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Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Reluctant Bears to Star in ‘Hard Knocks’ As Stadium Issues Linger

  • After many years of resistance, the team will be featured on the key NFL promotional showcase.
  • The ongoing stadium issue intersects with the series, even as it likely won’t be a major storyline there.
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Already in the midst of a significant franchise crossroads, the Bears are now essentially involuntary participants in one of the NFL’s key promotional showcases.

The league, NFL Films, and HBO announced late last week that the team will be featured in the training camp edition of Hard Knocks, the oldest and most well-known version of the long-running documentary series that has now grown into three different editions when also considering separate in-season and offseason iterations. 

On one level, the selection of the Bears to fill the training camp slot this year is not surprising, particularly after the April selection of quarterback Caleb Williams (above) with the No. 1 pick in the draft, and NFL Films senior director and supervising producer Shannon Forman said in a statement that the league outlet was “honored to feature such an iconic NFL franchise.”

But there’s a sizable hitch there: Team ownership has actively avoided for years being part of Hard Knocks, and as recently as the annual NFL meetings in March, Bears chairman George McCaskey said, “We’re told there is some interest in other teams being on the program, and we welcome that interest.” Hardly the first such comment, McCaskey has been a consistent opponent of being in Hard Knocks since soon after its 2001 debut, but the Bears were one of just three teams this year that the league could force to participate.

Like many other teams, McCaskey’s aversion has stemmed from a reluctance to invite distractions, both real and imagined, that come with a film crew extensively chronicling team operations during training camp. 

Despite the ongoing resistance from various teams, including the Bears, there’s a reason the NFL and its partners continue to push Hard Knocks, even into its third decade of existence: ratings. Last year’s training camp version featuring the Jets garnered a 13-year viewership high, averaging 4.4 million viewers per episode—a particularly strong number for any summertime programming. 

Stadium Matters

The prevailing storylines of Hard Knocks, particularly for the training camp version, typically focus on roster development, rookie cuts, and overall on-field preparation for the upcoming season—and as a result don’t tend to focus as much on off-field business matters. But for the Bears, such concerns are arguably the dominant issue surrounding the team, and maybe even more than the arrival of Williams. 

The Bears are in the midst of trying to develop a new $4.7 billion stadium on the Chicago lakefront, but there are mounting obstacles there. Most recently, the Illinois state legislature concluded its spring session without taking up any funding proposal related to the proposed facility.

But that issue could still intersect with Hard Knocks, and give the team further visibility as it pursues as much as $2.4 billion in public funding for the stadium. To that end, Bears president and CEO Kevin Warren referenced the series providing “our passionate fans across the world the ability to experience this unique and critical time in the history of our franchise.”

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