This week, the city of Chicago offered its tremendous support to an effort to preserve the Bears at Soldier Field, the NFL team’s home stadium since 1971. The ancient stadium, the oldest in the NFL, might be serving as the Chicago Bears’ venue for the last time.
The team’s ownership came to a deal to buy a vast 326-acre land in the Chicago suburbs last year. The purchase of the Bears is virtually pending, but both parties still need to close a number of logistical, financial, and legal loopholes before it can be considered complete.
Fans of the Bears will experience a significant change if the transaction is actually completed. While fans can count on their team’s quarterback woes lasting forever, it will be difficult emotionally to go from a building steeped in NFL history to a contemporary stadium outside of the city centre.
Additionally, it causes practical difficulties for Chicago residents. The planned new home of the Bears is located in Arlington Heights, not far from O’Hare airport, 30 miles from Soldier Field. Despite being only 26 miles from the city centre, the trip there frequently takes more than an hour, as anyone who has braved the perpetually congested I-90 can confirm. The Bears ownership, who do not own the land surrounding Soldier Field, sees a goldmine of financial opportunities in the new location, which is potentially key.
The Bears have stated repeatedly that they intend to buy Arlington Park, but the city of Chicago isn’t going down without a fight. The Bears’ contract expires in 2033, but the city’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, is keen to keep the team playing there past that year (the team could break the deal early if they paid the city a $84 million release clause).
Chicago Bears hoping for new stadium as Chicago mayor releases plans for Soldier Field renovations
This week, Lightfoot revealed three plans to upgrade Soldier Field, with a particular emphasis on allowing the stadium to be covered for year-round use, a feature that would be helpful given Chicago’s chilly winters and hot summers. As part of the plans, the neighbourhood will be revitalised and “floating pavilions” will be added to the area to improve parking at the stadium, which can be difficult to access by car. A name rights agreement may also allow the organisation to make money.
It should come as no surprise that we are making what we think is a strong argument for the Chicago Bears to remain in Chicago. They desire a top-tier stadium setting in order to increase income, and we concur that we will continue to argue to the Bears, the NFL, and the general public that a renovated Soldier Field makes the best financial sense for that illustrious franchise, Lightfoot said.
However, Lightfoot’s actions seem to be nothing more than a last-ditch Hail Mary. Simply said, Soldier Field has little to offer in the current NFL, where revenue sources are valued more highly by many owners than wins and defeats as indicators of success. Soldier Field, the smallest stadium in the league with a 61,500 capacity, is so small that it is not permitted to host large events like the Super Bowl or the World Cup (Lightfoot’s plans to expand capacity to 70,000).
Additionally, it had a bungled $600 million facelift in 2003, which earned the stadium the moniker “The Eyesore On The Lake Shore” from the Chicago Tribune’s design critic. The willingness of taxpayers to pay for more upgrades, which according to Lightfoot’s plans might cost between $900 million and $2.2 billion, may be legitimately questioned as the cost of living continues to soar and the prospect of a recession looms. The mayor remained mum over the source of funding, but one option is to sell the stadium’s name rights.
The Bears are still planning to leave Soldier Field for Arlington Heights despite Lightfoot’s outspoken opposition. The Bears hired an architecture firm in March to assist with the proposed new stadium’s design. They issued a statement earlier this month announcing their intention to move again on Monday.
Arlington Park is the sole viable proposal that the Chicago Bears are looking into for a new stadium, according to the Bears. In accordance with our mutual agreement with the seller of that property, we are refraining from looking into stadium agreements or alternative locations while our current contract is in effect. We have notified the city of Chicago that, while we continue our due diligence and predevelopment work on the Arlington Heights property, we intend to uphold our contractual obligations.
Although there is no assurance, the Arlington Heights purchase is most likely to result in a new stadium. The Bears’ owners, the McCaskey Halas family, aren’t exactly known for having large pockets, so it seems unlikely that they would build a fully funded stadium like Stan Kroenke’s SoFi kingdom in Los Angeles. The McCaskeys will have a plethora of possibilities for the property they own around the stadium, though, if the people of Arlington Heights assist the Bears join the NFL clubs that have included some sort of public support (only SoFi, Gillette Stadium, and MetLife Stadium are privately funded).
The options are unlimited, ranging from naming rights to concerts, significant international sporting events, opulent stadium facilities with opulent price tags, hotels, and anything else they wish to add to their megaplex.
The Bears’ departure from Chicago would create a sizable gap in the city’s thriving sports landscape. But that is the tale of the modern NFL, whose income exceeded $11 billion last year and is projected to reach $25 billion by 2027. Chicago has no chance of surviving.