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Emanuel pitches NFL on holding the Super Bowl at Soldier Field

08-05-09 Soldier Field | John J. Kim ~ Sun-Times

08-05-09 Soldier Field | John J. Kim ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: May 31, 2012 9:55PM



If Chicago can welcome the world by hosting the NATO summit, why not be the stage for the NFL’s grandest showcase — the Super Bowl?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel posed that question publicly on Thursday after pitching the idea to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during a private meeting.

“I found out a secret — that is, the commissioner’s in-laws live in the Chicago area, and I’m holding them hostage until that happens,” the mayor joked of Goodell, who is married to the daughter of former White House chief of staff and U.S. Transportation Commissioner Sam Skinner.

Turning serious, the mayor said, “Obviously, they’re gonna have their first [cold weather] Super Bowl in another city. We’ll see how that goes. But we talked about why [not] Chicago? Just two weeks ago [we] had a bunch of world leaders here. Sixth-largest NATO summit. And if we can do that, it would be an appropriate place to have a Super Bowl.”

Goodell noted that the NFL is scheduled to host its first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold weather city — New York — in 2014 and he is “excited about that. … We think it’s gonna be a great thing for our fans and a great thing for New York.”

He added, “If we can do it successfully there, that opens up doors that we’ll all be looking at. Obviously, you know how to host great events. The mayor just mentioned several. And you’ve got a great stadium. Those are the two” key factors.

Soldier Field has a seating capacity of just 63,500 and Goodell acknowledged that “capacity is always an issue.”

When Soldier Field was renovated, it had a seating capacity of 61,500. A few years ago, the Bears convinced the city to change the occupancy of the stadium’s 133 skyboxes. That raised the stadium’s overall seating capacity to 63,500.

But Goodell said the number of fans who could be jammed into Soldier Field — and the number of tickets sold — is not the most important issue.

“The most important thing now is having a great stadium and having a city that can have the infrastructure to host the hundreds of thousands of people that come in,” the commissioner said.

“We estimate that probably 150,000 people come in for a Super Bowl. Obviously, not everybody can get into the stadium. But they want to be part of the event. And we know the great passion for football here in Chicago and it’s one of the things we’ll look at if there’s an interest here in hosting it.”

Goodell refused to say whether an increase in Soldier Field seating capacity would be necessary to qualify for a Super Bowl.

“Let us get to the point of submitting a bid, then we’ll take a look and see what needs to get done to make it a winning bid,” he said.

Emanuel dodged the question when asked whether he’s willing to enlarge the stadium, if that’s what it takes to win the Super Bowl for Chicago.

“The commissioner said something which I think is really, really important: First step is they’re gonna host something in New York, which is an open stadium ….There’s an experience to a Super Bowl with that kind of quality,” he said.

“Given when New York goes, I now know where his in-laws live — and that’s gonna be a problem for him.”

Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips was asked whether it would be feasible to play an outdoor Super Bowl in Chicago in February with the wind howling in off the lake.

“I do like the outdoor stadium. We never did support a dome, if you recall,” he said.

Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly said he’s gung-ho about the idea of hosting a Super Bowl at Soldier Field. It would translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue for the cash-strapped Chicago Park District.

But Kelly said stadium expansion is another story.

“It’s tough. It’s tough to do a major renovation of the stadium. We saw what we went through 12 years ago just retrofitting it,” Kelly said, referring to the massive renovation that required the Bears to play an entire NFL season in Champaign.

Goodell was in Chicago to present a plaque commemorating Soldier Field as the first NFL stadium to receive LEED status reserved for the nation’s most environmentally-friendly buildings.

During the mayoral campaign, challenger Gery Chico said he would push for Chicago to host the nation’s most-watched sporting event as early as 2015 to bring jobs and millions of dollars in revenue to the city.

“Chicago deserves to be a Super Bowl City. If New York can do it, Chicago can do it,” he said.

At the time, Chico acknowledged that Soldier Field was short of the 70,000-seat requirement that has been the minimum for Super Bowl stadiums. But the former Park District board president said he would work with the Bears and the Park District to determine the feasibility of adding seats.



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