In part 1 we compared the coaching staffs of the Bears and Packers. In part 2, we dive into ownership and front offices to highlight why the Packers are in much better shape than the Bears. I must admit before writing this that I didn’t know too much about the front office and ownership for the Packers. What I did know was that the Packers were a publicly owned team.
I remember when a friend of mine came back from Christmas break with a certificate saying that he was now a shareholder for the Green Bay Packers. At the time I didn’t really know that you could be a shareholder for the Packers, and the more we discussed it the more I started to wish the Bears were publicly owned in the same way. In this article I will attempt to breakdown why the ownership and front office of the Green Bay Packers does a better job doing business than the Chicago Bears front office.
Before I get to the Bear’s ownership, I’m going to gush for a bit about Green Bay and the way the Packers are run.
Green Bay is such a unique place. People from Chicago always talk about how it reminds them of Wrigley Field on game days. Green Bay as a city is a fraction of the size, but you will find football mecca smack dab in the middle. The city can’t help but live and breathe Green Bay football, and from the Bear fans’ perspective, it seems the ownership is giving them a reason to do so. Chicago fans always talk about the good experience they have at Lambeau Field. The friendliness of the employees and the energy in the crowd makes it hard to say something negative about the experience; an experience I’ve witnessed first hand. During my one trip to Lambeau, I saw the Bears lose 55-14, but my overall experience was a great. I left that day wishing the Soldier Field experience could be half as good as the one I had in Green Bay.
Bear fans look at the Packers in envy because Team President Mark Murphy is doing what any President/Owner should be doing. He takes care of the business side of the game and sits back while Ted Thompson takes care of the football side. Since he has come in as the president, he has made it his goal to make the fan experience better.
Recently, Lambeau field has gone under a five year, $312 million upgrade, which included a new audio system, new HD monitors, 7,000 new seats to the (already large) stadium, and much more. This year, they broke ground for the new Title Town District, which will be on the west end of Lambeau Field. The new complex will include a plaza for pre-and-post-game activities, a hotel, a sports Medicine Clinic and of course, a brewery. To pay for all of this they had another stock sale in 2012, which was the time my friend was able to buy his stock. It is good to see that Mark Murphy is using the money of the fans to make the experience better for them.
These improvements in the fan experience mean a lot to a fan base. It sort of reminds me of the work that the Ricketts family is doing for the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs’ recent success has a lot to do with the energy you find now at Wrigley Field. Players and fans want to be a part of that.
Now, let’s take a quick look at the Packers front office. Ted Thompson has done an excellent job with this franchise. He has made mistakes from time to time, but even with those mistakes you can tell that he has a vision and every move he makes works toward it. Ted has stuck to his beliefs, building the Packers through the draft and not worrying too much about free agency.
Last season the Packers had the 2nd most drafted players on their roster, and led the league with the most starters on their team acquired through the draft. In comparison, the Bears had the 2nd fewest. Year after year, the Packers are filling positions of need without having to spend all of their cap space. Throughout the NFL, we are seeing franchises spoil their momentum by spending foolish money in free agency. The Jets seem to be a prime example of that from year to year. Over the past few years, the Jets have spent big money on guys like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, and Matt Forte, but still struggle as a team.
Ted also deserves credit for finding a way to field a competitive team every year while having to pay top dollar for his quarterback, which is a very tough thing to do. Just look at the Indianapolis Colts and Andrew Luck. Great quarterbacks are few and far between, so teams are willing to spend crazy money when they think they’ve found their guy. Look no further than the Houston Texans with Brock Osweiler or the New York Jets with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ted Thompson has done a great job at filling positions without overpaying, so he can afford to pay Aaron Rodgers and field a competitive team. Not many teams have been able to figure out that model.
Now that I’m done gushing over the Packers, let’s take a look at what the Bears brass is doing. George McCaskey isn’t quite as hands-on as Jerry Jones, but he has had too much of a say in football operations over the years. This involvement has put the Bears in an unfortunate cycle of hiring the wrong people at general manager and head coach.
To site a recent example, the Bears brought in Phil Emery and Marc Trestman to guide this team to a new direction in 2013, and boy did that go horribly wrong. But ownership thought that it was time to make a culture change.
As Packer fans know all too well, the Bears have been known for their defense ever since the 1985 season when we were introduced to “The Monsters of the Midway.” However, ownership saw that the league was switching to a more quarterback-driven league, and they thought they had the perfect piece to build a new offensive identity around in Jay Cutler.
Fans were told all throughout Emery and Trestman’s tenure that these were the guys to turn things around. Things never worked out the way the Bears expected and both Trestman and Emery were fired after two seasons.
Looking at the team today, Bear fans are more optimistic after the hiring of Ryan Pace. Pace has seemed to have an idea of what he wants the direction of this team to be, but Bear fans are still afraid that the ownership will find a way to mess this up as well.
Not only does the ownership struggle with the football side of things, but the business side has been no picnic either. Let’s take a look at the stadium: Soldier Field. Most Bear fans will tell you that, while Soldier Field is an iconic stadium, it really doesn’t have much to offer besides football games on Sundays. In a USA Today article written in 2015, Soldier Field was ranked as the worst stadium experience in the NFL. No surprise, Lambeau field was ranked number 1. That is not acceptable if you are in one of the top markets in the US.
Fans would love to see ownership step in and find a way to make some improvements to the stadium, even though it is owned by the Chicago Parks District. If the City doesn’t want to budge, then the Bears might need to consider building a new stadium of their own.
The experience at Soldier Field isn’t just bad for the fans, you also hear players complain about the surface every season. Brian Urlacher was quoted saying “We complain about it all the time. I don’t know what’s wrong with our field. Every week they’ve resodded it. They had a soccer game there, or they had nine high school games in two days. It’s always something.” The Chicago Sun Times called it the third worst playing surface in the NFL in 2015. It is to the point that it’s not even a home field advantage for the Bears anymore. The Bears have only won three games at Soldier Field since the start of last season. It’s time to do something about it, but I have little faith that anything will be done.
George and Virginia McCaskey selling the team wouldn’t fix the problem, and it’s not going to happen anyway. There is too much family history when it comes to the Chicago Bears. But I doubt George Halas would be too pleased with how things have been run recently. The McCaskey family needs to step aside and let the football minds make the football decisions, while they focus more on the business side of things, just like Mark Murphy does for the Packers.
Thus ends my rant on the Chicago Bears issues with ownership. In part 3, I’ll compare the two team’s history at the quarterback position and wrap up this mini series of why the Bears still suck.