I’ve been trying to put my finger on why there seems to be so little public emotion surrounding the Bears’ stadium possibilities. Is there excitement? No. Anger? Not much. A shrug or two? That’s about right.
Part of it has to do with the choices. Putting a dome on a mediocre Soldier Field, as Mayor Lori Lightfoot has proposed, doesn’t exactly send the soul into flight. And building a new stadium in Arlington Heights, as the Bears are considering, feels like another Bennigan’s setting up shop in another suburb.
But most of the public listlessness about the stadium situation, I think, has to do with the end goal, which is about making money for the McCaskey family, the owner of the franchise. Getting excited about that is like getting excited about George Clooney’s next auto purchase. I’m supposed to care why?
Oh, I understand all the reasons the Bears are offering to explain the need for something new or improved. It’s for you, the fans. How much longer, the Bears ask, must you people put up with the shortcomings of the substandard Soldier Field — the shortcomings, by the way, that the team pushed for when the stadium was renovated in 2002? And think of all the revenue sources a new stadium in Arlington Heights would create for the Bears, allowing the team to plow more money into the on-field product — even though franchise history and a salary cap suggest that most of the money will go into McCaskey pockets.
For 99% of the fans, Bears games are a TV event. Most of these people rarely step foot inside a stadium, whether it be old, new, borrowed or Bears blue. All they care about is what happens on the field. If a camera pans to the massive JumboTron underneath a geometrically pleasing dome, it’s just aesthetics. So asking them to get worked up about where the team’s home games will be played is a challenge.
For those fans who do have the money to regularly attend Bears games, they’ll face a mixed bag of good and bad when it comes to a stadium. They’ll theoretically get a state-of-the-art new stadium, filled with all the amenities modern fans didn’t even know they wanted. I say “theoretically’’ because the last time the Bears had stadium decisions, they chose unwisely, leaving themselves with too few seats and an architectural design that drew ridicule. In general, it’s not good when the phrases “alien spaceship” and “toilet seat” are used to describe anything. Maybe the Bears will choose correctly this time.
As for downsides, fans will either have the same game-day traffic problems at a domed Soldier Field that they’ve had for years on the lakefront or they’ll face a longer trek to a new stadium in Arlington Heights. And who knows what the traffic situation will be like in the suburbs. “Not good’’ comes to mind.
Whatever happens, you can bet that season-ticket holders will see dramatic price increases. They won’t like it, but they’ll come up with the cash because they always do. Bad football by the Bears hasn’t made them close their wallets, so why would a purported improved game-day experience?
One more reason there’s been a lack of emotion on the stadium situation: Everyone involved in the decision-making process has tiptoed around how a new stadium or a renovated Soldier Field would be funded. That’s because everyone involved knows that the populace wants no public funds going toward making the McCaskeys either filthy richer or filthier rich. There is no appetite for it. None. It’s more like a hunger strike. Let the family take out loans.
Lightfoot also has proposed the possibility of selling naming rights to Soldier Field, which has drawn some criticism. I used to be a huge opponent of corporations slapping their names on stadiums, especially historic stadiums, but to say that ship has sailed would be an understatement. It’s one of the prices of doing business now. I don’t want to see the Cubs playing in Amazon’s Wrigley Field, but I’m realistic enough to know that something similar is only a matter of time with the Ricketts family. And I’ve been around long enough to know that the ballpark will still be called Wrigley Field no matter what corporate barnacle attaches itself to the name.
You can’t say no to taxes and naming rights if you want to keep the Bears in Chicago.
But none of it has yet reached the level where fans and voters are outraged or excited. Mostly there is indifference.
That will change with one word: taxes.
Woe to the politician/team owner/poor sap who publicly utters it first.