By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) By playing host to the spectacle that was Super Bowl XLVI, the city of Indianapolis pumped perhaps as much as $400 million into its local economy, basked in the glory of national media attention and reveled in the giddiness of a week-long, star-studded party.
Meanwhile, up here in Chicago, we twiddled our thumbs and watched on TV as Indianapolis hosted Super Bowl XLVI, pumped perhaps as much as $400 million into its local economy, basked in the glory of national media attention and reveled in the giddiness of a week-long, star-studded party.
On the day of the big game, Chicago Tribune business columnist Phil Rosenthal reported from Indy how residents of the Windy City “know what’s been going on just three hours away by car here in Indiana’s capital, home to Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVI, so close, so valuable and yet so out of reach to Chicago for so many reasons.”
Reasons such as Chicago’s brain trust deciding a decade ago to foolishly build the NFL’s smallest stadium (capacity: 61,500) in the NFL’s second largest market (9.46 million metro area population).
And reasons such as the city’s failure to equip said stadium with a retractable roof, despite its location along a bitterly cold Midwestern lakefront.
And also how that pesky detail renders Chicago’s largest event facility essentially useless during the winter and spring months when other towns are using their covered NFL arenas to host such financial bonanzas as Super Bowls (Indy), Final Fours (New Orleans this year and Indy numerous times in the past) and Big Ten Football Championship Games (Indy again).
You can guarantee that if Indianapolis was awarded a Super Bowl and, jeez, Detroit was awarded a Super Bowl, Chicago – the Midwest’s biggest and best city – would absolutely be awarded one.
You know, if it could realistically be awarded one.
Chicago can’t host the Super Bowl – or any other revenue-generating cold-weather extravaganza – because it’s locked in to the logistical boondoggle that is Soldier Field and the financial fiasco of its bond payments through 2032.
The reality is, there’s no fixing the Soldier Field situation for Chicago. Not any time soon. But what if that didn’t matter and there was a work-around option that gave Chicago a legitimate excuse to build a new retractable-roof facility that’s suited to host Super Bowls, Final Fours and any other coveted wintertime event?
What if there was an option that, while extremely complicated, may offer a shockingly simple solution to the city’s stadium woes?
What if – and brace yourself, Bears fans – Chicago recruited a second NFL franchise?
Now, before you blow a gasket over that idea, first ponder these details: On the Thursday night before the Super Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell talked shop with Bob Costas on NBC Sports Network and said that if the NFL puts a team back in Los Angeles, it’s likely that the league would expand to 34 franchises.
“We probably don’t want to go to 33,” Goodell told Costas, while explaining that he also doesn’t want to move an existing team to L.A. from another city.
The next day, during his annual pre-Super Bowl news conference, Goodell backtracked and claimed that the NFL has not considered expansion, nor does it have immediate plans to do so. But don’t believe that. If the league wasn’t considering it, he wouldn’t have discussed it just the day before.
“We would like to be back in Los Angeles if we can do it correctly,” Goodell admitted, explaining that there are several issues that must be resolved with L.A., most significantly which of the city’s two current stadium proposals is best.
Goodell didn’t name any timetable for the NFL making its return to Southern California, nor did he address the curious speculation that has recently swirled about how L.A.’s new stadium could actually house not one, but two NFL expansion franchises.
Now, considering how both the Rams and Raiders have fled L.A., I find that idea preposterous. Los Angeles barely needs – or wants – one NFL team. It certainly doesn’t deserve to have two.
But does Chicago?
What if instead of giving two franchises to the nation’s second largest media market (L.A.), which doesn’t seem to much care about pro football, the NFL put a second franchise in the nation’s third largest media market (Chicago), which lives and breathes the sport?
Now, of course, the immediate question among Chicagoans is if there is a crying demand in Chicago for a second NFL team. I’d say, clearly there isn’t. Fans might be frustrated with Bears management and ownership, but the team itself is beloved. However, the pressure applied by a second team might whip the Bears’ brass into shape.
Beyond all that, though, the more pressing issue is, could Chicago actually support a second franchise? And I suspect that over time, yes, it probably could.
After all, once upon a time – and for a long time – the city did have two NFL teams, you know. From 1920 to 1959, the Chicago Cardinals called the Windy City home, playing their games on the South Side, primarily at Comiskey Park, while the Bears tore up the turf at Wrigley Field on the North Side.
You know, just like the city’s two baseball teams.
In an editorial published in the Chicago Tribune on Feb. 3 and entitled, “A Chicago Super Bowl! Oh … wait … sorry …,” the newspaper recounted how in 2001, the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois – in the hopes of protecting Soldier Field from desecration – proposed the construction of an 80,000-seat domed stadium on 23 acres of public land across 35th Street from what’s now U.S. Cellular Field. If that had been done, the Bears would have effectively become a “South Side” team that was embraced by the entire city.
Chicago has already proven that its territorial passions are diverse and powerful enough to support two Major League Baseball teams (admittedly, one of them better than the other).
So, my question is what if the city was to play off that regional pride and found a location similar to the 35th Street site for a new state-of-the-art, multi-purpose indoor facility? Over time – perhaps a entire generation – I could imagine that ultimately leading to a second NFL franchise being embraced as the city’s “South Side” team.
Now, I write about sports, not business. So, I have no clever suggestions on how any such new facility could be paid for by Chicago, especially without further burdening taxpayers who are already on the hook for the next 20 years on any shortfalls on Soldier Field’s interest payments.
But I do know this, if Goodell would seriously consider putting two teams in L.A., I have to imagine that he’d have some interest in instead putting two in Chicago. And I’m quite certain that Chicago would love to host the lucrative sporting events that an enclosed football arena would surely attract.
Earlier this month, BleacherNation.com proposed a handful options for placing an NFL expansion team. Besides L.A., the website suggested Toronto, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland.
All fine cities, but I’m not sure that any of them would have the same passion for pro football that Chicago already enjoys. Nor do I think they have a need a retractable-roof facility in the same ways that the Windy City does.
Now, you can go ahead and call my second-NFL-team-in-Chicago idea crazy, if you like. But it just might be crazy like a fox.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.