December 04, 2021


Analysis

Hub Arkush: The Bears have interest in Arlington, but how would the money work?

LAKE FOREST – Chicago Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips dropped a bomb of near nuclear proportions at the close of the team’s veteran minicamp Thursday announcing in a statement that the organization “recently submitted a bid to purchase the Arlington International Racecourse property.”

But while Arlington Heights is a great town and could make a wonderful new home for the Bears, this announcement is about as close to meaning it’s going to happen as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is to being the next president of the United States.

This season will be my 45th on the Chicago Bears beat. Rumors of a Bears stadium being built on the sight of Arlington International Racecourse have been around almost as long as I have.

Officials at Churchill Downs Inc., the current owner of the property, reported it has “strong proposals from numerous parties” for redevelopment of the track.

It isn’t hard to figure out why the McCaskey family or any other future Bears owner would want to build their own stadium.

According to Forbes Magazine, as of just a few weeks ago the Bears are the seventh most valuable franchise in the NFL at $3.5 billion.

Among the top eight, the Patriots (second), Giants (third), Rams (fourth), Jets (sixth) and Washington (eighth) all own their own stadiums. The Cowboys (first) don’t own AT&T Stadium, but Jerry Jones has operating control and owns all kinds of properties around it.

Only the 49ers (fifth), like the Bears, are tenants, but they play in one of the league’s newest football palaces that provides significant ancillary revenue streams.

Here’s where things get tricky.

I have no idea what the Arlington property will sell for. Bu just for conversation sake, let’s say it’s in the $200 million range, which was roughly the cost to rebuild it after it burnt down in 1985.

The McCaskey family could probably swing that.

But the going rate for new NFL stadiums appears to be in the $2 billion range. SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles cost a reported $2.2 billion (a $5 billion complex but just $2.2 billion for the stadium portion.) Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas cost a reported $2 billion. Each was completed in the last couple years.

Stan Kroenke is the richest owner in the NFL, so he just went to petty cash to pay for the Rams’ new playground.

But Raiders owner Marc Davis is one of the least wealthy owners in the NFL (no paupers here, folks) and he needed $750 million in public – read taxpayers’ – money from the city of Las Vegas and state of Nevada and a $650 million loan from Bank of America to get the Raiders’ building built.

Obviously I’m not privy to the McCaskey’s personal wealth, but it’s safe to say they’re closer to Davis’ neighborhood than Kroenke’s.

According to digital media outlet Vox, over $7 billion in taxpayer money has been spent to build NFL stadiums over the last 20 years.

With the current state of finances in Illinois, what are the chances taxpayers are ponying up one buffalo nickel for a stadium for the Bears? Not to mention even if they got the Raiders $750 million payday, they’d still be seeking another $1.25 billion or so to finish the job?

Stranger things have happened, but we have no idea where the Bears stand among the various bidders.

The most likely scenario here is even if the Bears are the winning bidder it would be to hold the property to enhance the value of the franchise when it is eventually sold to someone who could afford a new stadium.

And reports continue to indicate the team is not for sale.

Unless, of course, there is some mystery mega bank, hedge fund or potential real estate development partner out there that wants to foot the bill...

This is now going to continue to be a story for the foreseeable future and beyond, and I doubt even the McCaskeys know how it will play out.

After all, it’s been a story for over 40 years already and what’s happened so far?

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media