It is a city which respects a good agitation. Extortion wasn’t invented here, but it was damn near perfect. Which is why The City of the Big Shoulders simply ignored the latest reports that the Chicago Bears may leave the lakefront and move to a new stadium in the suburbs.
For the openers, it is still far from being a done deal. Second, this isn’t the first time the franchise has made the threat. Third, and perhaps most relevant at the moment, the Bears have been stinking so far this season, after a decade with two playoff appearances that both ended with losses in the wildcard round. There is simply nothing to fuss about at the moment.
When the team first expressed interest this summer in buying Arlington Park, a racetrack about 30 miles northwest of the city, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called it “a tactic of negotiation “for concessions for improvements to Soldier Field, where the Bears are locked up. a lease until 2033 at a cost of around $ 90 million.
Instead, she urged the team “to focus on building a winning team on the pitch, finally beating the Packers and being relevant after October.”
“Everything else,” Lightfoot concluded, “is just noise.”
But it got much stronger on Wednesday, when Ted Phillips, the club’s president and CEO, announced a purchase agreement to buy the more than 300-acre site for nearly $ 200 million.
“There is still a lot of work… before we can close this transaction,” he said in a remarkably short statement on the details. But he was clear on the motivation of the team. “We will never stop working to give Bears fans the best experience.”
Off the field, maybe. On that, not so much.
Coach Matt Nagy is running out of ideas, the team is 1-2 and so challenged offensively that an enterprising fan has figured out at the Bears’ current pace – 192 yards per game – they won’t make it to their new stadium. before week 9 of the NFL Season 2040.
Still, the threat was convincing enough that the mayor changed his tone. Lightfoot said the city was more than willing to address the team’s concerns, if only they knew what they were. “We cannot operate in the dark. I don’t have a magic ball to guess what the Bears want.
The short answer is money, and more.
Forbes recently valued the Bears at $ 4 billion, despite being one of the few franchises in the league that does not own their stadium; the Chicago Park District does. The 97-year-old stadium was revamped in the early 2000s, but the team wanted to modernize parts of it, increase seating capacity – to 61,500, it’s the smallest stadium in the NFL – and possibly get a retractable roof that should have been installed in the last renovation. They also wanted to sell sponsorships and possibly set up a museum, gift shop, and other income-generating outlets.
It’s a long to-do list, and considering the previous renovation – partly funded by Chicago taxpayers – won’t be paid off in full for decades.
On the flip side, the Bears could afford to pay off all that debt, develop a new stadium on a plot large enough to surround it with restaurants, shops and entertainment, which the Rams, Chargers and Raiders have made it into their new homes, and watch the value of their franchise soar over time.
Whether they go all the way is another question. The team was founded by George Halas, who also helped shape the NFL around a century ago, and is still led by his heirs, especially matriarch Virginia McCaskey. It’s the last mom-and-pop operation left in the league. Always frugal, the family were finally convinced to spend money on gamers in recent years but pulled the line at the front office. Advice that comes on the cheap rarely justifies the cost. As a result, the Bears have constantly sniffed the draft, free agents, quarterbacks and coaching hires since at least the turn of the century.
But the best thing about owning an NFL franchise is that your team doesn’t have to be good to keep making money. A new stadium would do enough to ensure the Bears remain in the hands of the McCaskey family. More importantly, despite all the difficult discussions, the city has few cards to play.
When the Bears threatened to go extinct for Arlington Heights in 1975, then-mayor Richard J. Daley, the last of the big city bosses, replied, “Like hell they will. They can use the name “Arlington Heights Bears”, but they’ll never use the name Chicago if I’m mayor.