When football fans think of the Chicago Bears, Soldier Field instantly comes to mind. The team has called the stadium its home for more than five decades, but the property is almost twice that old. Rumors of a possible relocation of the team have been circulating with much more sincerity recently and it now seems that a move is imminent. Friction with the Chicago Park District (CPD), which owns and controls Soldier Field because of its iconic status, over not being able to launch a sportsbook has led to the Bears purchasing Arlington Park, 34 miles to the north.
Chicago Bears to Get a New Home
Soldier Field is the smallest NFL stadium, with room for only 61,500 fans in a city of almost three million. The Bears have wanted to expand or find a new home for years and have also been pushing for a sportsbook at its home field since PASPA was sent to the shredder by the US Supreme Court. However, everything came to a head this year as the CPD seemed unwilling to work with the team to turn Soldier Field into a 21st Century sports facility. When Churchill Downs announced that Arlington Park was going to be made available for purchase, the Bears jumped.
The Bears, who are now 2-1 on the season and second in the NFC North, have not been shy about their desire to get involved in sports betting. The team partnered with BetRivers and Rivers Casino a few months ago and, last month, former player and head coach Mike Ditka joined BetRivers.com as an ambassador. Now, the Bears have entered into an agreement to purchase Arlington Park for a possible relocation. According to information provided to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yesterday by Churchill Downs, the deal is worth around $197.2 million.
Arlington Park a Prime Location
Arlington Park would be an ideal location for a new stadium. It spans 326 million acres, making it almost 20 times larger than the 17 acres upon which Soldier Field’s facilities sit. Sports betting would be allowed there, in accordance with state and local laws, which could conceivably be tied to Rivers Casino. The $197.2-million price tag seems a little low, given the circumstances and the players, but Churchill Downs has a majority stake in Rivers Casino that might have possibly influenced the deal.
It isn’t clear what will happen next or how long it will take for a new stadium to appear at Arlington Park. The Bears have a lease at Soldier Field that doesn’t expire until 2033, but the team could pay $84 million in 2026 to get out of it, according to the Chicago Tribune. It’s likely, though, that the new venue will count on considerable support from Rivers, Churchill Downs and more to become one of the most state-of-the-art facilities on the market today (the average cost of building a new NFL stadium hovers just over $2 billion).
The Bears are getting ready for this next era as they celebrate 100 years in Chicago, with the team’s president and CEO, Ted Phillips, saying in an announcement about the purchase, “Our goal is to chart a path forward that allows our team to thrive on the field, Chicagoland to prosper from this endeavor, and the Bears organization to be ensured a strong future. We will never stop working toward delivering Bears fans the very best experience. We will continue to provide updates on our progress at the appropriate time.”