In the fall of 2021 the Chicago Bears signed a purchase agreement for Arlington International Racecourse, marking their intent to obtain the 326 acre compound. While the deal has still yet to officially close, it has caused quite an uproar as sports fans and local Chicagoans remain protective of their storied and legendary sports team. On one hand, it gives the Bears the opportunity to expand and commercialize. Their home, Soldier Field, is the smallest stadium in the NFL.
A new home at Arlington Heights opens up the doors of possibility to a larger stadium and entire commercialized plaza for the Bears to fill with shops, restaurants, and attractions. However, one main problem persists – Arlington Heights isn’t Chicago, meaning the Chicago Bears would no longer reside in the city of their namesake. To many fans this is unthinkable, and the Bears’s decision to leave behind the storied history of themselves and Soldier Field is sacrilegious.
Does Hope Remain?
In a bid to keep the Bears in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed sweeping renovations to Soldier Field ranging anywhere from $900 million to $2.2 billion. The details of the proposals have been kept under wraps, but it is understood that one will add a dome to the stadium, one will make the arena capable of supporting a dome and one will change the arena’s focus to soccer if the Bears leave town.
The most appealing option to Bears fans (and hopefully the Bears themselves) is the addition of a dome. This would include a boost in seating capacity to 70,000 attendees, allowing the stadium to become one of the premiere NFL fields. This increase in seating would open up the stadium for more usage, and perhaps even make it eligible to host the Super Bowl. For the team of the legendary George Halas, a co-founder of the NFL, the absence of a Super Bowl in the stadium is a large disappointment.
The proposed plans also include an overhaul of the stadium’s food services, which in turn would create more jobs for local citizens. In the same vein, some have suggested that the plaza outside of the stadium would be converted into a space to hold community and education events. Furthermore, the addition of a dome would solve the main problem on everybody’s mind – the Chicago Bears stay in Chicago.
Speaking of the renovations is much easier than having them take place. Mayor Lightfoot did not reveal how any of these renovations would be paid for. Coming from taxpayers’ wallets is sure to make citizens unhappy, while getting the owners of the Bears to shell out their own money would prove difficult as they have already invested in Arlington. Furthermore, the Bears barely issued a public response to the news of Mayor Lightfoot’s proposals. Instead they repeated a statement released earlier in July stating that they will honor their “contractual commitments” to Arlington.
When all is said and done, the Bears moving might not be the worst thing for their brand. It is not an unprecedented move in the NFL world – teams have changed locations multiple times throughout the league’s history. The Chicago Cardinals are now the Arizona Cardinals, the Baltimore Colts now call Indianapolis their home, the Rams have long since moved on from St. Louis and the Las Vegas Raiders have a history of bouncing around different cities. Likewise, multiple teams do not reside in the same area as their stadiums of play, such as the San Francisco 49ers who play in Santa Clara, the Washington Commanders who play in Maryland and both the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers who play in Inglewood.
Yet, being a founding member of the NFL means the Bears have a special connection to Chicago, their home for the entirety of their lifespan thus far. Furthermore, Soldier Field is one of only three stadiums left in the NFL that is not named after a corporate sponsor, and the only one that stands as a monument to a specific group of people (the servicemembers of the U.S. Armed Forces). Are the potential greener pastures at Arlington International Racecourse worth leaving such storied history and uniqueness behind?