Special Report: Chicago Bears appear serious about moving to Arlington Heights

It’s a dance the Bears have been doing for decades with the City of Chicago: will they or wont they move out of Soldier Field?

This time, it looks like all bets are off that the team is bluffing about moving to Arlington Heights.

In a FOX 32 Special Report, we take a closer look at how and why it may finally be "go time."

Ken Vedder is a diehard Bears fan and has been for years. He's got the collection of Bears paraphernalia to prove it

"We don’t miss a game. We go in 20 below, 30 below," Vedder said.

But what if his beloved Chicago Bears were no longer playing at the historic Soldier Field? Would he still go to a bear’s game in sub-zero weather in Arlington Heights?

"I think it’s a great thing. We need a change. We only have 61,000 seats down there," Vedder said. "There’s no way in and out of Soldier Field. They didn’t figure this would get as big as it is over the years."

The winds of a possible change began swirling back in June. That when the Bears shocked Chicago and their fans by announcing they had put in a bid to buy Arlington International Racecourse.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot fired back saying the Bears are locked into the Soldier Field lease with the city until 2033. She went on to call their bid a "negotiating tactic" and "noise."

"I know from my discussions at the league, this is not a bluff," said Marc Ganis. "The Bears are very serious."

Ganis is the head of Sportscorp — a Chicago based sports consulting firm. Ganis has been in the business for decades and has worked on stadium projects for several NFL teams, including the  Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders.

"The contract that the Bears and the park district signed does provide for the Bears to be able to relocate out of Soldier Field," Ganis said. "They refer to it as an improper relocation in the lease … and there is a provision of liquidated damages that would be paid to the park district for an improper relocation."

Since it takes at least five years to build a new NFL stadium, the earliest the Bears could "improperly relocate" to Arlington is in 2026.  At that time, experts estimate the team would have to pay $85 million in liquidated damages.

"It’s change. Pocket change," said Allen Sanderson.

Sanderson is a sports economist at the University of Chicago. He says the big question isn't whether or not the Bears can move.

"It’s one billion dollars that in the end someone is someone is going to have to come up with. A billion dollars," Sanderson said. "That’s about what a new stadium would cost."


"Generally, there is a rule of thumb. The larger the market, the lower the public sector participation. The smaller the market, the higher the public sector participation," Ganis said.

Before the Bears need to figure out how to pay for a new stadium, they first have to find out if Churchill Downs accepts their bid.

"I have no idea where the bidders are for Arlington Park, but what I can tell you is that … the Bears expressing the level of interest that they have would make other real estate parties that are bidding on the land really interested in partnering with the Bears," Ganis said. "I think the Bears are looking to do some of the things the Cubs did and much, much more."

For years, many sports critics have said the Bears’ Soldier Field deal was not a good one.

"The stadium was obsolete before the first kick off … 20 years ago," Sanderson said.

In addition to Soldier Field having just over 61,000 seats, it was difficult to pursue stadium naming rights.

"Soldier Field is Soldier Field," Sanderson said. "Had 9/11 not happened 20 years ago, that piece of property would have been named something else."

Since we've been down this road before, why does it seem the Bears mean business this time?

"This location happens to be extraordinary," Ganis said. "Also, recognize that the economics of the NFL have changed dramatically in the time that the Soldier Field renovation was approved."

For this diehard Bears fan, it would be a lot easier to see them play if he only has to drive  from his Elburn home to Arlington Heights, instead of the lakefront.    

"How many people live in Chicago that have Bears tickets and how many live in the suburbs? I guarantee you its 80% suburbs, 20% Chicago," Vedder said.

We checked with the mayor of Arlington Heights and he is anticipating a decision from Churchill Downs in the next two months.