CHICAGO — The Bears surprised everyone with their announcement last week that they had submitted a bid for the 326-acre Arlington International Racecourse location.
It sparked rampant discourse among football fans throughout the Chicago area about the pros and cons of the team moving from Chicago to Arlington Heights. That discourse isn’t going away anytime soon. If the Bears are serious about moving, it’s going to be a years-long process.
It would almost certainly include discussions about public funding. Rarely are NFL stadiums built without the help of taxpayer dollars. Of the NFL’s 32 teams, 28 play in stadiums that used some form of public funding. SoFi Stadium [home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers] and MetLife Stadium [home of the New York Giants and Jets] are the only 100% privately funded stadiums.
According to Forbes, the McCaskey family is worth an estimated $1.3 billion, which is less than the going rate of a modern NFL mega-complex. The team is worth an estimated $3.5 billion. It seems inevitable that if the Bears are going to build a stadium in Arlington Heights, they are going to seek public funding.
Illinois taxpayers are still going to be paying off the Soldier Field renovation and the construction [and subsequent renovations of Guaranteed Rate Field] until 2032, regardless of if the Bears move to Arlington Heights. Ponying up more money for a stadium in Arlington Heights is going to become a hot-button issue in the months and years to come.
Public funding for stadiums comes in all shapes and sizes. Here’s how the most recent NFL stadiums were funded.
Team: Las Vegas Raiders
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Year opened: 2020
Football capacity: 65,000
Owner: Las Vegas Stadium Authority (state of Nevada)
Total cost: $1.9 billion
Public funds: $750 million
The breakdown: The Raiders were the odd man out when the NFL approved the relocation of the Rams and the Chargers to Los Angeles. With changing views on sports gambling, and an NHL team already in the works in Las Vegas, Raiders owner Mark Davis turned his attention to southern Nevada.
Clark County approved a hotel room tax increase in November 2016 to help finance $750 million in bonds for Allegiant Stadium, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Originally, the Raiders were supposed to fund $500 million of the stadium cost. However, shortly after the Raiders filed relocation paperwork, Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson – who had previously pledged $650 million for the project – pulled out his investment. Bank of America loaned the Raiders the remaining $650 million to fund the project.
Team: Los Angeles Rams and Las Angeles Chargers
Location: Inglewood, California
Year opened: 2020
Football capacity: 70,240
Owner: Stadco LA, LLC (Rams owner Stan Kroenke)
Total cost: $5.5 billion
Public funds: None
The breakdown: The site of SoFi Stadium hosted thoroughbred racing at Hollywood Park from 1938 to 2013, drawing current comparisons to Arlington Park. Rams owner Stan Kroenke bought a 60-acre parcel of land just north of Hollywood Park in January 2014, setting off speculation. A year later, the owners of Hollywood Park partnered with Kroenke and announced plans for a stadium. Just before the 2020 season, the Los Angeles Times published a lengthy breakdown of what it took to build the stadium.
Kroenke was responsible for the estimated $5 billion cost of the stadium and entertainment complex that stretches over almost 300 acres. According to Forbes, Kroenke received some financial help from the NFL in the form of loans, but no part of the project was funded with public money.
The Chargers, who also play in the stadium, pay $1 per year rent to the Rams and are reportedly locked into a 20-year lease.
Team: Atlanta Falcons
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Year opened: 2017
Football capacity: 71,000
Owner: Georgia World Congress Center (state of Georgia)
Total cost: $1.6 billion
Public funds: $200 million (with up to $700 million for future maintenance)
The breakdown: The Falcons’ new stadium is one of the most unique in the NFL, with a “pinwheel” retractable roof and a ring-shaped video board around its rim. Talk of a new stadium began as early as 2010, when the team’s former home, the Georgia Dome, was only 18 years old.
The original price tag for public funding was $200 million in hotel tax money. But – and The Guardian does a good job of explaining it here – the fine print was more complicated. The deal also included future money for “maintenance, operation and improvement” of the stadium that could come out to $700 million.
U.S. Bank Stadium
Team: Minnesota Vikings
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Year opened: 2016
Football capacity: 66,860
Owner: Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (state of Minnesota)
Total cost: $1 billion
Public funds: $498 million
The breakdown: Building a new stadium in Minneapolis landed the city a Super Bowl and an NCAA Final Four. Super Bowl LII was one of the few cold-weather Super Bowls. Meanwhile, the Chicago area has never hosted a Super Bowl or a modern Final Four (Northwestern hosted the Final Four in 1939 and 1956, long before the event is what it is today).
The Vikings began discussing a new stadium as early as 2007. They received significant support from public funding, with $348 million coming from the state and $150 coming from the city of Minneapolis. The Vikings paid for the remainder of the cost.
Team: San Francisco 49ers
Location: Santa Clara, California
Year opened: 2014
Football capacity: 68,500
Owner: City of Santa Clara
Total cost: $1.3 billion
Public funds: $114 million from the City of Santa Clara (plus $933 million from the Santa Clara Stadium Authority in the form of loans, seat licensing and sponsorships)
The breakdown: Santa Clara residents voted in June 2010 to approve the use of public funds for a stadium. At the time, the total price tag was an estimated $937 million and the newly created Santa Clara Stadium Authority was responsible for $330 million. However, a year later the agreement changed (SFGate did a good job of explaining what happened in this 2014 article) and the total price rose. The Stadium Authority was allowed to borrow up to $950 million to build the stadium. It’s a gamble that the stadium will pay for itself, so to speak.
Add that to the fact that the stadium is an hour from downtown San Francisco when traffic is good, there is no shade to speak of, so half the stadium melts in the California sun, and its general lack of personality, Levi’s Stadium is an example of how a move to the suburbs could prove disappointing.
Team: New York Giants and New York Jets
Location: East Rutherford, New Jersey
Year opened: 2010
Football capacity: 82,500
Owner: MetLife Stadium Company (which is owned by the Giants and Jets)
Total cost: $1.6 billion
Public funds: None
The breakdown: The Giants and Jets are equal partners with MetLife Stadium. Previously, at old Giants Stadium, the Jets had been a tenant of the Giants. The Jets looked into building their own stadium on the west side of Manhattan in the early 2000s, but that ultimately didn’t pan out. Instead, they partnered with the Giants to build a privately funded stadium. The NFL did help out with a $300 million loan.
While the stadium itself wasn’t built using public funds, it was built on state-owned land, as the New York Times explained here. The surrounding area needed some $250 million in improvements for highways, a new train station, utilities and infrastructure. So while the public might not foot the bill for a new stadium there often are ancillary costs that come with a new stadium. Not to mention New Jersey taxpayers are still paying off the bonds for old Giants Stadium, which was demolished a decade ago.
Team: Dallas Cowboys
Location: Arlington, Texas
Year opened: 2009
Football capacity: 80,000
Owner: City of Arlington
Total cost: $1.3 billion
Public funds: $325 million
The breakdown: Contrary to popular belief, “Jerry World” isn’t actually owned by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. The Cowboys pay the city of Arlington $2 million a year to use the stadium (the Bears pay $6.3 million per year to use Soldier Field). The NFL loaned Jones $150 million and the city offered up $325 million. The Cowboys paid for the rest.
Arlington, Texas, has a history of paying for stadiums using an increased sales tax, and that’s what it did to build AT&T Stadium. The city did it again recently for a new Texas Rangers ballpark, as the Dallas Morning News explored here. Arlington also used the powers of eminent domain to take land from several property owners in order to build AT&T Stadium. One woman was awarded $2.75 million for her house and four acres.
Lucas Oil Stadium
Team: Indianapolis Colts
Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Year opened: 2008
Football capacity: 67,000
Owner: Indiana Stadium and Convention Building Authority (state of Indiana)
Total cost: $720 million
Public funds: $620 million
The breakdown: At the time it was built, Lucas Oil Stadium was he most expensive NFL stadium for local taxpayers. Only Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas has surpassed the $620 million in public funding that it cost to build Lucas Oil Stadium. Additionally, like New Jersey taxpayers do for the now-extinct Giants Stadium, Indiana taxpayers are still paying off the old RCA Dome, which was demolished in 2008.
Lucas Oil Stadium is a perfect example of what it takes for smaller-market cities to keep their cherished sports teams. Indiana taxpayers are going to be paying off Lucas Oil Stadium for two more decades. The stadium allowed the city to host its first Super Bowl, although the big game likely isn’t coming back anytime soon. It regularly hosts the NCAA Final Four and the Big Ten championship game in football. But it all came at a significant cost.