Brands in the News

A New Stadium for the Chicago Bears

30 Apr 2024  

The Chicago Bears last week unveiled plans for a new lakefront stadium. It is a spectacular proposal: a gorgeous stadium with views of the downtown skyline. The cost? More than $4.5 billion.

All this raises four questions.

Is a new stadium necessary?

Sports teams thrive in glorious venues. The better the fan experience, the more a team can charge for tickets. Box seats command top-dollar prices.

It is difficult to prosper in a rundown, older facility. When it comes to planning, cities and teams should assume that stadiums will lose their effective appeal long before they are operationally decrepit.

The current Chicago Bears stadium is a small, awkward facility, a modern stadium squeezed into a historical landmark. It looks like a spaceship landed on top of the old one. How was that project was ever approved?

It is hard to blame the Bears’ lackluster results on the field on the stadium, but the facility certainly doesn’t help.

So yes, the Bears need a new stadium.

Will the City of Chicago benefit?

There is no question that Chicago will benefit from a new stadium. Every game generates economic activity, and the stadium will likely be used for all sorts of other events.

Big events are economic super-chargers for cities. People visit and spend money on hotels, restaurants, Ubers. More than that, events create excitement and

Chicago will definitely benefit from a new stadium.

Should taxpayers pay for it?

The big question is funding. A new stadium will cost billions. The current plan is for the Bears to share the cost with local taxpayers (primarily Illinois and Chicago), with more than $1.5 coming from public support.

Government funding is a common factor in many projects. When a venture doesn’t make financial sense on its own, government support can make it viable. Micron, for example, is going to invest in chip manufacturing in the U.S., a project that wouldn’t be viable without subsidies.

In this case, government funding makes no sense. It just isn’t needed.

There are two factors here. First, the NFL and the Chicago Bears are incredibly powerful, wealthy businesses. In the world of media properties, professional football in the U.S. is in a class of its own. As viewership falls across virtually all other shows and events, the NFL grows. This gives it astonishing power as an advertising and promotion platform. Add in gambling, a completely new revenue stream, and the NFL’s profit opportunities are vast.

The Bears and the NFL don’t need any help from taxpayers. Giving them financial aid is a bit like sending the government sending a check to a random billionaire.

Of course, the theory is one thing, but business calculations are different. Perhaps the Bears will leave for greener pastures if public funding isn’t available!

This isn’t going to happen. The Bears might move to the suburbs, but this wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Chicago area. The Bears might leave for another city, perhaps London or St. Louis. But if they did, the NFL would relocate another team to Chicago. As the third largest city in the U.S., the NFL isn’t going to leave Chicago without a team.

What is the likely outcome?

I suspect the stadium deal will move forward with significant public support.

The funding isn’t needed or appropriate, but everyone involved in the deal wants to get it done.

The Bears and the NFL? Of course.

Chicago taxpayers? Yes…who doesn’t want a new stadium? The spending won’t require new taxes, just redirected funding, so it seems free. A bit like Girl Math.

One would think Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson would definitely oppose the deal, being a social activist. Why would someone who wants to develop challenged neighborhoods call for giving billions of dollars to billionaires? It is bizarre. But Mayor Johnson wants a win and a legacy. Securing a new stadium gives him a major achievement.

When everyone involved wants something to happen, it tends to happen. Look for a stadium deal and more wealth flowing to the billionaire NFL owners.

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