A Chicago Bears Move to Arlington Heights Would be Good for Everyone

Bears move

The Chicago Bears appear to be following through on their plans. to at least look into buying the parcel of land Arlington International Racecourse currently sits on in Arlington Heights, a suburb about an hour away from where Soldier Field sits on the shores of Lake Michigan. It is one of the best scenes in professional sports.

It’s important to remember the backdrop of the current setup because there aren’t many other reasons to stay.

The City of Chicago Should Let Bears Move, Replace Them

Backstory

For 50 years the Bears have called Soldier Field home. They used to have to use Wrigley Field where the Chicago Cubs play as their home turf. So, now that they have officially signed a Purchase and Sale Agreement (PSA) with Churchill Downs, owners of Arlington International, you can imagine the wide range of emotions fans are feeling.

Others see it as a non-starter. After all, they’re the Chicago Bears. Who wants to go an hour outside of the city (way more with traffic)?

And some see it as way past due. Soldier Field has been outdated since its renovation back in 2003. The Park District (who owns it) mandated that the columns standing prominently at the stadium entrance must remain in place.

The result is, as some call it, the spaceship on the lake.

Once thought to be out of the question for hosting a Super Bowl thanks to the local weather, MetLife Stadium in New Jersey where the New York Giants and Jets play hosted one. As have the Minnesota Vikings in palatial U.S. Bank Stadium. Minny has a dome, but MetLife is as open as can be.

Alas, Soldier Field is too small to host a Super Bowl with a capacity of 61,500, making it the smallest in the NFL.

The renovations wound up costing them about 5000 seats and they still lost landmark status.

Greener Pastures

Arlington offers the Bears more than a whopping 46 percent more land to work with. One of the fatal flaws in Soldier Fields’ design is that it cannot be expanded to meet the requirements of hosting a Super Bowl, as the most recent renovations in 2014 set out to do. Those changes still left the stadium short of the benchmark required by the NFL.

In a statement, Team President Ted Phillips used the term “Chicagoland” as opposed to “Chicago” or even “the city of Chicago” when talking about one of the focuses being for it to prosper as the team wants to on the field.

The Bears, as you may have guessed, stand to prosper greatly from owning their stadium and land as opposed to being tenants.

In their article for The Athletic, Adam Jahns and Kevin Fishbain talked about this, the process, and what’s next (subscription required). In short, a lot of planning, prodding, and number crunching. As Fishbain points out, this isn’t something that’s coming out of nowhere.

The Bears have toyed with the idea of moving since at least the late 80s.

Along the way, many factors have led to them remaining in a home both they and the city acknowledged wasn’t the best fit long-term many years ago.

But this isn’t like the concept of the McCaskey family selling the team which most will say wouldn’t happen as long as the family matriarch, Virginia, is still with us. Contrary to what many feel about the product on the field, the Bears are savvy if not shrewd on the business side of things.

They finished last season ranked 13th in total revenue in 2020. They’ve only twice dipped below 98 percent capacity since 2005; in 2006 and 2007 when they hit a low of 92 percent.

Even during the Marc Trestman and John Fox eras, Soldier Field was near full capacity. 

Win-Win-Win

The rhetoric being used by both the franchise and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot sounds like a spat between jilted lovers. After the Bears renewed interest drew coverage back in June, the mayor pointed out their lack of on-field success, particularly against the rival Green Bay Packers, as more pressing issues than a new stadium.

Fast forward and now she says the Bears have declined all offers to meet with her office and layout their wants and needs for Soldier Field.

But there isn’t much more to be said or done with Soldier Field pretty much locked into its current design.

So? Let them go.

The Bears lease with the Park District isn’t up until 2033 but they can break the lease in 2026. If the Mayor wants to take full advantage, first, she should let them go to Arlington Heights. Second, she should already be on the phone with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to inquire about other teams that may want to move to the soon-to-be-vacant stadium.

There is no shortage of billionaires looking to get into an NFL that has been discussing expansion for some time.

Now would be a good time for those with the means to inquire too. It’s not often that a new team can move into a ready-made stadium. They would face a lot of the same challenges the Bears face, primarily dealing with the Park District. But perhaps the city would be willing to make concessions after losing a charter franchise in the NFL.

They certainly wouldn’t need to worry about fans. They’ve longed for an in-town alternative for some time if for no other reason than to make the Bears sweat.

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No One Loses if Bears Move

We are still a ways away from this happening. But the Churchill statement mentioned the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023 as the target date to complete the sale. In the meantime, expect more jabs lobbed via the media and denials that either side is worried about anything.

But the reality is we should all hope this deal goes through as planned.

The Bears want it, as does their bottom line. The city should at least welcome the opportunity to fill the void. Fans should welcome a state-of-the-art facility for their favorite team and a rival that would provide an alternative and, hopefully, keep them from operating as just a business.

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