The city of Chicago threw its considerable weight this week behind an attempt keep the Bears at Soldier Fieldthe home base of the NFL team since 1971. The historic stadium, the oldest in the NFL, could very well be in Finals days as the home of the Bears.
Last fall, the team’s property reached an agreement to purchase a sprawling 326-acre site in suburban Chicago. The Bears buy is essentially on hold, although before it becomes final there is a litany of logistical, financial and legal loops that both sides will need to shore up.
If the purchase does indeed go through, Bears fans will be in for a massive change. While fans can count on their team’s quarterback struggles until the end of time, the transition from a relic steeped in NFL history to a modern facility away from the heart of the city will be a emotional adjustment.
For Chicago residents, it also presents logistical challenges. The Bears’ proposed new home is 30 miles from Soldier Field in Arlington Heights, near O’Hare Airport. It may only be 26 miles from downtown, but as anyone who’s braved the permanently clogged I-90 freeway can attest, the drive is often over an hour. But, perhaps crucially, the new location presents a wealth of financial opportunity for Bears owners, who don’t own the area around Soldier Field.
Every statement from the Bears reiterates their intention to buy Arlington Park, but the city of Chicago isn’t giving up without a fight. City Mayor Lori Lightfoot is determined to keep the Bears at Soldier Field beyond 2033, when their lease expires (the team could break its lease sooner if it pays the city a release clause of $84 million).
This week Lightfoot unveiled three proposals to improve Soldier Field, aimed at giving the stadium the ability to be domed for year-round use – a useful feature amid Chicago’s brutal winters and sweltering summers. Plans also include revitalizing the surrounding area and adding “floating pavilions” to improve parking options at a stadium that can be difficult to reach by car. The organization may also be permitted to derive revenue from a naming rights agreement.
“Unsurprisingly, we’re making what we think is a compelling case for the Chicago Bears to stay in Chicago. They want a premier stadium environment to maximize revenue, and we agree that we will continue to make the case to the Bears, the NFL and the public that a revitalized Soldier Field makes the most economic sense for this legendary franchise.” , Lightfoot said. .
But Lightfoot’s efforts appear to be nothing more than a very desperate Hail Mary. Simply put, Soldier Field has little to offer in the modern NFL, where revenue streams are seen, by many owners, more as a measure of success than wins and losses. With a capacity of 61,500, Soldier Field is the smallest stadium in the league — so small, in fact, that it’s not eligible to host major events like the World Cup or the Super Bowl (Lightfoot’s plans could increase capacity to 70,000). It also received a botched $600 million facelift in 2003, which led to the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic stadium doubling “The Horror on the Shore of the Lake”. Taxpayer appetite for funding further renovations – Lightfoot’s plans would cost between $900 million and $2.2 billion – may also be understandably questionable as the cost of living soars and the threat of recession looms. The mayor did not say who would fund the projects, but selling the stadium’s naming rights is a possibility.
Despite Lightfoot’s public fight, the Bears continue to press ahead with their plans to ditch Soldier Field for Arlington Heights. In March, the Bears hired an architectural firm to help design the potential new stadium. On Monday, they reposted a statement they issued earlier this month expressing their determination to move.
“The only potential project the Chicago Bears are exploring for a new stadium development is Arlington Park,” the Bears said. “As part of our mutual agreement with the seller of this property, we are not seeking any other stadium offers or sites, including renovations at Soldier Field, while we are under contract. We have notified the City of Chicago that we intend to honor our contractual commitments as we continue our due diligence and pre-development activities on the Arlington Heights property.
There’s no guarantee that buying Arlington Heights will result in a new stadium, but it’s the most likely outcome. The McCaskey Halas family, owners of the Bears, aren’t exactly known for their deep pockets, so a fully privately funded stadium in Stan Kroenke’s SoFi kingdom in Los Angeles seems unlikely. However, if the people of Arlington Heights help the Bears join the ranks of NFL teams that have incorporated some semblance of public funding (only SoFi, Gillette Stadium and MetLife Stadium are privately funded), the McCaskeys will be full of options for the terrain. they have around the stadium. From naming rights to concerts to major international sporting events, luxurious stadium facilities with equally luxurious prizes, hotels and whatever else they want to add to their megaplex, the possibilities are endless.
Leaving Chicago, the Bears would leave a huge void in the city’s vibrant sports scene. But that’s the story of today’s NFL, where revenue last year topped $11 billion and is projected to hit $25 billion by 2027. The city of Chicago has no chance.