According to a report from WBEZ, the Chicago Bears proposal to build a sportsbook lounge within the walls of Soldier Field was denied by the city. Granted, these discussions date back to 2020, but it is believed that this is one of the many reasons the Bears placed their bid to purchase the grounds of the old Arlington racetrack.
In the report from WBEZ, the Bears approached the park district, their landlord for Solider Field, about the potential addition of a sports betting lounge. The Arizona Cardinals were the first team to have a sportsbook at their stadium, becoming a NFL trailblazer. Now, the Bears are looking to capitalize on J.B. Pritzker's law he passed in 2019, legalizing sports betting in the state of Illinois. However, the city of Chicago seemed to have little interest in helping the Bears capitalize on this opportunity, which makes the bid for a new stadium even more understanding.
"At this time it would not be productive to pursue the opportunities outlined in your letter."
- Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly in 2020
The City is Only Hurting Themselves
According to Statista, sports betting in the United States generated $1.55 billion dollars of revenue in 2020. Yes, that's with a 'b'. That's also during a year where sports were completely shutdown for roughly three months. The Bears offered a 20% cut of the revenue generated. Why the city of Chicago wouldn't want a 20% cut of a billion dollar industry, and certainly million dollar industry in the city alone, is puzzling.
With the timing of these reported conversations, its no surprise the Bears have made the moves that they've made. The team struck a deal with Rivers Casino and their BetRivers sportsbook to be the official sportsbook of the team. In addition, the obvious bid for Arlington signals a massive opportunity for the Bears to move and sow the rewards of their labor.
Many believe, including the city of Chicago, that the Bears are just using this as a negotiation technique. However, based on the Chicago Tribune's report, the Bears could break their lease with the city for peanuts in comparison to what a new stadium will bring in dollars and cents. The 2033 lease with the city of Chicago truly means nothing, and if the city is serious about keeping the Bears in the city limits, they need to stop getting in their own way.
Will They Finally Bend?
Late reports on Monday have indicated that the Bears' "tactics" have been noticed. After originally dismissing the Bears' threats, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is now taking those threats seriously.
According to the article, Lightfoot is now working to help the Bears improve the areas in and around Solider Field. She acknowledges the lack of restaurants and points of entertainment in that area outside of football season, and the possibility of working with the Bears to change that. In addition, being a diehard fan herself, she does not want to see the team leave the city.
"I am a Bears fan. I want the Bears to stay in the city of Chicago. And we are willing to work with them to try to address their concerns. But, I’ve got to do it in a way that is fiscally prudent and doesn’t preclude other uses in that stadium."
- Lori Lightfoot on the Bears staying in Chicago
Per Lightfoot, she is assembling a team to work directly with the Bears to accommodate their needs and wants as much as possible.
Whether the Bears stay in Chicago or move to Arlington Heights, the team's unhappiness is now being noticed by the city. If the city of Chicago is smart, they'll do everything in their power to keep the Bears on the lakefront and enhance the revenue-generating opportunities in and around the historic stadium.