Let the Bears Crawl to Arlington Heights
The Bears’ ties to Soldier Field are not so great that a move to a nearby suburb would dramatically alter the team’s identity
Before I begin, please know I do not want the Chicago Bears to become the Chicago Bears of Arlington Heights. I grew up a Bears fan, and I’m still a Bears fan; my first in-person Bears game involved tailgating, chili and Mike Ditka. I am not inherently opposed to cities working with teams to subsidize stadiums. But the city of Chicago does not and should not kowtow to the McCaskey family in an effort to keep the Chicago Bears in Chicago.
Last year, the Chicago Bears began the purchase of the 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse. If relations between the team and city continue as they are, the Bears are moving 30 miles northwest. The team will be able to build a state-of-the-art facility and, most importantly, own it. By contrast, the Chicago Park District owns Soldier Field. The Bears do not take 100 percent of revenue the stadium generates — and the Bears want that money. It makes sense to want that money. It does not make sense for the city to hand it over just to keep the team in town.
The thing is, where teams play actually doesn’t matter that much. The NFL is America’s most popular and important sports league. It determines the national conversation and takes in the most money. With the legalization of gambling in most states, its importance has only risen. But most NFL fans don’t attend any games. Teams play only 17 regular-season games, and the fewest home games among all professional sports leagues. Ticket prices and other costs (parking, concessions, etc.) make attending a regular-season NFL game the most expensive live sporting experience. It’s more of a luxury than attending an MLB, NBA, NHL or college football game. Most fans won’t feel that difference — between a stadium here or one 30 miles north — in a tangible way.
How the stadium looks on television does matter, and one rationale for staying in Chicago is that Soldier Field and its surroundings look great. The UFO-landed-on-a-stadium ’00s renovation was a success. Even if you don’t agree with the aesthetics of the update, you should be able to admit that no football stadium’s immediate surroundings are as beautiful as Lake Michigan, Grant Park and the Museum Campus. Few other cities can boast the same — especially not the Chargers, Commanders, 49ers, Giants, Jets, Rams and other teams that don’t actually play in the city they’re associated with. The Bears need Chicago way more than Chicago needs the Bears.
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While I do think the Bears belong at Soldier Field, they’re not tied to the stadium the same way the Packers are to Lambeau or the Cubs are to Wrigley. The Bears didn’t begin in Chicago. The first year of the NFL, they were the Decatur Staleys. They moved to Cubs Park, soon to be renamed Wrigley Field, in 1921 as the Chicago Staleys. They became the Chicago Bears in 1922. Wrigley was the Chicago Bears’ home until 1970. Since 1971, the Bears have played at Soldier Field, except for the 2002 season when they played at the University of Illinois football stadium because Soldier Field was being renovated/turned into a UFO landing. Which means the Bears have played only one more year at Soldier Field than at Wrigley. Thirty of those years were pre-renovation, making it essentially a different stadium. And some of those years were played on awful AstroTurf. All of this to say: The Bears’ ties to Soldier Field are not so great that a move to a nearby suburb would dramatically alter the team’s identity.
The Chicago Bears have every right and a lot of good reasons to move to Arlington Heights. The City of Chicago has every right and a lot of good reasons to hold firm on their stances on Soldier Field and its surrounding land. If the inevitable suburban stadium campus is done well, the majority of Bears fans will be happy with the move.
Let the Bears crawl to Arlington Heights. If and when that happens, I’ll still be a fan. I’m more interested in what they do this draft to protect Justin Fields. An O line that can’t block in the city won’t do any better in the suburbs.
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