Yesterday, the Chicago Bears released a statement that indicated they will no longer host their Training Camp at Olivet Nazarene University, where they have held it since 2002. In fact, the Bears haven't held Training Camp in Lake Forest since 1983 when it took place at Lake Forest College. Bears Training Camp will now transpire at the new Halas Hall facilities in Lake Forest, Illinois.
Renovations to the Halas Hall facilities began in March of 2018 and ran through August of 2019. The year and a half project cost the Bears over $100 million. Here's what the new facility looks like. Obviously, it's a state-of-the-art facility. People always want to call the McCaskey's cheap, but that's simply not the case.
Implications for Fans
“We will host Training Camp practices at Halas Hall in 2020 while maintaining a public component to many of the sessions to incorporate our loyal and passionate fans,” Ted Phillips stated. Although there will be fan access, there won't be nearly as much availability. Olivet Nazarene had it down to a science, and with it being stationed in the boondocks, there was more than enough room to accommodate fans and most importantly parking.
I remember my first time attending Training Camp as an Employee of the Chicago Bears. I was part of the first-ever 'Monster Squad,' a team meant to create more fan engagement during training camp and Bears games. It was a cool experience, and I can say I have a few paychecks signed by George McCaskey. Now, don't get me wrong: it was hot, the grass was dying, there was limited shade coverage, and the fields were chewed up, but it was still a memorable experience. After I declined to stay involved with the Monster Squad, I would still attend as a fan every chance I got, but I really didn't start to notice some of the issues until I started covering the team last year.
Implications for Players
Anthony Miller is a fan of the move
As alluded to previously, the fields weren't the greatest. The Bears would constantly rotate practices to different fields because of how much they would get beat up. Honestly, the practice facilities at Olivet reminded me of the fields on which I practiced in high school. The players also stayed in the dormitories, which gave them the full Division III experience.
While it may be humbling, a majority of the players come from SEC schools with state-of-the-art facilities, which probably gave the rookies an underwhelming experience. Nothing says "I made it to the NFL" like going back to your high school days. I know you want the types of players that love football so much they'll play in a parking lot, but the reality is that better facilities should help promote better practices.
The fields, meeting rooms, technology, weight rooms, and pretty much everything under the sun will be upgraded by moving offseason activities to Halas Hall. This should also help with injury prevention. I am not sure if the team will rent a block of rooms at a nearby hotel or if the players will get to sleep in their own beds, but they should be sleeping better too.
Implications for Bourbonnais
"Olivet Nazarene University continues to be a valued and committed partner, but with the recent investment in our campus expansion and state-of-the-art facilities in Lake Forest, we feel it is important to stay home for training camp. We would like to thank Olivet Nazarene University, including president John Bowling, and the Bourbonnais community for their 18 years of partnership and hospitality."
Ted Phillips on the move from Bourbonnais to Halas Hall
The reality of the situation is that Bourbonnais is going to lose a good bit of coin from the move. If you've ever been to Training Camp, you know that as soon as you get off the highway there are signs welcoming Bears fans and leading you to Olivet Nazarene. Every local store and gas station has signs welcoming you to Bourbonnais. Gas prices were cheaper, so I'd always fill up on my way out. I stopped at the Jewel to buy Gatorade and snacks upon arrival, and I'd always hit that Dairy Queen for some ice cream to cool down after a long, hot day at Training Camp. Fellow On Tap Sports Net contributor Patrick Comiskey even highlighted all the best places to eat and drink in the area ahead of Training Camp in 2019.
I don't have the exact numbers available at my disposal, but it's pretty safe to assume the town had more foot traffic from neighboring cities in those few weeks than any other time in the year. I don't want to over-exaggerate and say the city will go bankrupt, but they will definitely lose that influx of cash during that time.
Realistically, what matters most is that the move to the newly renovated Halas Hall will be an upgrade for the players and coaches. Space for fans to view will be limited and they won't get to witness many practices, but no one will be sentimental if the upgrade results in more winning seasons. Although the Bears had one Super Bowl run while training at Olivet Nazarene, they've also seen some of their darkest years when starting the season there. Maybe a change of scenery is just what they need.