Northwestern to play 'most' games in 2024 and 2025 at a temporary lakefront stadium on campus

The new Ryan Field isn’t expected to be ready until the 2026 season.

Until then, some games might be at Wrigley Field after the baseball seasons ends, or possibly Soldier Field, but most are expected to be a temporary on-campus facility on the lakefront, probably seating around 15,000.

Our son got his Masters Degree in trumpet performance from Northwestern. As a result my wife an I were there many times. I really don’t see where they could have an on campus facility unless it doesn’t seat more than 200 people. The only places I can think of on the lakefront are Wrigley and Soldier but nothing on campus that would hold a football size crowd.

John Papenhagen

I haven’t been on the Northwestern campus for a few years, but there is already a sports field on the lakefront that is used for soccer, field hockey and lacrosse. The plan is to erect temporary bleachers and a (small) pressbox, with total seating capacity in the 15,000 range. The field would then be used for football as well as the other sports.

My understanding is that Evanston did not give Northwestern permission to include a video board at this time, though that decision could change. At 15,000 capacity, season ticket holders and students will come close to filling that, so there won’t be a lot of room for the visiting team’s fans, which may be why some traditionally high demand games would be moved to larger facilities if they’re available on those dates.

This press release shows the Lanny and Sharon Martin athletics facility, on the eastern edge of the lakefill campus that Northwestern built in the 1960’s.

I am sure they know more about what they need to do and can do better than I do. It just seems like there isn’t the area they need on campus. They might have the land needed for a football field but while 15,000 people isn’t a lot for a regular stadium that would fill up a small area pretty fast. Whatever they do won’t affect me at all. I was just surprised they had the room to do that. But, they may believe they do.

I wonder why they couldn’t use Soldier Field? I know the Bears play there but they only play mostly on Sundays and sometimes Monday night or Thursday nights. Northwestern mainly would play on Saturdays. One would think if need be Northwestern could play there and not knock heads with the Bears. Maybe Soldier Field has other events there that would make Northwestern scheduling there difficult.

Wrigley is a great place for a baseball game but a poor football location. Soldier Field would be a better football venue.

John Papenhagen.

Hawaii has a similar setup where they converted their practice field into a temporary stadium after Alhoha Stadiuk was condemned. The capacity is listed at 15,194. I imagine NW’s stadium will look similar

My best guess is that scheduling issues with Soldier Field was one factor in deciding to do the on-campus temporary facility. (Wrigley Field isn’t available until after the baseball season ends–including playoffs, though I remember the Bears playing all their games there for decades.)

Other factors were probably the travel time to get to a more distant off-campus facility and costs.

Having walked the 1.5 miles from north campus to the athletic complex many times as an undergrad, it will be interesting to have the games just a short walk away from the north campus housing, somewhat further for the south campus dorms and Greek houses.

Northwestern was once described as having a campus that was a block and a half wide and a mile and a half long.

From the press releases, the company they’ll probably have doing the temporary stands is the same one that put up the temporary stands for last summer’s downtown Chicago auto races, which were successful enough despite bad weather that Chicago plans to do it again. I will say from the coverage I saw last summer the stands looked pretty good.

I doubt there’s space on the lakefill campus for a full-sized stadium, sadly, and it is also possible that the lakefill isn’t capable of supporting that much weight without foundation stability issues. Otherwise that would be such a cool place to have a stadium!

That would make sense. I just wasn’t aware that, other than the Bears, Soldier Field would have that much use that it would cause scheduling conflicts for Northwestern. The Bears would only play there at the most once a week. It probably had to do with expenditures for Northwestern.

I remember vividly the Bears playing in Wrigley Field. They played there from 1921-1970. I remember that happening in the 60s when the likes of Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, etc played there. But, even there it wasn’t very good for football.

John Papenhagen

The Chicago Fire soccer team also plays its home games at Soldier Field. There are 3 such games scheduled on Saturdays in September 2024. There are several concerts scheduled in July and August, too, and the aforementioned auto races.

Remember, Soldier Field was there for decades before the Bears moved in, and they’ve been threatening to move out almost every year since then.

I remember that. I forget what years it was but along the way after the Bears moved into Soldier Field was renovated and that took about three or so years. During those years the the Bears payed their “home” games at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.

Right now if the Bears were to leave Soldier Field they would have to build a new stadium if they were to remain in Chicago.

John Papenhagen

They Bears bought the Arlington Park property and tore down the racetrack, but they’ve been squabbling with Arlington Heights over real estate tax issues ever since, as well as looking around for other potential sites for a new stadium (and government funding for it). Two or three other suburban locations have been suggested.

Now they’re talking about building a new (possibly domed) stadium in the parking areas just south of Soldier Field. Whether Soldier Field would be torn down afterwards hasn’t been made clear, the historical building folks would probably scream bloody murder, and the latest set of renovations to Soldier Field are far from paid off, too.

Former Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren may have bitten off more than he can chew as the new President of the Bears, and that’s assuming he isn’t being micromanaged by the McCaskey’s, the only owners that made Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder look good.

According to what I have read Soldier Field is owned by the Chicago Park District. That would, I assume, mean the Bears are leasing the field. If that is true then the Bears would have to figure a way out of their lease in order to move. I also have no idea should there be a lease when it is up.

John Papenhagen

Based on reports I’ve seen in the months since the Arlington Park purchase, the Bears lease for Soldier Field costs about $6M/year and runs through 2033, and they could get out of it for around $84 million as early as 2026. (There’s a penalty for exiting from the lease early.)

Several people have referred to the $84 million exit fee as small change compared to the roughly $2 billion estimate for a new domed facility. They paid $197.2 million for the Arlington Park facility, not counting demolition costs. Illinois and Chicago politicians aren’t excited about ponying up money to help build such a facility, especially if it is then owned by the Bears. The Bears haven’t quite threatened to leave Illinois over this–yet.

$197.2 million is less than a top QB makes in a long term deal these days, though.

KU is doing something similar. They are rebuilding Memorial Stadium and will be playing for the next year or two off campus. Non-conference games at Children’s Mercy Park, Sporting K Kansas City’s MLS stadium. SRO capacity a bit over 21,000. Conference games at Arrowhead Stadium.

Greg Zimmerman,UNL '75
Overland Park, Kansas

Some of you may find this video interesting.

I gave up on the video about half way through, it seemed like the guy didn’t actually READ the press releases to see where the temporary stands are being built. I thought they were pretty clear.

The video was pretty herky jerky and I didn’t get it all. Just looking at the first picture shows there is room for an actual football field on campus. I don’t believe they are promoting something that can’t be done but where they are going to put a press box and room for 15,000 people is interesting.

15,000 people isn’t a lot of people when considering most of, if not all of, FBS stadiums. But, in that small of space without stadium type seating 15,000 spectators will make it pretty packed. I believe around 15,000 is about what PBA holds for basketball but that is at least three levels and obviously a basketball court isn’t as large as a football field.

I am not knocking this as I am sure there was a great amount of thought and assessment done. I am just more amazed than anything.

John Papenhagen

A basketball court is 94 feet long and 50 feet wide, or 4700 square feet.

A football field is 360 feet long and 160 feet wide, or 57,600 square feet, over 12 times larger.

A lacrosse field is 330 feet long and 180 feet wide.

15,000 will likely be a bit of a tight squeeze, though, and the fans will probably be closer to the field than in many larger stadiums.

It appears the current seating capacity of the Lanny and Sharon Martin facility is around 1000.

I don’t think they’ve released any renderings of how the temporary stands will look yet. I’ll be curious to see what it will look like.

The football practice field to the south of the lacrosse/soccer field could be shortened and the field hockey field to the west might be impacted, too.

Being that close to the lake might be a challenge in late November, like for the Illinois game. It can get pretty cold on the lakeshore.

The NFL hasn’t released the full schedule yet, so I don’t know if Soldier Field would be available for either the Ohio State or Northwestern games, but Wrigley Field would be. A one day turnaround from a college game to an NFL game can be done, but a Thursday NFL game would give them more time to prep for a Saturday college game.

I would say “tight squeeze” might be bit of an understatement.

John Papenhagen