Sports teams want the state-of-the-art stadium – and all of the nearby mixed-use development – to profit

The conceptual plans released earlier this week from the Chicago Bears about what they might construct in Arlington Heights follows a recent trend: sports teams are interested in stadiums and all the other development around those facilities.

Photo by Mikael Blomkvist on Pexels.com

The plans revealed Tuesday by the Bears call for a multipurpose entertainment district anchored by a stadium that could host the Super Bowl, college football playoffs and college basketball Final Four, with an adjoining commercial/retail and housing district. While cautioning that the long-term vision for the entire property is a work in progress, the team said the site could include restaurants, offices, a hotel, fitness center, parks and open spaces.

The team’s open letter provided a series of economic projections, saying the large-scale redevelopment would provide “considerable” economic benefits to Cook County, the region and state.

For instance, construction would create more than 48,000 jobs, result in $9.4 billion in economic impact in the region, and provide $3.9 billion in labor income to workers, the team said.

The development would generate $16 million in annual tax revenue for the village, $9.8 million for the county and $51.3 million for the state, according to the Bears.

Yes, a stadium is necessary for football but teams now want to develop more land and generate additional revenues adjacent to the sports playing surface. If they help generate such development and/or retain an ownership stake in the surrounding development, this can both bring in significant annual revenue and further boost the value of their franchise.

This also follows on-trend development ideas where a mixed-use property helps ensure a regular flow of activity. Instead of separating land uses in different places, putting them all together can create synergy and additional revenues.

Another way to think about it is that a lot of sports teams are in the land development business. How exactly this fits with a goal of fielding a winning team might get complicated.

How much the big city mayor needs to fight to keep the major league team

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has publicly stated what the city could do to keep the Chicago Bears:

Photo by Trace Hudson on Pexels.com

Via Sports Business Journal, a Chicago mayoral committee will recommend that the city consider the feasibility of putting a dome over Soldier Field.

A dome, as reported by Crain’s Chicago Business, could cost between $400 million and $1.5 billion.

Other possibilities include upgrades to the stadium (including significant rebuilding of certain parts of it) and selling naming rights to generate revenue for improvements.

The Bears are most interested in pursuing plans for suburban Arlington Heights.

In the long run, it is not probably not worth it for the city and the others to spend hundreds of millions to keep the Bears. The team would benefit the most from new arrangements. The money spent on eight Bears home games a year will be spent elsewhere in the city. The team is not leaving for another market but just for the suburbs.

At the same time, losing the biggest team in town to a suburb is not a good look for leaders. The Bears have played in the city for a century. They are the most popular sports team in town. Soldier Field hosts other events but it has been the home of the Bears for decades. The loss of the Bears could be added to the narrative of losing companies and residents.

Discounting whether the offer from the city is a viable one – putting a dome on Soldier Field is no easy task – I think this is a necessary political move. The mayor and city leaders need to make a good offer to save face. The big city leader cannot let the big team leave without a fight. And ten years from now, when the Bears are playing in a suburban property that earns the team even more money and the city of Chicago has moved on, there may still be lingering blame for those who let the Bears leave no matter what offer or public statements they made.

The winners when communities fight over sports teams are the team owners, not the communities

The Daily Herald editorializes about who will win as Chicago, Arlington Heights, and other taxing bodies consider where the Chicago Bears might end up:

Photo by Bhargava Marripati on Pexels.com

In a pair of radio interviews last week, Lightfoot poo-pooed a potential move, saying Arlington Heights can’t match the offer Chicago will make — or its tourist trade…

While the prospect of reelection is much more imminent for Lightfoot than where the Bears end up, any signs that she is relenting to Arlington Heights would be the death of her political career.

It was just a few months ago that Lightfoot was overtly dismissive of the Bears’ purchase agreement for the 326 acres at Arlington Park Racecourse — enough land for a world-class stadium plus all manner of ancillary entertainment businesses from which the team could profit…

If Lightfoot thinks she can keep the Bears at Soldier Field — even with a dome — she’s nuts. The constraints of the NFL’s smallest and oldest stadium won’t allow Soldier Field to host a Super Bowl or, as is important to the team, to allow the Bears to do what has become commonplace around the league: develop the stadium as an entertainment complex that generates more cash…

The only sure winner in this tug of war will be the football team.

The research consistently finds that team owners are the biggest winners in the battle to provide tax breaks, monies, and other benefits for sports teams who consider relocation. Yes, it would be a PR and status blow to Chicago to lose the Chicago Bears to a suburb – even a denser Arlington Heights – but people will still spend money in the city and the team will still be in the region. Do not go into taxpayer debt just to enrich a private football team.

It will be very interesting what kind of “best offer” Chicago will provide. And how public will this all get as the city tries to avoid losing the team?

Charismatic authority and football coaches as “leaders of men”

The Chicago Bears hired a new head coach this week. Prior to the hire, the conversation about what qualities the new coach should have reminded me of sociologist Max Weber’s definition of charismatic authority. Here is how one scholar summarizes the concept:

Photo by football wife on Pexels.com

According to Max Weber’s concept of “charismatic authority,” charisma is based on a social relationship between the charisma holder and the charisma believer. The Weberian perspective is not focused on analyzing the personality of the charismatic leader, but rather on the structure of the charismatic social relationship. The social structure that comes out of a charismatic relationship represents an emotional collectivization held together by an emotional bond with the leader. A charismatic leader is not only a person who is given great expectations and trust and to whom special skills are attributed. A charismatic leader constitutes a new leadership, a new structure of social relationships, and a new cognitive definition of the situation of social action.

Contrast this with some of what I heard a successful coach should be able to do:

-connect with players

-hold players accountable for performance

-have a track record of success

-help players develop and grow

-command any situation

-show confidence

-have a plan and execute it

-build and sustain a (successful) culture

-WIN!

Many of these traits can be expressed in different ways. Measuring some of them is difficult. Can a number of them only be ascertained by having a close relationship with the coach and/or being in the same room and experiencing the charisma and magnetism of that coach?

To some degree, these traits apply to numerous leadership roles. The football coach as a “leader of men” is glamorized and masculinized but business, civic, and political leaders are supposed to embody at least a few of these these traits as well. Those who do well might have the charismatic authority, those who do not make it do not.

Bears stadium at Arlington Park? Just keep the taxpayers out of it

With the announcement that Arlington Park will be for sale, ideas are swirling about how the land could be used. I have heard a few times already the possibility of the Chicago Bears constructing a new stadium there. Here is one example:

The Loop from the North End of Soldier Field

Now it is urgently incumbent upon regional politicians and civic planners to begin a campaign to get a global-class Chicago Bears stadium built as a profitable symbol of the rebirth of the 326-acre site.

Fulfillment of such a bold and visioned plan would bring about a marriage of an NFL team and a suburb that was first discussed between “Papa Bear” George Halas and then-AP empress Marje Everett in 1968…

The question of “How?” can only be answered if there is an enormously creative and concerted joint effort put forth by such potential game changers as Bears chairman George McCaskey, Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes and Gov. J.B. Pritzker…

Said Mayor Butts: “From my experience — and I’m talking about my suburb, which is 52 percent Hispanic, 47 percent Black and 1 percent ‘other’ — if you have an inspired plan, proper financing that does not put the host municipality at risk and a resolute ‘will-get-done’ attitude, toss in hard work and you can make a great thing happen.”

On one hand, this is a unique opportunity. It is rare for parcels of land this large to open up in suburbs developed decades ago. Filling a large parcel can be difficult; what can add to the existing community without threatening the current character? This particular location provides easy access to highways, easing travel for thousands of fans. The surrounding area is already used to sporting events on the sites. A suburb could become home to a major sports stadium.

On the other hand, the “creative and concerted joint effort” required to pull this off could become an albatross to taxpayers who often fund large stadiums for wealthy team owners. This is a tax break of massive proportions for a feature economists argue does not necessarily bring added economic benefits to a community. The stadium may provide status to a suburb but this does not always translate into financial gains. And Illinois has a history of this already: just see the state deal where taxes are still funding the White Sox stadium.

How to balance these competing perspectives? Many suburbs would jump at the opportunity as growth is good, having a pro sports teams is an important status symbol, and hearing the Bears are playing in Arlington Heights could be part of a branding strategy. But, I would recommend leaving the taxpayers out of this: they will likely not benefit economically from a new stadium.

Suburbs wooing the Chicago Cubs highlights the regional nature of sports teams and stadiums

The Chicago Cubs moving out of the city seems unlikely. But, that hasn’t stopped several Chicago suburbs from suggesting they would be willing to work out a deal with the Cubs to build a new stadium:

What the soliciting suburbs believe — and sources close to the Cubs confirm — is that the siblings of Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts are souring on Chicago and growing increasingly concerned the deal will be modified in a way that denies the team the revenue it needs to renovate Wrigley without a public subsidy…

“If this deal looks like it’s going down in flames or not getting done in a reasonable time, Tom will invest in ‘Plan B’ locations. He’d still work with the mayor on a city site. But, maybe not in Wrigleyville. I know people don’t believe it. But, it’s true,” the Cubs source said…

Aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel privately dismissed this week’s public solicitation from DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin as a Cubs-orchestrated negotiating ploy.

“This is all manufactured to gain leverage,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.

Last month, Ricketts threatened to move his team out of Wrigley and Chicago if he doesn’t get the outfield signs he needs to bankroll a $300 million stadium renovation without a public subsidy.

This comes after the announcement this week that DuPage County has two potential sites for the Cubs. But, little extra information about these plans were provided.

But, I think a more interesting take is the regional nature of sports teams and stadiums. Sports teams these days are really regional entities, particularly considering that more people live in the suburbs than central cities. It is unusual to have a team like the Cubs so closely tied to a specific neighborhood. Additionally, cities often see sports stadiums as economic engines, even though research suggests spending lots of taxpayer dollars on stadiums doesn’t pay off for communities. On one hand, it is not all that different than fighting over big box stores or corporate headquarters because of the supposed economic benefits. Yet, on the other hand it is a constant status symbol. Could the city of Chicago really afford in terms of prestige to lose the Cubs? I don’t think so. Would a suburb get a big status boost from hosting the Cubs? Possibly. If a suburb was able to woo the Cubs, I imagine they would trumpet this fact and try to build around it for decades.

This has happened before in Chicago. When the Chicago Bears were looking for a new stadium from the 1970s to the early 1990s, several suburbs were involved. The Bears ended up getting a decent enough deal from the city to stay. (Maybe they should have pushed harder. They have the smallest NFL stadium in terms of seats and with it also being an open-air facility, this limits its Super Bowl possibilities in the future. Also, the facility is still owned by the Chicago Park District and this has led to issues over the years.) Again, it is hard to imagine the Chicago Bears, a historic NFL franchise, playing out in the suburbs next to a major highway. What would have been a boon for a suburb would have been a big perceived loss for Chicago.

In the end, these sorts of negotiations can pit cities against suburbs in similar ways to fighting over business opportunities. But, rather than arguing about just money, sports teams are viewed as public goods that belong to a region. Perhaps the worst possible outcome is for the region to lose a team to another region altogether. The second worst outcome might be for the big city to lose the stadium to an upstart suburb.

A reminder that all politics is local (and cultural): avoid the barbecue third rail in North Carolina

National political candidates or officials often have to make sure that they can adapt to many different cultural contexts. Witness this example of Rick Perry and North Carolina barbecue:

And now Perry’s in hot water in North Carolina for a remark he made all the way back in 1992, when he was Texas agriculture commissioner and Houston was hosting the Republican National Convention.

Last week, in the Raleigh News & Observer’s “Under the Dome” politics blog, staffers Rob Christensen and Craig Jarvis wrote:

According to “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue,” in 1992 when Perry was a promising Texas politician but not yet governor, he tried some Eastern North Carolina barbecue from King’s of Kinston, which was served at the Republican National Convention in Houston.  “I’ve had road kill that tasted better than that,” Perry was quoted as saying…

“Holy Smoke” co-author John Shelton Reed, a retired University of North Carolina sociology professor, said Monday that people in his state do not mess around with this form of cooking. “Barbecue,” he said, “is the third rail of North Carolina politics.”

I don’t envy the task of politicians who have to continually switch gears on the campaign trail to keep up with all of the local cultural quirks. However, I wonder if these politicians have some sort of database or chart that alerts them to these local “third-rail” issues to avoid. What would an outsider have to avoid in coming to Chicago or the Chicago suburbs?

If anything, this story illustrates some basic sociological concepts. Residents of North Carolina rally around barbecue, among other things, and see it as a critical part of their state identity. When an outsider comes along and makes the comment that their prized food tastes worse than roadkill, they band together to defend their barbecue, reassert their group identity, and reestablish the symbolic boundaries that separate the group from other groups. It is not that different from sports fans reacting to perceived attacks from the outside, such as the reaction of a number of Chicago Bears fans to a new biography of Walter Payton that reveals his more human side. Even an outsider who might be telling the truth (though I’m willing to bet the barbecue was better than roadkill) still will have difficulty “attacking” one of the sacred features of the group.

Quick Review: Da Bears!

Partly to commemorate the Chicago Bears’ lone Super Bowl title and also to help mourn the recent loss to the Green Bay Packers, I read Da Bears!: How the 1985 Monsters of the Midway Became the Greatest Team in NFL History. A few thoughts about this book, one of many products commemorating this 25th anniversary:

1. A main theme of the book is the ongoing battle between Head Coach Mike Ditka and defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan. How exactly the team kept moving forward with this kind of tension is interesting.

2. There are claims that the Bears were the team that really helped push the NFL to the top. With their winning plus the actions and charm of their players, the Bears were a kind of media circus in an era where this didn’t happen often.

2a. The problem with a claim like this is that little evidence is presented that might conflict with this narrative. At one point, the book mentions that several teams had recorded songs as teams before the “Super Bowl Shuffle” but it was this 1985 song that really took off. Another (implicit?) claim is that the Bears really pushed athlete endorsements forward. Were other star athletes not doing commercials? In the end, how exactly do we know the Bears were something different in the eyes of the media compared to any other team of the time? I would have liked to have read more perspectives from outside of Chicago – were people across the country as intrigued with the Bears as Chicagoans were?

3. Some things never seem to change with the Bears: defense over offense, inconsistent quarterback play, complaints about the McCaskeys, an inability to follow up on success (with the 1985 Super Bowl team never getting back to another title game), fickle fans who suddenly were worried at the end of the 1985 season with less than perfect play, and more. How long can a team have the same basic identity?

4. As a cultural phenomenon, it would be interesting to track other teams that have captured the heart of a city in the same way as the Bears. While the list of endorsements and radio shows during the 1985 season was impressive, many of those guys are still around in the Chicago media. Will there be a point where the 1985 team is eclipsed by another team or was their combination of dominance and style too much to overcome?

5. It was unclear to me how much of this book was original research versus drawing from existing sources.

Overall, I’m not sure how much new material this book presents: many of the themes are widely known. There are a wide range of perspectives in this book but I think you also find this information elsewhere. I was looking for a new take on a famous team and yet you will hear the same things on local sports talk stations and other media.