CHICAGO — Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is exploring whether to add thousands of seats to Soldier Field.
The preliminary proposal would add 5,000 seats. The stadium that’s home to the Chicago Bears has a capacity of 61,500 people for football games and 63,500 for other events. Emanuel tells the Chicago Sun-Times the lack of seating hurts efforts to attract high-profile events.
He has made it clear in recent years that he would like to see a Super Bowl in Chicago even though there are two big hurdles standing in the way — the size of the stadium and the brutal winters.
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The proposed expansion would still leave Soldier Field short of the league’s 70,000 capacity requirement, and unless Chicago builds a dome or retractable roof, there’s not much it can do about the weather. The league generally holds the Super Bowl in a warm city or a covered facility, although it made an exception this year with the game at the 82,500-seat MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The NFL caught a break with the game-time temperature a rather balmy 49 degrees after snow and cold gripped the New York area in the week leading up to the Super Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks then plowed through Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-8 to capture their first championship.
Would the league consider holding a Super Bowl in a cold city with no dome, particularly if the stadium seats fewer than 70,000?
”There has been no discussion yet among ownership about future Super Bowls in a cold weather city without a domed stadium,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said. ”Stadium capacity for a Super Bowl is addressed on a case-by-case basis as part of the evaluation of a total bid.”
A Super Bowl in Chicago has, however, been on the mayor’s mind for a while.
In May 2012, Emanuel touted a recent NATO summit as an example of the city’s ability to host a big event and said Chicago would be ”perfect” for a Super Bowl. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was with Emanuel at Soldier Field at the time, acknowledged that capacity ”is always an issue.”
A Bears spokesman says ”if it makes sense to add seats, we’d certainly be open to the idea.”
A Super Bowl at Soldier Field — the site of an NHL Stadium Series game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins on a chilly, snowy Saturday night — would be at least a few years away it ever happened. The next three are in Glendale, Ariz.; the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium; and in Houston.