In September, the Chicago Bears put the city of Chicago on the hot seat by signing a purchase agreement to acquire the Arlington Park Racecourse.
It’s still unclear how serious the Bears are about packing up and moving to Arlington Heights, but one thing we do know is the team has a lease to stay at Soldier Field through 2033 and if either party breaks that agreement, it will cost $84 million.
With the Bears making the first move and purchasing the 326-acre property in Arlington, maybe it’s time for the city to strike back and consider the idea of bringing a second NFL team to Chicago in case the Bears do migrate north to Arlington Heights.
And what that second NFL team would mean for IL sports betting.
At first thought, it does seem crazy that Chicago could play host to two NFL teams. But based on the success of other two-team cities, it’s certainly feasible, and here’s why.
Tale of two team cities
There are two other cities that host two NFL teams: New York and Los Angeles.
Let’s first take a look at Los Angeles, which is home to the Rams and Chargers. Each team plays at SoFi Stadium, which opened in 2020 and cost over $5 billion to build, according to the Los Angeles Times. Just having a state of the art facility will draw fans to games.
But the Rams and Chargers strong play in 2021 certainly got fans to pack the stands on Sundays, too. The defending Super Bowl Champion Rams finished with a 12-5 record, and had an average attendance of 71,598 fans per game. This was the eighth-highest mark in the NFL.
The Chargers didn’t nearly reach the heights of the Rams last season, but they too gave fans good reason to come out and support the team. The Chargers finished with a 9-8 record, narrowly missing the playoffs. But the Bolts still had the 10th best average attendance rate per home game at 70,240.
The final thing to note about Los Angeles is that it’s the second-most populated city in the United States. Having that many people living in close proximity to the stadium will naturally help fill the stands more than smaller NFL cities.
Now, onto New York.
Big NFL appetite in The Big Apple
The Giants and Jets share MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The stadium was built in 2010, so it no longer has the allure of a new facility. But that didn’t stop New Yorkers from filling MetLife for its teams.
The Giants and Jets each had miserable 2021 seasons that saw both teams finish with matching 4-13 records. Yet, the Giants averaged 73,882 fans per game and the Jets averaged 71,676 fans per game. This ranked fourth and seventh in the NFL, respectively.
While there’s no comparing Los Angeles’ teams performances in 2021 to New York’s, one commonality is that New York is the most populous city in the U.S. Third on the list of most populated U.S. cities is Chicago.
By having so many citizens, there’s no reason to believe a new NFL team wouldn’t be successful in drawing fans to Soldier Field if the Bears move to Arlington Heights.
Which team could move to Chicago?
The most likely teams to move to the Windy City are ones that don’t attract many fans to games, and currently play in small market cities.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are a team that fit this mold perfectly. Last season, the Jaguars had the third worst attendance rate in the NFL. In the past five seasons, excluding the 2020 season in which nearly half of NFL teams didn’t play host to fans due to COVID-19, the Jaguars highest attendance ranking was 17th in 2018.
Jacksonville is, however, the 12th most populous city in the U.S. But the Jaguars have only been playing in Jacksonville since 1995, making them one of the youngest franchises in the NFL.
While Jacksonville’s population is higher than other NFL cities such as Cincinnati or Minneapolis, it’s more feasible to imagine the Jaguars leaving town compared to the Bengals or Vikings who have more deeply rooted ties to the towns they play in.
IL sports betting could be part of the equation
Regardless of which team could possibly call Chicago home in the future, they would avoid the massive expense of building a new stadium by moving into Soldier Field. In July, Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot presented some potential renovation options to Soldier Field, which should bring an Illinois sportsbook to the stadium.
Other options include adding a retractable dome to shield players and fans from the harsh Chicago winter conditions.
While Illinois having two NFL teams may sound crazy, it does make a lot of sense.
NFL teams relocating isn’t so simple
Yet, for any NFL team wishing to move cities, it’s not as easy as signing on the dotted line and packing up equipment.
A team wishing to relocate must present valid reasons to do so, and they can’t be revenue related. The move would also go to a vote amongst league members and 75% must give approval before it can happen.
League members granted approval for the Rams to move from St. Louis to Los Angeles in 2015, so it’s not an impossible task.