Yesterday, I read an interesting opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune. In it, a woman claims that the city of Chicago should just hand back naming rights money along with ownership of the Chicago Bears stadium land. Why? Because the Bears owners family is nice? I don’t know. I couldn’t find anything substantive or factual about her belief that the city doing this would make a single difference compared to today.
Some of her statements:
1) Her belief that the Bears were somehow losing money – The piece starts heading in the wrong direction soon when we are told that in 2001, the Bears just couldn’t stay in Solider Field because it wasn’t “yielding enough money to compete”. Does anyone really believe that? I mean, considering the Bears do not release their finances publicly, how does she know this? Later in the piece, she yet again claims that the lack of city money for upgrades means the Bears won’t be able to stay in the “financial game”.
Should we look at the Bears finances from the last 20 years to see how badly they were losing money?
Speaking of 2001, the Bears loved to talk about their $200 million private contribution to Solider Field renovations. Except, now we know it was just $30 million of their money and the rest came from the NFL. The city is still suffering financially from this atrocious deal and still owes hundreds of millions in debt payments. Don’t forget that the Bears massively rushed this project, which angered many local leaders at the time and even today. That was intentional.
2) How much Illini people, fans and businesses loved the Bears 2002 season – According to the author, the Illini at Urbana-Champaign “gained millions of dollars” from the Bears 2002 season, which was played there when Soldier Field was being renovated. Except, I can’t find a single thing to back this up. In fact, when I tried to find anything, I always came upon people in Champaign being glad that the Bears won’t be playing there anymore. The Tribune wrote a story in 2002 about this very topic.
- “While it may seem a big deal for a Midwest college town to host a professional football team, nine weeks and four home games into the regular season, folks here seem largely unimpressed”
- “I’m somewhat underwhelmed by the effect it has had on me. There was a day not too long ago when there was a game, and I wasn’t even aware of it until it was over” (Urbana resident)
- “(Local leaders) acknowledge the economic impact of hosting NFL games hasn’t been as significant as expected”
- “Food & beverage sales in September, featuring multiple Bears games, went up only about 4 percent over last year. Hotel receipts were up about 6 percent”
- “It’s still an increase. But I would have thought that having a couple of regular season games we would have seen a bigger difference over last year” (Head of the Champaign County Alliance, includes visitor’s bureau & economic development office)
- “Employees and owners from cookie shops and college bars to 24-hour diners welcome the influx of people, but say business would be brisk with or without the Bears”
3) Local taxpayers gained from the Bears giving money to support the Park District – I just about fell off my chair went I read this statement. Let’s discuss the Chicago Park District and the 2001 vote to upgrade Solider Field. After it was approved, officials from the Chicago Park District “called the renovated stadium a good deal for the agency” that would “save money in the long term”. The funny thing about that is while cheerleading publicly, private analysis by the Park District found little to no actual gain from this sports deal.
“While the public costs of the deal are higher than advertised, the benefits to the Park District appear to be lower. The agency’s claims that it will make more money from the new Soldier Field are (contradicted) by its documents” – Chicago Tribune (2002)
After the deal was approved, all sorts of changes started coming out. Remember those 19 acres of green land that would be created from this deal? Make that 17 acres. Make that 10 acres. Remember the Bears giving $200 million dollars of money out of their wallet? Make that $30 million. Remember the Bears splitting the cost of this deal with the city? Make that a laughable 6.97%. Officials at the Park District intentionally lied to the public for months. They said we would save in the long term.
Let’s see how that is going.
4) Chicago gained parking, revenues, and taxes on events – First, it is hard for me to see how the city or residents gained anything parking-wise from the past deal. There are so many horror stories written online about parking at Soldier Field. $50 parking that is nowhere near the stadium! The Chicago Fire hated ever playing in Soldier Field and ran the second that they could in 2003. Excuse me, the Fire were able to “escape (the) stadium lease” as Bond Market noted at the time. Furthermore, how many times will people continue to act as if the city saw something or even anything from a financial boost due to this renovation? All evidence shows the city is being almost drowned in debt due to the $600+ million that is still owed on debt payments.
There was no great revenue source or tax that saved the city’s wallet.
5) The city & state reneged on a naming rights agreement, and did not tell the Bears about asbestos in some basement – Let’s talk about that reneged naming rights agreement. Does anyone remember why Daley told the Bears not to sell their corporate naming rights?
“Chicago Mayor Richard Daley … said that allowing the Bears to sell the corporate naming rights to a renovated Soldier Field as the U.S. prepares for war against terrorism is “out of the question … No company is ever going to buy the naming rights to Soldier Field. … I’m against that. It’s not going to be John Jones Soldier Field. It’s going to be Soldier Field. It’s always going to be Soldier Field” – Sports Business Journal & Crains Chicago Business, 09/26/01
What a dickhead. As for the asbestos, I can’t find anything about the city not telling the Bears anything about it. Maybe I am wrong, though, but all I see are articles after articles of the high cost.
6-7) Solider Field deal was no cost to taxpayers and the Bears gave $200 million in 2003 – I am going to wrap up my next two comments into one. First, the author continues to claim that these past Bears moves had “no cost to taxpayers” yet the city is dealing with financial Armageddon due to the $600+ million that is still owed in debt payments. She also continues to claim that the Bears gave $200 million in 2003 for renovations. No, the NFL gave $100 million, PSL’s gave $70 million while the Bears gave just $30 million.
“The Soldier Field project was sold to the public, in part, because of the $200 million contribution by the Bears … But the Bears are contributing only about $30 million of their own money. The remainder comes from $100 million from the NFL and the sale of personal seat licenses to season-ticket holders” – Chicago Tribune (2002)
The entire article is so full of holes and misleads. I don’t understand how people like this author can continue spouting off things like “no cost to taxpayers” while the next story in the Tribune is about the hundreds of millions that the city owes in payment for a stadium renovation done 20 years ago.
How about we put all of our efforts into paying down that debt before we do anything else?