburbs.
UPDATE: Pretty much as I predicted, the Chicago Bears have released a statement to the Daily Herald confirming they aren’t interested in the city’s proposal.
“The only potential project the Chicago Bears are exploring for a new stadium development is Arlington Park,” according to a statement from a team spokesman Thursday afternoon. “As part of our mutual agreement with the seller of that property, we are not pursuing alternative stadium deals or sites, including renovations to Soldier Field, while we are under contract.”