Bears to sell naming rights to new event center because in this case they can

There’s been a lot of naming rights brouhaha lately.\n\nFrom the land of some sci-fi, prescription sovaldi sale dystopian future came news of the marriage of public education and our bloated, patient draconian, for-profit prison system.  Dave Zirin delves into this abomination that is the $6 million GEO Group stadium naming rights deal, which has protesters referring to the home of the FAU Owls as “Owlcatraz”; while Neil deMause’s headline says it all in brief: “University sells stadium name to prison company, because there’s no such thing as shame anymore.”\n\nIn a smaller news item, it looks like the Bears are lining up potential buyers for naming rights to the team’s practice facility at Halas Hall in Lake Forest.  The Bears are planning on renovating and adding 30,000 feet of space to their headquarters, complete with luxury suites and an “event center,” for those with the desire and wherewithal to watch an NFL team practice!  \n\nBears ownership could take in as much as $2 million in the deal.  I’m sure they’d prefer a much bigger payday from some corporate sponsor to rename Soldier Field, where the team plays the real games, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.\n\nThe McCaskeys (the family that owns the Bears) have the good fortune to be based in a city and state willing to issue $400 million in state-sponsored bonds with annual debt obligations increasing to $88 million by 2032 for the purposes of renovations to the facility the Bears use.\n\nBut in a league in which many teams enjoy many millions generated from stadium naming-rights deals, the McCaskeys have the misfortune of operating in a stadium with a name that Chicagoans are very attached to.  Worse for ownership, there are politics involved in any potential name change unique to the Bears’ game day venue.\n\nSoldier Field opened as Grant Park Stadium in 1923, but was soon after renamed in honor of World War I servicemen.  The named suggests a strong association between athletics (especially football) and armed service in early twentieth-century America.  While this link remains, there is a more powerful association today with commercial sports (especially football) and patriotism.  And you don’t mess with patriotism, which requires—regardless of how one feels about war and military occupation abroad—engagement in the ostensibly non-partisan political act of “supporting our troops.”\n\nAt one point, Soldier Field was close to a name change.  When the Bears negotiated the stadium deal with the city in early 2001, corporate naming rights were the team’s prerogative based on a “memorandum of understanding” with the Chicago Park District.  But weeks after the September 11 attacks, as soldiers geared up for the “War on Terror,” Mayor Daley reneged on the city’s promise, stating unequivocally, “No company is ever going to buy the naming rights to Soldier Field.”  Bears President Ted Phillips conceded, \”This is not the time for us to focus on naming rights, given the tragedy of Sept. 11.\”\n\nSeemingly, the public remains strongly against a name change.  The topic was even made into an issue during the most recent mayoral campaign.  Rahm Emanuel, Carol Moseley Braun, and Miguel del Valle all came out against renaming Soldier Field during the election run-up, while Gery Chico said he’d explore \”creative ideas\” to attract sponsors.  Chico’s spokeswoman added: ‘‘Soldier Field is a sacred Chicago landmark that honors our veterans and, as mayor, Gery would be very careful to protect that.\”\n\nSo the hands of Bears ownership remain tied, along with those of any potential corporate sponsorship partners, which means they can’t reach their checkbooks.  But it makes sense that the government would have the final word on naming rights.  After all, the Chicago Park District owns the structure.  In fact, any naming-rights revenue should go to the state, which put up taxpayer dollars to fund construction.  Right?\n\nWrong.  Meet Jerry Reinsdorf, “the smartest team owner in town,” operator of two Chicago sports franchises, suckled from the public teat.\n\nIn 2003, the Illinois Sports Facility Authority (the government agency that paid for the White Sox park) agreed to let Reinsdorf sell naming rights to U.S. Cellular for $68 million and keep the spoils.  What did the ISFA want in exchange?  That the White Sox extend the term of their stadium lease from the year 2010 to 2029.  That would be the lease that’s sweet for Reinsdorf and crappy for the state.\n\nSuch shenanigans must make the McCaskeys green with envy.  How is it that Reinsdorf has his way with local government while others, like Bears and Cubs ownership, have tried and failed?\n\nSome may point to Chicago magazine’s “Power 100,” which lists Jerry Reinsdorf as the 5th most influential person in the city of Chicago, noting by contrast that Cubs owner Tom Ricketts came in at #45 and that none of the McCaskeys are even listed (as a consolation, Bears CEO Ted Phillips was 75th).\n\nIt’s true that clout gets things done in this town.  But I have another theory.  Here it is…\n\nUnlike our President, Jerry Reinsdorf is capable of the Jedi Mind Meld.  How else can you explain this reaction from former governor and ISFA Chair Jim Thompson after the ISFA gifted the White Sox $3.2 million for the Bacardi at the Park restaurant?: \”We said to Jerry, ‘Jerry can we have part of the profits?’ and he said no…We said, OK….He’s tough. He’s tough.\”\n\nI’m telling you, Jedi Mind Meld.\n\nAt any rate, with no stadium naming rights revenue in sight, the Bears have had to get creative, like selling practice facility naming rights.  Still, the Bears seem to be getting by (sponsorships are a third of local revenue and the franchise is worth more than a billion dollars according to Forbes), though lack of naming rights dough was reportedly the impetus behind the Bears recently inking a deal with a third rate soft drink company.\n\nSo, in a way, you can blame al-Qaeda when you’re craving a Coke at Soldier Field and have to settle for an RC Cola.\n\nWait, RC stands for “Royal Crown.”  That strikes me as pretty monarchical for a stadium named after soldiers out there making the world safe for democracy!\n\nI think a political euphemism is in order.  How about “Freedom Cola”?!\n\nBecause what’s in a name?  Everything.  Apparently, everything.\n\n \n\n

\n\n \n\nAdditional Sources (accessed through Chicago Public Library):\n\nDaley retreats on Soldier Field – Selling naming rights now ‘out of the question’\nChicago Sun-Times – Wednesday, September 26, 2001\nAuthor: Fran Spielman\n\nBears bow to veterans – Stadium naming rights plans stalled\nChicago Sun-Times – Tuesday, September 25, 2001\nAuthor: Fran Spielman\n\n‘SOLDIER FIELD’ NOT FOR SALE\nChicago Sun-Times (IL) – Wednesday, February 9, 2011\nAuthor: SEAN JENSEN\n\nBRIEF: Bears to sell naming rights to Halas Hall renovations\nPompei, Dan. McClatchy – Tribune Business News [Washington] 05 Mar 2013.\n(ABI/INFORM via Chi Public Library)\n\nFor details on Soldier Field renovation financing, see ISFA 2010 Annual Report.

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