A New Bears Stadium in Arlington Heights Won’t Have as Many Seats as You Might Otherwise Think

There is a certain buzz surrounding the Chicago Bears as business picks up regarding the Arlington Park project. Let’s face it. The Bears getting a new stadium is long overdue. And with every morsel of information we get about the project, the amount of intrigue grows a bit more.

However, there is one aspect about a new home of Bears football that might take some fans off guard if it comes to fruition.

One assumption about a new Bears stadium in Arlington Heights is that its capacity will grow exponentially. After all, Soldier Field’s capacity is just 61,500, smallest in the NFL. So it’s easy to imagine the Bears wanting to build out in a big way when they finally move. But apparently, that might not be in the cards.

Chicago Tribune reporter Brad Biggs consults Marc Ganis, an expert in this arena, to unearth an answer as to how many seats the Bears will put in their new arena. And Ganis’ answer might surprise some (bold emphasis mine):

I would think the high-60s would be the right number,” Ganis tells the Tribune. “There’s an odd cost factor associated with the geometry of the stadium. The most expensive seats to construct are the seats that are furthest away from the field as you expand the building. As you increase the capacity, you have to expand the size of the entire building. So you add five rows at the top of the stadium to add another five thousand seats. Those are the most expensive seats to build while being the seats that generate the lowest revenue. … Is it 66,000? 69,000? Do they have an ability to have standing room to get it to 72,000? That is the general range.”

The bold parts are the ones that should be grabbing our attention. Projecting a capacity in the high-60s probably isn’t what fans are looking for right now. That’s simply on the lighter side of our priort expectations. But maybe that makes sense when you consider who the Bears have been consulting to this point. Remember, the team that put together the Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas — which has a capacity of just 65,000 — has been aiding the Bears. And after my last Vegas trip and stadium tour, I’d co-sign Chicago’s football team playing in a building like that one.

Ganis makes another a good point about the team trying to strike a balance when it comes to cost. Most notably, the balancing act that comes with the most expensive seats being the ones that generate the least revenue. At some point, the team and its stadium planners must ask is spending X-dollars to build Y-number of seats worth it? Striking a balance here will be delicate, to say the least.

Let’s keep it simple. The team should want to build enough seats to satisfy a large fanbase in a major market. In theory, more seats means more revenue. But in practice, I there are real hurdles to clear. Frankly, it is tough to imagine the Bears green-lighting spending money on seats that won’t get a return on their investment. Especially since building more seats means building them further from the field. The furthest you get from the action, the cheaper the tickets should get. But if they don’t, NFL fans have already proven a willigness to opt for the at-home experience. Let’s keep it a buck. Watching at home in sparkling HD and 4K with no bathroom line waits is tough to beat. After considering transportation, concessions, and tickets costs, there is no wondering why some choose that experience over attending games in stadiums.

In the end, we know that we’re only in the early stages of this conversation. Heck, the purchase agreement isn’t even a done deal yet. So we’ll pick this up again at a later date. But it is still good to get it out there while we can as we try to sort things out. This is just the beginning.

written by

Luis C. Medina, who you can find on Twitter at lcm1986, has been covering the Chicago Bears at Bleacher Nation since 2017. Since then, he has written about 3 head coaches, 5 play-callers, and 11 starting quarterbacks. Previously, Luis wrote about the Cubs and MLB at BN (2015-16) and worked in the Chicago Tribune sports department (2011-16). He also co-hosted a Cubs postgame show, Outside the Ivy, in 2019.

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