After reading the Forbes article on how the Bears are fumbling away a fortune, I had to take a step back and gather my thoughts before I wrote my response. In an appearance on the ChicagoNow Radio Show on WGN 720AM, Mike Burzawa, from Fire Lovie Smith, and I were asked what we would do if we owned the Bears to maximize profits and revenue.
If I were the King of the Chicago Bears
First, I would move the Bears out of Soldier Field even though I love the stadium and all the history behind it. Every time the Bears take the field, I feel like the players should be playing in honor of our soldiers. Every time I walk into the stadium, I feel like I'm walking on sacred ground and it should be respected at all times. Not to mention that Soldier Field is in a great location -- on the lakefront overlooking the skyline. The stadium itself has world class amenities and it has a unique design.
Despite everything you love about Soldier Field, the stadium's maximum seating capacity is around 62,000. This is far too small for the second biggest NFL market and it's probably the main reason for the McCaskey's inability to maximize the Bears' earning potential. I would never in a million years move the Bears outside Chicago, not even to the suburbs, although this is something that should be considered. What if the Bears constructed a stadium in the city, say in the near South Side of Chicago where there are bunch of abandoned factories?
The problem here is that the Bears are locked into a lease with the City of Chicago until 2033. I would negotiate a buy out and get out of the rental agreement that's worth $5.7 million a year. A buy out would cost around $131.1 million, the total cost paid to the city over the life of the agreement.
When a new outdoor stadium is built, I would make sure the stadium has a seating capacity of around 100K. There would be more PSLs sold, more season tickets sold and more tickets sold overall. There would be different tiers of premium seating options and more box seats.
In addition, the Bears stadium can host special events like concerts and other sporting events like the Big Ten games and championships, other college games, soccer matches, X-games and many others.
I would sell the naming rights of the stadium to one of the many blue chip, international companies in the Chicago area. Any company would jump at the chance to be a part of the Bears organization, the founding franchise of the NFL and one of the most popular teams in all of professional sports. In addition, there would be plenty of sponsorship opportunities for other companies.
Even though, I'd move the Bears out of Soldier Field, I would still want the team to be associated with the stadium. How about moving training camp to Soldier Field? Chicago is one of the top destinations for summer travelers and home to the NFL's most passionate fans. I think it would be pretty cool to make training camp a part of your family vacation itinerary or you could take a shuttle bus from an El stop that goes straight to Soldier Field for training camp.
Another opportunity I see is a Chicago Bears network, similar to the New York Yankees network. Think about all the footage that can be shown. The Bears could have their own Hard Knocks-type show and other Bears specific-programming - highlight shows and documentaries and possibly airing popular games. The Bears can even run syndicated shows like Seinfeld or The Office. The network would make a killing from advertising and cable revenue.
Other ideas to earn money
Opening Bears Pro Shops in malls and desirable locations around the Chicago area would help in keeping fans thinking about the Bears all year around. Bears fans are the most passionate in the NFL, hands down, and Chicago is a Bears town.
Start an official Chicago Bears blogging network. There are a lot of Bears bloggers, including myself, that think about the Bears all year-round. The Bears can earn advertising revenue.
Open Halas Hall during the offseason. How cool would it be to take a tour around Halas Hall. The Bears can charge an admission and take fans, tourists and visitors on guided tours throughout the facility.