By: Alex Patt
Being a Chicago Bears fan has not been particularly easy the past few decades. Outside a trip to the Super Bowl in 2006 and a few division titles, most of the football the Bears faithful has been subjected to has been mediocre at best. When you only make the playoffs six times in the past 25 years, your fans are not exactly going to be satisfied.
Bears chairman George McCaskey runs his organization knowing the fans will always be there paying their hard-earned cash every season. He has always been pretty open about relying on Bears fans scattered about the country supporting them.
Yes, even today the Bears have one of the biggest fanbases in football. Chicago is huge and transplants are scattered around the country still wearing navy blue and orange. However, I will argue that this fanbase is dying.
I do not exactly have fancy data, numbers, charts, or thousands of testimonials from random football fans, but I base this opinion by just observing what is around me and who I interact with. While not everyone who reads this will necessarily agree with it, and that is okay, I do know there are others who share this opinion.
Let us go back to the late-80s, before my time. The Bears were contenders every year and had won the Super Bowl in 1985. The impression I got from people who witnessed that era was that the idea of being in Chicago and not being a Bears fan was crazy. I understand there have always been people in this city that were not Bears fans, especially those who rooted for the Chicago Cardinals back in the day, but the city was more electric for the team than ever in the 1980s and the town was littered with Bears pride. Since the 1990s when the Bears declined and Brett Favre came around, things started to turn.
Today Chicago is obviously still a big Bears town, but boy it feels like there are so many people who were born and raised here who do not root for the Bears. I live out in the suburbs and I can say there are places I see more people wearing Green Bay Packers gear than Bears stuff. Feels like almost every time I drive around the burbs I see multiple houses with Packers flags or cars with Packers bumper stickers or plates. When I stroll around in either the suburbs or city limits in the winter, guaranteed every time I will spot one or multiple Aaron Rodgers jerseys. While some of these people are likely Wisconsin transplants, a number of them are Chicagoans who just rather root for Green Bay. I myself have several friends who were born into Bears families but chose to be Packers fans. Even some of my friends who are Bears fans have close family members who chose to be Packers fans. They’ll root for the other Chicago teams except for the Bears. Not trying to judge, just stating a fact. Though some of my Packers fan friends like to give me a hard time during football season…>:(
Northern Illinois has become Wisconsin when it comes to football. Honestly, these days if you go north of Evanston it feels like you are in Packers country. My dad works around Waukegan area and many of his co-workers are big Packers fans. There are also quite a few Packers bars in Chicago and they are always filled with green and gold during football season. Tell a Bears fan this in the late-80s and they probably laugh.
The thing is it is not just Packers fans in Chicago. I go on long walks throughout my town and neighboring ones and I pass by a lot of parks. It is so easy to spot young kids playing football and so many of them are wearing Rodgers, Pat Mahomes, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees jerseys. With sports being so accessible these days much of today’s youth can choose to watch the stars at their leisure. Why watch the Bears lose when stars like Brady and Mahomes are putting on shows every week and they can be watched from multiple devices regardless of where one lives? Also, if you live in places outside Chicago where Bears fans used to thrive in like Indiana, but Manning and Andrew Luck had the Indianapolis Colts contending for years, you probably noticed a shift from navy blue to lighter blue in that area. Star players always create new fans for a team in any sport.
I had talked to some people back in my Twitter days who are older and have kids, and several told me, “I am a die-hard Bears fan but my kids have zero interest in rooting for the Bears. They all have chosen other teams to root for.”
Then, of course there are the, “I was a Bears fan in my youth and I finally gave up on them”, fans. I know several people personally who one day just said screw it after years of being let down and decided to follow another team. Again I am not trying to judge at all. People can root for who they want and I respect people’s decisions. Sometimes I wish I had the guts to pull the plug when I get frustrated with the team, but I know I will never be able to do that.
To sum it all up. Most of my family and friends are Bears fans. I still see how much this city embraces the Bears even after they make us mad…which is often. However the number of non-Bears fans I know is much higher than other non-Chicago fans in other sports. Perfect example mentioning my Packers fan friends who still like the Cubs/Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks. Being on Cubs Twitter in the old days I knew A LOT of Cubs/Packers fans. Yet have never encountered a Bears/Brewers fan. I am sure there are some out there I just have not seen it. I also cannot say I have any close family or friends from Chicago who root for teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Red Wings, Milwaukee Bucks, etc. While I do sometimes see Cardinals, Wings stuff around Chicagoland it is not nearly as often as I see Packers or Patriots gear.
I truly believe the Bears need to get a consistent winner soon to save their fanbase’s future. Once the 1980s nostalgic Bears generation is gone, the fanbase could be in danger of losing much of the next generations of fans. Winning will solve that, but am I confident they can build a consistent winner with a good quarterback? I have my doubts…but I pray they do. Youth likes star players and winning. If they can watch Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady dominate over watching a mediocre Bears team, you know what they will go with.
The Bears are a huge part of this city’s identity and culture. It would be a shame if the city kept losing that piece of its identity because fans are turning away. They are not quite like the pre-2016 Cubs who had the fanbase no matter what because of the “Lovable Loser” identity and charm of Wrigley Field. If the Bears continue being mired in mediocrity, they will continue to lose more fans. George McCaskey needs to realize this and I do not believe he does at all.
Agree or disagree?