In The News

Here's What The Bears Got In The Lucas Museum Deal

Crain’s Chicago Business, October 29, 2015

By Danny Ecker

The Chicago Bears may be giving up the their south parking lot to the planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, but the city is making it worth their while.

In an amendment to the team's Soldier Field lease agreement (below) signed this week by the Bears and the Chicago Park District, which owns the stadium, the city designated a series of specific new projects the Bears can sell to sponsors.

Most notable on the list is the ability for the Bears to put corporate partner brands on Soldier Field's entrances, a highly lucrative asset that some of its competitors enjoy at their venues. Top-tier sponsorship packages of NFL teams, which typically include benefits like naming rights to gates, range from $1.5 million to $4 million per year, according to Chicago-based sponsorship consulting firm IEG.

But gates are only the start. The Bears will be able to sell title rights to the ticket office and will call building outside Soldier Field's southeast corner, the northwest mezzanine area of Soldier Field and the north garage and mid-south parking garages at the stadium. Team sponsor names will be allowed on all signs related to parking, too.

Also on the potential naming rights list: The stadium's southeast lawn area, which the team will be allowed to use for its own events.

REVENUE FOR STADIUM PROJECTS

Inside, the Bears will be allowed to install 30 "high-impact, interactive digital displays" throughout the stadium, signs on the diagonal steel and concrete fascias on the east and west sides of the bowl and field-facing signs for any new area for which the team sells naming rights, similar to the existing Zurich Skyline Suite signage.

The team will also be allowed to redesign and sell ads for its Gate 14 premium entrance.

Revenue from the new assets, however, won't be lining the pockets of Bears ownership. Under the agreement, the team will deposit all the money it gets from selling the assets to sponsors into a capital improvement fund.

That fund will be used for specific Soldier Field capital projects—the stadium's new video boards and a new 15,000-square-foot club space on its west side are recent examples—that the Bears and Park District will develop from a feasibility study being performed by Kansas City-based stadium architecture firm Populous. The team declined to comment on specific projects it may pursue.

But the new assets are a significant step forward for the Bears, which may be able to package those assets into larger deals with corporate partners. Naming rights revenue is a gaping hole in the Bears' revenue picture, as Soldier Field will be one of only five NFL stadiums without a naming rights partner once the Atlanta Falcons move into their new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017.

Also tucked into the lease agreement amendment was a short list of projects that the Bears apparently have contemplated for the stadium. The agreement says that the team and Park District will continue discussions about the addition of a welcome/visitor center, a Bears Hall of Fame and a Bears sports bar/restaurant, among other retail and commercial features.

NEW TAILGATING SPOTS

The new revenue streams for the Bears were a concession the Park District made as a result of displacing 1,500 tailgating spots in the stadium's south lot, where the Lucas Museum will go.

To compensate for the lost spots, the Park District is building a parking garage on the west side of Lake Shore Drive at 18th Street. To make up for lost tailgating spots, the Park District will allow 386 tailgating cars atop the new garage, as well as 560 tailgaters in an "event prairie" park on the Lucas Museum's south side and in other spots around the museum campus. Under the deal, there will be a maximum of 3,361 vehicles allowed to tailgate, 200 more than before.

Here's a rendering of the "event prairie" space laid out in the lease agreement amendment: The "event prairie" area south of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be used for tailgating on Bears game days, as well as other events.

The other new tailgating spots will be elsewhere on the museum campus, including the lot at the Live Nation concert venue on Northerly Island and at Burnham Harbor.

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