The Bears will announce today that season-ticket prices will not increase for 2009. The club has been holding internal meetings for some time to map out the coming year, and a big part of the budgeting process is determining how much revenue will be generated through ticket sales. The Bears joined roughly three-quarters of the league, according to commissioner Roger Goodell, in keeping their prices level.
Soldier Field is the smallest stadium in the league (the Colts used to be 32nd before moving into Lucas Oil Stadium) and that limits the ability of the club to collect money. The Bears ranked eighth last year in average ticket price. When you factor in fewer seats, that put them closer to the middle of the pack in terms of total ticket revenue generated.
Bears president Ted Phillips discussed the decision, issues related to it and some more football. Here is a Q&A:
WHAT WENT INTO THE DECISION TO NOT RAISE TICKET PRICES FOR 2009?
TP: We’ve typically increased prices every year, some years more than others just to be able to keep our ticket revenue in the middle of the pack given that our capacity is small. So, a year ago I would say to you that we were anticipating increasing ticket prices again. And frankly it’s really no more complicated than taking a look at the very challenging economic environment that every fan, every person in America is facing. It’s not not just a down economic year, it’s an unprecedented situation that has huge impact on every citizen and we felt for that reason it was the right thing to do.
DID THE LEAGUE RECOMMEND TO CLUBS THAT THEY NOT RAISE PRICES?
TP: No. Obviously, the league, as has been reported, had some budget cutbacks itself. So, obviously every team is in a different situation. Every team’s economic situation, financial situation is a little bit different. So, no, we just looked at it from the standpoint of what made sense for the Bears and we felt pretty strongly that it was the right thing to do.
WAS IT A SIGNIFICANT DECISION ALSO TO ALLOW SEASON-TICKET HOLDERS TO PAY BY CREDIT CARD FOR THE FIRST TIME?
TP: That was a big change, a nice amenity for them and I think between having the ability to use a credit card to pay for their tickets, and the fact that they can now do it online as well, through our account manager program via Ticketmaster, those make it a little bit more painless or less painful I should say for fans to put up the kind of money they have to put up for season tickets.
HOW DOES THE DECISION AFFECT THE CLUB?
TP: Obviously, we’re not going to have the kind of revenue increase we had anticipated. But I guess there are two parts to that.
WILL THE ECONOMY IMPACT THE FOOTBALL BUDGET?
TP: I think the short answer is no. We’ve set that budget for the cash that we can spend on players. It’s typically pegged right around the cap and so it will be again this year. That being said, we are taking a look at every department and trying to find ways to cut back expenses and try to make operations more efficient and we’re in the process of doing that as we speak.
WILL GENERAL MANAGER JERRY ANGELO HAVE ANY NEW GUIDELINES IN TERMS OF FREE AGENCY?
TP: No. He has a budget that he works with.
DID HIS BUDGET GO DOWN?
TP: No. It did not.
WE’RE SEEING BASEBALL STARS OUT OF WORK BY THE DOZENS. DO YOU ANTICIPATE THIS HAPPENING WHEN NFL FREE AGENCY OPENS FEB. 27?
TP: It’s a good question. I don’t know. I think what you’re seeing in baseball is maybe teams looking for a little bit better value. I think probably all of those players will end up signing. Whether they get the kind of money they thought they were going to get, that remains to be seen. I would guess that if ever there was a time when NFL clubs by and large are being a little more prudent with their spending on players, it might be this year. Given the economy, given the lack of a CBA right now. There are always going to be a few teams that spend excess cash but I think you might have more teams than ever be a little bit more prudent.
2009 IS THE LAST CAPPED YEAR. DO YOU ENVISION THIS BEING SORTED OUT IN TIME TO STOP AN UNCAPPED YEAR IN 2010?
TP: Oh boy. It’s a little premature to say. The union, obviously hopefully is going to name its new head soon, and I think once that is done hopefully both sides, I know the union and league are both working hard at putting together ideas on how to get labor peace again which has served the league well for a lot of years.
YOU SAID YOU WERE LOOKING IN ALL AREAS TO BE MORE EFFICIENT, IS THERE A POSSIBILITY THE BEARS COULD HAVE LAYOFFS LIKE SOME OF THE OTHER CLUBS HAVE ANNOUNCED?
TP: I know a handful of clubs have. I would like to avoid that if at all possible. I think that overall we have pretty lean staffs in a lot of areas and I would like to be able to keep it. We look at our employees as awfully valuable resources, so if at all possible I would like to avoid that.
LOVIE SMITH SAID THAT THE TEAM IS CLOSE. ARE YOU IN LINE WITH THAT THINKING?
TP: The way I look at it, yes. We’ve won a lot of games over the last four years, as many as probably all but a handful of teams in the NFL and we missed the playoffs by a game. We’re not happy with how the season ended. But I think there are a lot of positives to build on and if we can have a good draft and add a few pieces to complement what we have in free agency, there is no reason to think we can’t be a playoff team next year.
THE CLUB IS 16-16 SINCE THE SUPER BOWL. DO YOU NEED TO SEE IMPROVEMENT NEXT YEAR RECORD-WISE?
TP: We want to see improvement. That is everybody’s goal. I don’t know what you mean by that.
YOU’RE THE PRESIDENT, YOU CAN DEMAND ANYTHING YOU WANT.
TP: That’s not my style. I know what you’re getting at. I think the reality is this, Jerry and Lovie are both here, they have been here. I think they work great together. I like the continuity that we have. I like, for the most part, the results that we’ve had. They’ve been positive. We did get to the Super Bowl just only two years ago. It’s not as if we’ve lost a lot of that talent. We need some players to get back to the level of talent that they showed a couple years ago and I have all the confidence in the world in both Lovie and Jerry to help navigate from the last two years, not making the playoffs, to getting us back to being a playoff team.
WITH LOVIE TAKING OVER THE PLAY CALLING ON DEFENSE, DOES A MOVE LIKE THAT MAKE IT TO YOUR OFFICE FOR AT LEAST DISCUSSION BEFORE IT BECOMES OFFICIAL?
TP: We all talk about a lot of teams. Lovie has made some decisions over the years he’s been head coach all with the goal of making us better and more efficient and I think the changes he is instituting for this year will serve us well.
YOU WERE THE CONTRACT GUY FOR A LONG TIME AND YOU’RE STILL INVOLVED IN THAT ROLE ON OCCASION, HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WAITING TO WRITE THAT BIG, REALLY BIG CONTRACT FOR A QUARTERBACK?
TP: [Laughs] Wow.
YOU KNOW THE KIND OF CONTRACT I AM TALKING ABOUT.
TP: Look, obviously that is ever team’s goal to stabilize the quarterback position. Kyle Orton did a lot of good things last year. I think both Jerry and Lovie and the coaching staff have a lot of confidence in him and just like any other position, if there is competition to be had come training camp, that’s a good thing. It only makes us better and will only make him better.