The warning signs have begun to hit the red line in recent weeks. People never expected it would get this far. The Chicago Bears have been part of Soldier Field since 1971. It’s their home and perhaps more naive fans thought it would always be that way. The reality is ownership of the team has flirted with the idea of getting out of that building for a long time. They just never had the necessary pieces in place to do so.

That could be about to change. After a failed attempt to establish a sportsbook in Soldier Field due to a lack of help from the Chicago Park District, the McCaskeys decided to place a bid on Arlington Racecourse International. A 326-acre plot of land in Arlington Heights. If they win the bid, the Bears would suddenly have the real estate necessary to build a new stadium. After initially shrugging off such an idea as idiotic, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and others in Chicago have suddenly realized this isn’t a negotiating tactic. The Bears are serious.

Stadium finance expert and sports marketing consultant Marc Ganis has seen this sort of thing before. Based on his experience, it isn’t difficult to determine what will happen next. He explained to Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Nothing short of a new, preferably domed, stadium — either in parking lots next to Soldier Field or at McCormick Place East — will prevent the Bears from moving to Arlington Heights, a sports marketing expert said Thursday…

“Short of creating a domed type of project, which would be a new facility in that same general area with public sector support because of increased costs, I don’t see how there’s a long-term solution along the lakefront,” Ganis said.

“It wouldn’t really matter that much if the mayor said you could do naming rights. You could do gambling. And you can have more advertising. You can put in more events. The building itself was economically obsolete before the concrete dried.

Anybody who knows Chicago politics knows the chances of that happening are laughable.

There is way too much bureaucratic red tape Lightfoot would have to wade through in order for it to happen. She will seek some sort of compromise. A way to renovate Soldier Field that can hopefully keep the McCaskeys happy. It seems that isn’t going to fly this time. Not when the opportunities are so lucrative in a new building. The last challenge to this idea is there is no way they’d be able to pay for one themselves. Ganis had an answer for that too.

The league would provide “multiple hundreds of millions for a new stadium. And the Bears will sell seat licenses. In L.A., the Rams’ seat licenses generated over $600 million,” Ganis said.

“And then, you’ve got all of the revenue streams you don’t have at Soldier Field with a stadium that’s designed to maximize revenue streams along with other events that may take place. And real estate development that makes sense to take place around the stadium as they’re doing in L.A. and in other markets.”

The promise of league support combined with the freedom to craft a plan on 326 acres of land to maximize revenue? This basically means the McCaskeys would make their money back and then some in a relatively short period of time. Everything points to the city having little leverage in this entire situation. Something that was never the case before. The Chicago Bears didn’t have realistic alternatives in previous decades. That is about to change.

Chicago Bears might be making a play to maximize their value

This is because rumors persist that the McCaskeys could be looking to sell the team once family matriarch Virginia McCaskey dies. There have been rumblings that many of the younger minority shareholders want out of the business. Thus far Mrs. McCaskey has made such ideas of a sale irrelevant. As long as she controls the majority stake in the team, it is staying within the family. Something her father George Halas would’ve wanted.

That could change once she’s out. George McCaskey might not be able to prevent a sale when that happens. The only other option is clear at that point. Do everything possible to maximize the value of the franchise in order to sell it for a high price. Having a brand new stadium to reside in would do this. Remember that David Tepper purchased the Carolina Panthers in 2018 for $2.2 billion. That was in a smaller market with no new stadium.

Try to imagine what the Chicago Bears might go for.

A founding franchise in the third-largest media market in the country while also sports a new building? The McCaskeys would rake in a ridiculous amount of cash for that. Another reason why the odds heavily favor them moving if and when they win the bid for Arlington. Chicago may need a miracle to change the course of what is happening.

Educated to be a writer at the prestigious Columbia College in Chicago, Erik has spent the past 10 years covering the Bears.
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