By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Since its massive overhaul back in 2002, Soldier Field has never really made much sense.
Inexplicably, it is one of the NFL’s smallest stadiums (capacity: 61,500) despite its location in the NFL’s second-largest market (9.52 million metro area population). It doesn’t have a retractable roof even though it resides along a notoriously cold lakefront. And while I’m now accustomed to the look, the whole spaceship-inside-the-Parthenon thing is still an odd design.
Yes, Soldier Field may not be perfect. But with Chicago committed to funding its bond payments through 2032, it very much is ours.
And it’s not going anywhere.
Although, according to reports this week, it could soon be going up in capacity. On Tuesday, news broke that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in the “very preliminary” stages of looking at a 5,000-seat expansion of the home of the Chicago Bears.
“It’s an exploration to see what, if anything, is possible,” Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton told the Chicago Tribune.
If expansion indeed is possible for the stadium, I think it would be a great thing for Chicago and for Bears fans. But I don’t think it would be a “Super” thing, which apparently is what the city is hoping.
Following last month’s Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey – the NFL’s first held outdoors in a cold-weather city – the mayor’s office has been mulling the possibility of pursuing a Super Bowl bid for Chicago, perhaps as early as 2019.
And on that topic, Emanuel has said: “The goal is to find a decision that moves the city forward. You don’t measure it that way. Would a Super Bowl be good for the city and good for the NFL? I think yes … The goal is to have a discussion.”
Currently, Soldier Field falls 8,500 seats shy of the NFL’s preferred minimum for a Super Bowl, to which Emanuel told the Tribune last month, “We’ll work with that footprint. It’s a process.”
As I wrote last month, while Chicago is a super city, it’s not a Super Bowl city. The seating capacity is one thing, but the weather along Lake Michigan in early February is something else altogether – or has the mayor’s office not noticed the brutal cold and ridiculous snowfalls from this winter?
I would hope that the NFL has.
In any case, Hamilton also said that Emanuel’s interest in potentially expanding Soldier Field has as much to do with getting more revenue out of the Chicago Park District-owned venue for other events like concerts or the outdoor NHL game last weekend between the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins as it does a Super Bowl bid.
I find that perspective wise and encouraging to hear. Getting more revenue out of Soldier Field for non-football events is a great idea, as is getting more revenue out of it for actual football events.
I’ve always found it odd how, despite the NFL’s massive ratings and popularity, you don’t see professional football facilities with seating capacities approaching those of the largest college stadium, some of which exceed 100,000 seats.
There is a growing concern among NFL types that due to the viewership experience offered by today’s HDTVs, more and more football fans are choosing to watch games from home rather than attend them in person. But, so far, the Bears haven’t seemed to have dealt with such an issue. Their tickets are always hot, and it would be a good thing for everyone involved if there were more of them available inside a stadium that was designed too small in the first place.
So, I say to Chicago: Try to address that shortfall, if you can.
But do it because of Bears fans, not because of a Super Bowl. Because you simply can’t address this city’s snowfall, and pretending like it doesn’t exist just isn’t a super idea.