By Paul M. Banks
The Chicago Bears 2009 marketing slogan, “One City. One Team” will have added significance on Sunday when a team (Arizona Cardinals) that once called the second city home returns to play Chicago’s first, and currently only, NFL franchise. And it’s true that nothing unites this city like the Bears. In summer, allegiances are split between the Cubs and Sox. In winter, neither hockey nor basketball are popular enough to draw in a huge army of fans the way football does.
These days, finance and economics are on everybody’s mind. Well, I have a business proposition to eventually create wealth and jobs (at least locally): a second NFL team. As I’ll show you, consumer demand is perfect for a second team.
Baseball may be “America’s Pasttime,” but that nickname comes from the 19th century, and today the National Football League is its passion; doing bigger television ratings numbers and earning larger revenue streams than any other sport. In a Harris sports poll done in 2008, the NFL was the favorite sport of as many people (30 percent) as the combined total of the next three professional sports: baseball (fifteen percent), auto racing (ten percent), hockey (five percent) and men’s pro basketball (four percent).
The NFL has 32 teams, the rest of the major sports leagues have 30. However, since it is doing the best business, it is should be the league most likely to expand (I know I’d have a hard time saying this in Jacksonville and Detroit) sometime within the next decade. The league last expanded in 2002 (Houston Texans) and 1999 (second Cleveland Browns franchise). Los Angeles could have a franchise again and a second Chicago team would keep the total number of teams even. Chicago currently supports two baseball franchises that maintain a spirited and profitable rivalry. The Bears have had insane profit margins and media captivity for too long, time for a little competition.
Last season, a friend of mine who’s a director in a Fortune 500 Accounting Firm gave me a free mid-level ticket to a Bears-Cowboys game. This was printed on the ticket:
Ticket Price: $93.69
Club Privileges fee: $131.00
Remember these Cadillac Club tickets are still mid-level. Imagine what you “get” for the $330 face value tickets! Those club privileges got you…a place to sit to watch the game on television indoors when its cold, and…well pretty much nothing. For the life of me I could not see anything worth $31.00, let alone $131.00 to be in club level. The food and drinks are just as ridiculously overpriced in the club level as they are everywhere else in the stadium.
With the club privileges fee, the $100 that it costs JUST TO GET ON the season ticket WAITING LIST, the simple existence of Public Seat Licenses that cost thousands of dollars, and the very fact the NFL can get away with charging $95 for a preseason game, (Seriously, watching Caleb Hanie-to-Brandon Rideau isn’t exactly Montana-to-Rice and NOT worthy of paying almost a C-Note!) it’s clear that demand for professional football in Chicago is off-the-charts!
You can try and blame the Bears for being greedy, but you shouldn’t. (You can blame them for being an authoritarian and secretive organization with a dysfunctional obsession for manipulating the message sent out the public, but don’t blame them for this.) Fault for this absurd price inflation lies in the so-called “free-market.” In MBA school, I learned all about demand equilibrium; and the market here is WAY out of equilibrium here. You don’t need to be John Kenneth Galbraith or have fancy Wall Street graphs to see how consumer demand is CRYING OUT for us to return to the days when we had two football teams. And other than the Bears organization itself, everyone would be a winner in this scenario.
At noon today the Arizona Cardinals will come back home to play in their original city. The Chicago Cardinals played in Comiskey Park from 1922-1959. Since moving on to St. Louis and later Arizona, they have yet to host another playoff game and they have not come even remotely close to contending for another championship; last winning one here in 1947. That’s what you could have said prior to last year, when they made it all the way to the Super Bowl, and were pretty much robbed of a World Championship by the referees. They seriously had a title right within their grasp, and had the officiating not been ludicrously bad, they would have had a Chicago White Sox 2005 World Series type moment; a long suffering franchise finally reaching the summit of their game.
So it’s clear that obtaining an expansion team charter is a more likely scenario than bringing the Cardinals back home. And of course, if/when that happens, the Bears will still come first in this town. Every market will still be a “bear market,” but the Bears don’t have to gouge everyone on the insane level that they currently do. There’s truly room for a second team someday soon in the second city.