Our Pledge To You

News

Bears putting finishing touches on Soldier Field ad plan

A B-2 Spirit stealth bomber makes a fly-over at Soldier Field before the Green Bay Packers take on the Chicago Bears on Sept.13, 2015. The Bears plan to increase advertising at Soldier Field to generate millions of dollars for stadium improvements. | Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears are putting the finishing touches on a plan to “tastefully” increase advertising at Soldier Field to generate millions of dollars for stadium improvements, a top mayoral aide said Thursday.

Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly said he expects to know within two weeks precisely how many signs the Bears intend to add at Soldier Field, along with the locations of that advertising.

“The Bears have agreed to go out and market the stadium and put all of that money back into the stadium. That was the critical term. It’s an old stadium. It needs money,” Kelly said during a break at Thursday’s Plan Commission meeting.

“The first step is just getting us to buy into the marketing concepts and putting ’em out to bid,” he said.

Pressed on where the new signs would be located, Kelly said, “Ask me that question in about two weeks. I’ll show you. Hopefully, we’ll have an agreement with them on what we’re going to do.”

Park District general counsel Tim King said purist fans need not worry about advertising creep at Soldier Field.

“There’s a concept. It’s very subtle, very tasteful designs. The Bears are going to put it out to market. The market is going to respond to . . . certain signs mixed with Wi-Fi access, website [advertising] and player appearances. There’s different packages,” King said.

“As long as it’s tastefully done and it’s respectful of the history of the stadium, it’s the only way we can continue to keep the stadium competitive with other NFL markets,” he said. “There’s no other way to pay for it.”

The door to what’s expected to be a dramatic influx in stadium advertising was opened by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s now-scrapped plan to give movie mogul George Lucas 17 acres of land near Soldier Field to build his interactive museum.

In exchange for the inconvenience of losing the South Parking Lot to Lucas, the Bears bargained hard for a host of marketing and advertising opportunities that could go a long way toward financing stadium upgrades.

They range from selling “sponsorship and entitlement rights” to Soldier Field gates, the stadium’s ticket office, and will-call building to the northeast mezzanine area, southeast lawn and Stadium Green.

Also on the list of marketing and naming rights opportunities are the North and Mid-South parking garages, “including, but not limited to strong branding on light poles, entry gates, passes, etc.”

In addition, the Bears won the right to install 30 “high-impact, interactive digital displays throughout Soldier Field concourse and premium areas” with locations “not limited to the main concourse, grandstand, media deck, Gate 14 entry, club and suite levels.”

Underscoring Emanuel’s contention that Bears brass were “very tough negotiators” who stood up for their fans, the team’s amended lease includes the right to sell “entitlement and/or sponsorships rights to any additional and/or future re-design improvements or enhancements to Soldier Field” contemplated by an ongoing study conducted by Populous, a Kansas City-based stadium architect.

Sources said that feasibility study has been going on for a year and has already identified $300 million in “potential capital improvements” to the lakefront stadium.

Projects range from concourse, field and drainage improvements to adding bunker suites and 5,000 seats to bolster Emanuel’s long-shot bid to host the Super Bowl and, more importantly, to increase seating capacity for other revenue-generating events.

On Thursday, Bears spokesman Scott Hagel refused to discuss the advertising plan or the ongoing study of the stadium’s capital needs.

King said the team is “constantly tweaking” those plans, but they include “everything from interior build-outs and amenities for the fan to bunker suites and the exterior stuff.”

Asked if expanding seating capacity was still a possibility, King said, “There’s a plan for that, too, if funding becomes available.”

King noted that the Bears bargained hard and wisely for the inconvenience of losing south parking lot to the Lucas Museum.

That was before Emanuel called an audible and shifted his focus to tearing down the above-ground portion of McCormick Place East and building the Lucas Museum on the southern portion of that site, which includes Arie Crown Theater.

“The second amended [stadium lease] has a survivability clause so it survives whatever happens to Lucas. They were wise and we wanted that too. We know that [Illinois Sports Facilities Authority] funding is dwindling down. We need other creative financing ways to improve the stadium. It’s an aging stadium,” King said.