Bears, doing business in a new way, aren’t afraid to play hardball

Team president Kevin Warren isn’t running the franchise like the Halas/McCaskey mom-and-pop operation Chicago is used to.

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Bears Chairman George H. McCaskey, left, shakes hands with President and CEO Kevin Warren.

Bears president/CEO Kevin Warren, right, is showing that his approach to business will be different from what fans are used to under Chairman George McCaskey.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

When the Bears brought Kevin Warren in to be team president, you knew things were changing. For more than 100 years, the Halas and McCaskey family ran the business of football like a family corner store. That approach always was perceived as quaint in some circles and antiquated in others. Warren’s history and résumé suggested this is not the way he was going to run the Bears. Now you’re seeing what that looks like.

Over the weekend, there was a sea change when it came to the Arlington Heights project, with the team announcing it was weighing a proposal from Naperville. And the Bears let it be known they were going to be proactive in this process. They will use information to their advantage to win their battle against the powers that be and won’t be shy about making their point of view public.

It was clear in the statement the Bears released that they think they are being treated unfairly by the Cook County Assessor’s office. Where’s Jake and Elwood Blues when you need them? Send them over to Fritz Kaegi’s office. One benefit concert, and the Bears would have all the money that they need. But I digress.

The messaging from Halas Hall has been all about Arlington Heights for the last few months, but that changed Friday. Most of the statement the Bears released explained their disappointment with how their property in Arlington Heights was being assessed. The second part was them putting out a call to all interested parties that could offer a better deal:

‘‘We will continue the ongoing demolition activity and work toward a path forward in Arlington Heights, but it is no longer our singular focus. It is our responsibility to listen to other municipalities in Chicagoland about potential locations that can deliver on this transformational opportunity for our fans, our club and the State of Illinois.’’

It’s that type of bluntness the Bears have been missing. Warren is a charming man, but don’t let the smooth taste fool you: He is a no-nonsense dude. This deal was mostly consummated before Warren fully stepped into his role. From what I’ve been told, now that he has had time to review this deal, it’s probably not the deal he would have made — at least not without real lobbying and competition from places that aren’t Arlington Heights.

For the record, I’m not in favor of public money going to fund private business. And even though we all might feel as though the Bears belong to us, they don’t. Let’s also keep in mind that the renovation of Soldier Field is still $640 million in the hole — and that renovation was finished 20 years ago.

This gambit by Warren and the Bears is transparent, but it’s also a good strategy. They shouldn’t throw good money after bad in Arlington Heights if there’s a sweetheart deal somewhere else. The Arlington Heights property still can be an investment, just not where the stadium is going to be.

There are unconfirmed reports the Bears will meet with new Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson. It makes sense for Johnson to speak to the Bears because the team and the city have a partnership until 2033. That’s important to note. There’s no real rush for the Bears to make an undesirable move.

Johnson is better equipped than his predecessor to make that partnership beneficial to both sides, but a word of warning to the new mayor: These are deep waters to wade into, and Warren is a shark. I say that with admiration. Johnson ran against using public money to build something new for the Bears. Being the mayor who kept the Bears in Chicago sounds good, but if that comes at a cost to the people of Chicago, Johnson will have the people to answer to, and they will be extremely loud.

I want what’s good for the Bears. I truly do, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the pockets of unwilling taxpayers. I hate pitting county against county, but if DuPage and Will want to figure out ways to subsidize the Bears starting over in their area, bless them and their ministry. My hope is that these other municipalities, raising their hands out of curiosity and financial thirst, do dogged research on what it means to build a stadium like this. Ask the Bears a lot of hard questions. Get the answers you want before rolling out the red carpet.

You can hear Laurence Holmes talk Chicago sports Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to
2 p.m. on 670 The Score with Dan Bernstein.

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