BSSF Blog: Will the Bears Move Out of Chicago?

The Chicago Bears’ standing in Soldier Field sits in the balance as they struggle to find a plan for the future, inspiring a search for alternative solutions and locations instead.


The Chicago Bears might leave Soldier Field after purchasing the Arlington International Racecourse property. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Recent developments in the Chicago Bears’ stadium plans raise debate about the local government’s investment in the city’s professional sports venues. Just this past week, the Bears signed a contract to purchase the Arlington International Racecourse property, an agreement valued at $197.2 million. This property could be a potential new site for the Bears stadium as they consider a move away from Chicago. While the Bears have called Soldier Field home since 1971, this new Arlington Heights property has many of its own advantages.

As reported by Front Office Sports’ Justin Byers, “Chicago city officials have insisted that the Bears could remain at Soldier Field as the team’s lease runs through 2033, according to WGN News. However, the team would be forced to pay $84 million to the city if the lease is broken in 2026.” This $84 million would go to the city of Chicago as the Chicago Park District owns the stadium.

Even so, taxpayers may have to pay for the Bears’ leave of absence because of the team’s deferred debt. A report from the “Illinois Policy” said, “Last year, the debt service payment was $46.5 million. By 2032, when the Bears existing contract expires, that annual payment on deferred debt will have ballooned to $86.9 million.”

This news adds to the ongoing argument of whether state legislatures should pay for stadiums as a source of revenue and economic growth. When the New Orleans government paid for the Saints stadium, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, following Hurricane Katrina, critics blamed the government for spending funds on public projects rather than flood protections. While people could seek refuge in the stadium, the money could have been allocated to measures preventing homelessness in the wake of the hurricane. 

The Chicago mayor, Lori Lightfoot, wants to try to keep the Bears in the city,  but is she willing to spend much in taxpayer dollars to support the Bears at Soldier Field? Not really.

Byers says, “The Bears are in talks for renovations at Soldier Field with the Chicago Park District, owner of the historic stadium. Its 2001-2003 renovation cost a reported $733 million, including $432 million in taxpayer dollars.” 

If those numbers are any indication, today’s renovations will be even more expensive. And if Lightfoot is not intending to use taxpayer money to fund it, then the Bears may not be in Chicago much longer.