The Bears Succession Plan: What Happens *After* Virginia McCaskey?

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The Bears Succession Plan: What Happens *After* Virginia McCaskey?

Chicago Bears

In 2015, the NFL formalized the process of monitoring the succession plan of every team in the league. In practice, that means each team is required to annually submit updated franchise succession plans with the league’s central office, which, according to Sportico, “lay out the current owners intentions for the team once he or she is no longer in control.”

That is likely how and where Sportico sourced the following bit of news surrounding the McCaskey family’s plan for the future (bolded emphasis mine):

The Bears, whose owners declined to comment for this story, have a plan to keep the team in the family when Virginia McCaskey dies, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. Specifics of that plan weren’t provided, but would require re-consolidating control of at least 30% of the team, which is now worth $5 billion, into a single wing of the McCaskey family. It could also involve the sale of some equity.

So it seems the tides of change at Halas Hall are going no further than head coach, GM, and after the season, team president.

But that’s not the end of the story. For however notable – if predictable – that outcome always was, things can get very complicated from here.

Before George Halas passed away, he divided his 49.35% control of the team into 13 equal stakes for his grandchildren (3.8% each). It was mostly a way to avoid a heavy tax burden. Virginia, his daughter, was given voting power over those shares *in addition* to the 20% she already owned.

But here’s the wrinkle: The NFL bylaws state that a single lineal family must control 30% of each franchise (which Virginia does via the voting trust). However, when she dies, the voting trust expires and the Bears ownership “will be thinly spread over more than a dozen Halas heirs, without a single person or descendant anywhere close to that 30% threshold.”

And while the league had voted to allow the Bears to bend some org. rules in the past out of respect for Halas senior, those days are likely long gone in my opinion.

Though not everyone would agree:

“The owners own the league, and it’s for the owners to decide what the rules are,” Marc Ganis, co-founder of Sportscorp and an advisor to the NFL, said. “If they choose to adjust the rules to make it easier for their heirs to keep the teams as generations change, that is entirely and completely their prerogative. And they do that.”

In the end, it seems very likely that when Virginia passes, the team will be required to consolidate control of at least 30% of the team into a “single wing” of the McCaskey family, potentially including the sale of some equity to outsiders.

And that could cause a ton of friction (lawsuits, exits, desires to sell, etc.) if not handled delicately. Traditionally, those issues tend not to pop up until the rubber meets the road (a.k.a. Virginia passes). Everyone will play nice until then, not to rock the boat, but if anyone feels slighted by the direction of the $5 billion company, well … there’s a whole HBO series about it.

(Luis: Heck, it may have already begun. In May 2021, there was a report suggesting the McCaskey family was debating selling the Bears. With the Daily Herald’s Jim O’Donnell citing “an individual with exceptional knowledge of the working dynamic within the McCaskey family” who says: “There is some internal strife going on among family members to sell … now.”)

There is so SO much more about the league’s rules, team valuations, succession planning and legality, and more in this article at Sportico. So please go check it out. But for now, the bottom line is clear: When Virginia McCaskey passes away, the team intends to keep it in the family. That, however, will require some significant consolidation, which could, itself, become an issue that impacts the organization at all levels.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami