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Super Bowl in Chicago? Emanuel lobbies Goodell for the game

*** FILE ART KEYWORDS - CHICAGO SKYLINE AERIAL ***  08-05-09 skies above Cook County-   Soldier Field -

*** FILE ART KEYWORDS - CHICAGO SKYLINE, AERIAL *** 08-05-09 skies above Cook County- Soldier Field - - John J. Kim ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: July 6, 2012 10:21AM

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

Mayor Rahm Emanuel posed that question publicly 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 about Goodell, who’s married to the daughter of Sam Skinner, the former White House chief of staff and U.S. transportation secretary.

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.’’

The NFL is scheduled to host its first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather city — New York — in 2014.

‘‘If we can do it successfully there,’’ Goodell said, ‘‘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.

Goodell was in Chicago to present a plaque commemorating Soldier Field as the first NFL stadium to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status, reserved for the nation’s most environmentally friendly buildings.

Soldier Field’s seating capacity is the smallest in the NFL, and Goodell acknowledged that ‘‘capacity is always an issue’’ when thinking about a Super Bowl.

But he said the number of fans who could be jammed into Soldier Field — and the number of tickets sold — isn’t 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,’’ Goodell 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.’’

Marc Ganis spelled out the numerous challenges for Chicago’s hopes.

‘‘It’s not that it’s impossible, but it’s very, very difficult, and the competition is very strong,’’ said Ganis, the president of SportsCorp Limited, a Chicago-based sports marketing firm that has worked with numerous NFL teams over the last 20-plus years. ‘‘Chicago would do an exceptional job of hosting the activities leading up to the game — that I have no doubt — but the limitations of the stadium are exceedingly difficult to overcome.’’

Soldier Field wouldn’t fulfill the minimum capacity guideline of 70,000. Ganis said the concern isn’t about the gate receipts but rather the ticket commitments from the NFL and conference champions to corporate, network and other stakeholders.

Goodell refused to say whether an increase in Soldier Field seating capacity would be necessary.

‘‘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,’’ Goodell said.

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

‘‘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,’’ Emanuel said. ‘‘There’s an experience to a Super Bowl with that kind of quality.’’

NFL owners, who vote on Super Bowl sites, have been reluctant to approve northern cities with open-air stadiums. The Washington Redskins, for instance, failed in their bid, despite having an ideal locale and an open-air stadium.

‘‘The first open-air northern Super Bowl is going to take place in New York/ New Jersey, and that’s unique because it’s two teams playing in a single stadium, and it’s New York,’’ Ganis said. ‘‘As wonderful as Chicago is, it’s not even close to New York in terms of its value as a Super Bowl site.’’

NFL owners and sponsors prefer warm-weather sites, with the rotation including Miami, Phoenix and New Orleans. Cities outside the rotation, such as Minneapolis and potentially Atlanta, could be in line before other potential suitors not based in warm-weather climates.

Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips was asked if 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,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘We never did support a dome, if you recall.’’

Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly said he’s gung-ho about the idea of Soldier Field hosting a Super Bowl. 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 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 season in Champaign.

During the mayoral campaign, Emanuel opponent 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 revenue to the city.

‘‘Chicago deserves to be a Super Bowl city,’’ Chico said then. ‘‘If New York can do it, Chicago can do it.’’

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