For ticket and team information, visit chicagobears.com. (All seats in 61,500-seat Soldier Field are sold out for the 2010 season, but additions to the waiting list are accepted with a $100 non-refundable deposit.)
Training camp opens July 30 at 3 p.m. at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., and ends Aug. 19. Admission is free.
For ticket and team information, visit colts.com. (All seats in 63,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium are sold out for the 2010 season, but additions to the waiting list are accepted with a $150 non-refundable deposit.)
Training camp opens August 1 at 1 p.m. at Anderson University in Anderson, Ind., and ends Aug. 18. Admission is free, but Anderson University charges $10 for parking.
Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 4, 2007, tore at the region’s football loyalties. Its fans have long been loyal to the Chicago Bears, but it’s also home to a growing number of Indianapolis Colts loyalists.
That game had the attention of the entire region, and when the Colts defeated the Bears 29-17, it gave Colts fans temporary bragging rights in the region.
Still, fans of the stylized “C” of the Bears dominate the landscape–on flags, hats, sweatshirts and bumper stickers.
But the fact that the blue horseshoe of the Colts is becoming a more common sight shows the importance of Northwest Indiana to both teams. It no longer matters that Northwest Indiana has historically been thought of as Bears territory. The Indianapolis Colts have increased their presence in the region, bringing team officials, players and cheerleaders to high school games and other events.
Both teams have a storied history in the NFL, with the Bears entering their 91st season as one of the league’s original franchises. And even though the Colts are still viewed by some as new to Indiana, the franchise has been a Hoosier fixture for 26 years after its move from Baltimore on March 29, 1984.
In the modern era (since the NFL and AFL merged), each team has won the Lombardi trophy given to the Super Bowl winner–Chicago in 1985 and the Colts in 1971 and 2007. Both team also won NFL championships before the merger–Chicago eight times and the Colts twice.
Through the years the Bears have produced such hall of fame players as Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, Bill George and Mike Singletary. The Colts have an illustrious past, too, with such names as John Unitas, John Mackey, Raymond Berry and Alan Ameche.
There are plenty of football fans in Northwest Indiana who would like nothing more than to see a rematch of the two teams in the next Super Bowl. That dream has some describing the upcoming season as “unfinished business” for both teams.
Chicago finished last season with a 7-9 record, well below expectations. In fact, the Bears haven’t made the playoffs since their Super Bowl loss against the Colts.
The Colts, meanwhile, wrapped up their 57th season in the NFL with a 14-2 record. It was successful in every way but one–they lost the Super Bowl to the New Orleans Saints, 31-17.
Both teams are looking to improve. For the Bears, nothing short of a winning season and advancing into the playoffs will do. For the Colts, anything less than a Super Bowl trophy will be considered a failure.
With expectations high for both teams, it’s understandable that both are looking closely at Northwest Indiana as a place to build their fan base.
“It’s a good market for us,” says Chuck O’Hara, director of marketing for the Colts. “It’s had a lot to do with the success of our team.”
The Bears, however, are not taking the region for granted or conceding anything to the Colts. “We look at Northwest Indiana as important to us as Naperville, Ill., or Lake Forest, Ill.,” says Scott Hagel, senior director of corporate communications for the Bears. “Absolutely we see it as a part of the Chicagoland area.”
The region has long been an important area to the Bears. There’s even a reference to the Chicago Bears in the classic holiday movie “A Christmas Story,” which is set in Northwest Indiana.
The dueling marketing efforts of the Bears and Colts underscore the drive by teams for fans, particularly in places where loyalties overlap. To the north of Chicago, with Wisconsin not quite 90 miles away, the Bears compete with the Green Bay Packers, and southeast of Indianapolis, the Colts go head-to-head for fans with the Cincinnati Bengals.
That’s why having a presence throughout a region–even in an area that might be considered the fringe of a team’s fan base–is important, says O’Hara. “In Northwest Indiana, we bring in a couple of players or cheerleaders for Colts in Motion,” O’Hara says of the team caravan that travels around Indiana trying to fire up fans. The most recent trip for Colts in Motion was to Elkhart, but in the past it has visited South Bend, LaPorte and sites in Porter and Lake counties.
At one time the NFL created a “halo” around what was to be a franchise’s fan base and no other team was allowed to promote within it. Teams still can’t do that, but in areas such as Northwest Indiana where there is an overlap of loyalties, those rules don’t apply.
“People are so eager to touch the franchise,” says O’Hara, adding that he’s seen “a whole lot of flags, jerseys and stickers” with the Colts horseshoe across the region.
The irony for O’Hara is that he grew up a Bears fan. “I didn’t become a Colts fan until (Mike) Singletary left the Bears.” Singletary, whose last season with the Bears was 1992, is now in the NFL Hall of Fame and is coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
In the short term, O’Hara says Colts in Motion events bring attention to the team, but in the long-term, it’s about creating fans. “We’re dealing with generational issues,” says O’Hara. “To generate a fan base you can’t forget about Northwest Indiana. We’ve got kids who’ve only known the Colts as a 12-win-a-year team. It’s grow or die. We want them to remain with the team when it’s 6-10, too.”
Hagel sees the Chicago Bears as an entity that unites Chicago and its outlying suburbs, including Northwest Indiana. The team’s branding campaign this year is “One City. One Team.” It’s a spin on Major League Baseball in Chicago, where the city’s loyalties are split between the Cubs and White Sox. But, Hagel points out, once football season starts, everybody is a Bears fan.
The team has invested heavily in billboard advertising with that slogan, particularly south of Interstate 290, an effort that targets south suburbs and Northwest Indiana commuters.
Unlike the Colts, Hagel says the Bears don’t do caravans. Instead, he says, the Bears will work with its corporate partners who are involved in various promotions and events throughout the city and suburbs.
“Through our corporate partners players and team officials are always attending events and meeting with fans,” says Hagel. “We see the area 75 miles north of Soldier Field and 75 miles south of soldier Field as ours and we are very active in that area.” Hagel points out that area includes Northwest Indiana.
Of the 61,500 seats in Soldier Field, Hagel says all are sold and that between 4 percent and 5 percent of those season tickets are in the hands of Northwest Indiana fans.
“We are very proud of our fan base,” says Hagel. “We have season ticket holders in all 50 states. Most of them are from Illinois, but second is Indiana.”
The Colts do not have information on how many Northwest Indiana fans have season tickets, but O’Hara describes it as “a sizeable number.”