The Chicago Bears Football Club, Inc.

I was recently promoted to Vice President at work, and while the added responsibilities have kept me busy, I have also seen a number of perks including access to the executive washroom and a new corner office on the 14th floor. But the strangest byproduct of my new position is that I am now a fan of the Chicago Bears.

As the VP it is my job to order shipping materials and the recent order from ULINE was pretty big. ULINE rewarded my large order with an NFL Hoody of any team in the NFL. The problem was, I was not currently a fan of any team in the NFL*.

After some intense research I decided that the most exciting team in the league is the Chicago Bears, and I’d like to share that discovery so that you too can become a fan of the Bears.

The Chicago Bears Football Club, Inc. is a private company of 335 people headquartered in Lake Forest, IL. Michael McCaskey is the Chairman, Ted Phillips is the President and CEO, and Jerry Angelo is the General Manager.

Virginia Halas McCaskey owns 80% of the company. She will be 88 years old on January 5th, 2011. Virginia inherited her ownership stake in 1983 after the death of her father George Stanley Halas Sr., AKA “Big Papa,” who owned the company since its inception in 1932. Being 88 years old the future ownership of the company will likely be split among Virginia’s various children and grandchildren (life expectancy is 78.44 in the United States). The inevitable ownership struggle sets the stage for some truly Shakespearean drama to unfold within the boardroom of the Chicago Bears Football Club, Inc. and the living room of the Halas-McCaskey families.

In 2008, Forbes magazine reported that the Chicago Bears franchise is worth $1.1 billion, making it the ninth richest franchise in the NFL. But in 2009 Yahoo! Sports listed McCaskey as the third worst owner in the NFL, stating “They get less for what they’ve got than any team in our league.”

Wikipedia says that 19.7% is owned by Patrick Ryan (age 72) and Andrew McKenna (age 80) of Aon Corp. McKenna and Ryan purchased their stake from the McCaskeys in 1990, a portion that once belonged to Big Papa’s son George “Mugs” Halas. Mugs was the heir to the McCaskey throne and succeeded his father as the President of the company in 1963 but died of a heart attack in 1979, forcing Big Papa to return as president until his death in 1983 when Virginia Halas McCaskey took over. Virginia installed her oldest son, Michael McCaskey, as president but he was moved to the board in 1999 in order to allow Ted Phillips to take over as president (the first outsider to run the company!). Michael McCaskey announced in 2010 that he’ll be stepping down and allowing his brother George McCaskey to run the board.

In a 1987 Chicago Sun-Times article it was A. Gerson Miller, the executor of the estate of “Mugs” Halas, that sold the 19.6% stake for $17.5 million. Mugs’ son, Stephen G. Halas, filed an emergency motion to bar the sale. Earlier that year Stephen and Christine Halas had asked Virginia to exhume the body of their father to determine if he had actually died of natural causes. The body was exhumed in ’87 but nothing conclusive was determined.

Virginia McCaskey votes the stock for her 11 children, allowing her to maintain clear control of the company even though the company is already in the hands of the children due to a generation-skipping mechanism designed to avoid estate taxes. Even if some of the 11 should decide to sell the stock they own is structured to allow the family to retain voting control and they maintain right of first refusal on the sale of any minority stock.

In Jeff Davis’ Papa Bear : The Life and Legacy of George Halas there is a breakdown of the initial complicated fracturing of the ownership stakes:

Halas still resisted estate planning until Mugs and Vainisi broke though; the two men persuaded him to take the legal step of freezing the value of the franchise. “We created a subchapter S corporation in 1978,” Vainisi said. “We made Halas Sr. a minority owner with 49.35 percent of the stock. That enabled him to receive a 30 percent discount on the valuation for estate purposes, which is done every day.”

Halas Sr. then became minority owner when he let Mugs give Finks five shares to fulfill his contractual requirement. At the same time, that move aided the Halas-McCaskey stock transfer. In a percentage breakdown, The Old Man now held 49.88, Mugs and Virginia each held 19.68, and Brizzolaras had 8.33, and Finks had 2.43.

Some sources claim Patrick Ryan owns more than a 20% stake, which might mean he is purchasing more whenever he can from various members of the secretive McCaskey clan in the hope that when Virginia dies he holds the largest share. It’s difficult to know who else Ryan is competing with as I haven’t even been able to discover the names of all 11 of Virginia’s children, much less the names of her grandchildren. And if the sources that Wikipedia quotes are correct there is also a 0.3% stake owned by someone who is not a McCaskey and not Patrick Ryan.

*At the time I had the Dallas Cowboys listed as a favorite team on my Facebook Profile, but that was added because of the time I spent there while working for Enron. I was never more than a casual fan.

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