Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How long will Soldier Field last?

I watched the end of the Chicago Bears' thrilling overtime victory over Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings Dec. 28 from the comfort of my bedroom. I'm sure it would have been quite thrilling to have witnessed the game in person, but I really can't see sitting for four hours in a 20-degree night (plus wind chill) to watch a truly terrible football team. A friend and Bears expert told me the Bears still rank in the top ten (of 32 teams) in terms of stadium revenue. How long will that last? It seems to me that Mayor Richard M. Daley cheated the city by caving into the McCaskey family (Bears owners) demands for a renovated Soldier Field in 2001 after having told the McCaskeys "you can go to Alaska" for years. I'm no fan of public funding, but the total cost of the Soldier Field renovation was $632 million. At about the same time, Houston built Reliant Stadium from the ground up for $425 mil, and that stadium has a retractable roof! So Bears fans continue to pay top prices for tickets (no discounts after nearly three decades of consecutive sellouts and a huge waiting list) to freeze outdoors for nearly half the season. Retractable-roof technology has existed at least since 1989, when SkyDome opened in Toronto.

After another World Series was marred by bad weather in 2008, Sports Illustrated sharply criticized Major League Baseball for allowing numerous new ballparks to open without retractable roofs. Subsidies for the additional cost, which SI estimated at $100 mil each, could come from an MLB fund, the magazine said. I can't vouch for the magazine's math, but I agree that with baseball running from April to November (including the full postseason), keeping players and paying customers comfortable makes sense.* That would seem to be even more important for pro football, with much higher prices and much colder temperatures.

Chicago could have built a retractable-roof stadium, which could have attracted an annual college bowl game, Men's and Women's NCAA Final Four basketball tournaments, and one Super Bowl. (The NFL gives cities cold-weather climates one Super Bowl per stadium built. Keep in mind the Super Bowl is for rich men who play golf, which means Miami, Tampa, Phoenix and sometimes New Orleans. St. Louis is still waiting.) We have none of those tourism-generating events because we don't have a facility that can host them. And Bears fans continue to sit in the cold in a stadium quickly headed toward obsolescence.

Thanks again, Your Honor.

*Except in freezing Minneapolis, where the baseball team is moving from an indoor stadium to an outdoor ballpark. Good luck with April and May ticket sales, Twins.

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