The Chicago Bears have played 103 seasons but never owned their own stadium. It seems that is about to change, with the hiring of new president Kevin Warren the latest development in the process.
In Warren, the McCaskey family appears to have hired the executive who will play a leading role in designing a state-of-art complex in Arlington Heights, located in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.
He arrives with a resume that leads with his short tenure as commissioner of the Big Ten conference. But for Bears Chairman George McCaskey, the most significant part of Warren’s background is that the 59-year-old lawyer has worked for three NFL franchises.
Warren, who began his career with the St. Louis Rams, worked for the Detroit Lions before joining the international law firm Greenberg Traurig. He represented the Wilf family and Minnesota Vikings ownership group in its purchase of the Vikings, then joined the team as executive vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer. He was named Chief Operating Officer in 2015, becoming the black COO in the NFL.
Warren was heavily involved in the process that led to the opening of US Bank Stadium in 2016, in addition to the team’s adjacent headquarters and practice facility.
"Kevin is a man of integrity, respect and excellence, all of which are critical core values of the Chicago Bears, and we welcome his perspective and diverse thought to lead this storied organization," McCaskey said. "He is a proven leader who has many times stepped outside of his comfort zone to challenge status quo for unconventional growth and prosperity. In this role, Warren will serve in the primary leadership position of the franchise to help bring the next Super Bowl championship trophy home to Bears fans.”
Warren’s connection to the Bears was reported earlier this month. Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported on Thursday the hire had been made, and the team announced it later in the day.
While Warren will oversee the Bears’ entire operation, replacing the retiring Ted Phillips, he arrives at a time when the franchise is focused on building a stadium.
The Bears have acquired rights to the 326-acre lot where the Arlington Park horse track operated. The team secured a deal to purchase the lot from the Churchill Downs Corporation.
There are still some hurdles to clear before the team leaves Soldier Field, which has been its home since leaving Wrigley Field, which it shared with the Cubs. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently unveiled a plan that could add a dome onto the stadium that sits in the city’s museum campus, alongside Lake Michigan, but the Bears’ ownership group appears to prefer a fresh start on its own land.
The Arlington Park site benefits from having train access from the city and the suburbs, as well as parking and room for commercial development. The team’s lease with Soldier Field runs through 2033. The Chicago Tribune has reported that a provision in the lease would allow the Bears to leave the lakefront stadium in 2026, at a penalty of $84 million. That cost decreases in subsequent years.
While the Bears have room to replicate the NFL’s newest stadiums, most notably SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex., the Midwestern climate points to US Bank Stadium as at least as much of a model. The Vikings hosted Super Bowl XXLI.
Phillips recommended Warren as his replacement. It remains to be seen how much influence Warren will have on the Bears’ roster and team-building strategies.
Phillips’ influence was lessened when the Bears hired Ryan Poles to replaced Ryan Pace as general manager after the 2021 season. Poles reported directly to McCaskey, not Phillips, but Warren is clearly above Poles on the team’s chain of command.
This is a critical winter for the Bears, who not only hold the first pick in the draft but are positioned to add multiple high-impact veterans via free agency. Pace moved up in the 2021 draft to select quarterback Justin Fields, and it is left for Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus to decide if they are comfortable building around him or should attempt to upgrade with the first pick.